Riddle me this…

How do (hand knitting/crocheting) designers view fair use or fair dealing? A good thing, right?

I assume that, for many designs, we can all agree that some of the elements incorporated into a design or a pattern did not originate from the designer, to the extent that the designer cannot really complain if someone else in turn takes that same element and incorporates it into their own design or pattern: a traditional motif, a stitch pattern from a dictionary.

And it could be that it is that element that really “makes” the design. Sometimes the designer has applied her own interpretation to the element, somehow adapted it to make it work in the shape of the garment or accessory in a way that may not have been done before. Yet, the element itself is not new, and we do not question the designer’s right to take that known element, and incorporate it into something from which she can derive profit.

Why, then, is there such objection to having shops teach from those patterns, for pay, without further permission, provided the teacher who teaches from the pattern does not violate copyright in the pattern (for example by running off unauthorized copies (e.g., paying for one and making copies for distribution from that one) or removing the original authorship/copyright ownership information)? Even in the context of patterns distributed by the publisher without charge, if each student is directed to obtain her own copy personally? And provided there is no implication that there was any connection between the shop and the designer, beyond the fact that it was her pattern being used in the class?

This is not so much about the legal underpinnings, as it is me trying to understand why that next step is so problematic for some designers.

Or maybe I do understand, and I don’t realize it. I remember when I finished writing Rogue: I was so proud of it; I had never seen anything like it. And it was time to price the pattern. I knew what kinds of prices had been charged for PDF patterns at the time (Bonne Marie Burns was my benchmark), but I remember thinking to myself that there was no way I could let it go for more than $10/copy. I talked myself down from that price, obviously, but I remember that it was a bit of a wrench to accept that what I thought I deserved was likely not realistic. It’s hard to be objective about your own work.

And initially, I did not like the concept of people knitting FOs for sale from my patterns any more than others seem to do. But then I realized that the likelihood of anyone earning a living from knitting up my patterns alone was pretty slim. The designs that I care most about are not ones that can be easily replicated by machine; there would still need to be a substantial amount of handwork, even if the construction of the piece were somehow changed to maximize the amount of machine knitting. (I do care that knitters are not exploited, which is why my licence specifies that the seller must be the one who knit the item, along the lines of a typical angel policy.)

It also struck me that there was some kind of incongruity: if I was willing to say that hand knit items were undervalued and if I deplored the fact that people had been taught to value the cheaply mass-produced over the artisanally-crafted works, why did I want to deprive the skilled knitter from realizing revenue from knitting my designs, if my designs could help the knitter realize a higher price for her skills?

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20 Responses to Riddle me this…

  1. rs4ily says:

    Finally some rational discussion on “Free but with strings attached”

    If you put it out there as free then let it go. I love the footer that would say ” Feel free to do what ever you want with this pattern, including lineing your bird cage with it”. If this isn’t what you want then don’t call it FREE.

    The internet has opened a new window on associated web page advertizing dollars, and free patterns via such web page advertizing can be an income source to the designer and this is another issue.

    I’m really tired of the whole issue and have decided to stay away from any of the so called Free patterns. I just feel that there is a hidden agenda that I really don’t want any part of.

  2. Jenn says:

    For teaching I would deal with free patterns two ways, depending on the type of class:
    1.) Students bring in their own copy of the pattern, which makes it so the students see the copyright and the designer’s other work.
    2.) Teacher asks and receives permission to teach the class and can print off the pattern for the class.

    For patterns that are for sale shops make people buy the book or pattern, and if it is not something they usually carry many designers will do a “trunk show” for the pattern.

  3. mariannem says:

    @Katherine: I think it’s because free patterns often generate income for their designers based on website ads. So if the shop is printing off the pattern, the customer won’t see the ads. Plus, if you do to download a free pattern, you might well see the designer’s other, for-sale patterns, and decide to buy one of those, but if you’ve been given the pattern by your LYS, the designer misses out on those sales opportunities as well.

  4. Katherine says:

    Frankly, I don’t understand why the shop can’t print copies of a free pattern for customers at no charge if they want to. Really, what’s the difference? And there are customers who don’t have computers or computer knowledge who are barred from using the pattern unless a friend or the shop does print the pattern for them. Why is this such a bad thing?

  5. j. says:

    @Ann, it sounds like the only difference is one of coordination, and possibly advertising. In one case, it’s coincidence; in the other case, it’s deliberate. Should intent make a difference?

    Oh, and I think some designers have started to put together class materials (to support for-sale patterns? don’t know about for-free) for use by shops in teaching classes.

  6. Ann says:

    What is the difference between a shop that charges for open project knit/help sessions and a session dedicated to a specific pattern? As I understand the open project knit sessions, people bring in their own project and have the LYS resources available to help guide them through the project. So, if 10 people came to the open project knit class with the same pattern, does the shop need permission from the designer?

    I would think that it would generally help the designer, in way of free publicity, to have a class built around a pattern. But I may be naive.

  7. j. says:

    @Marnie: I’ve been trying to avoid discussing the legality of it because I don’t want to debate the legality of imposing such a requirement in the absence of a licence agreement (not much of a debate really), and I was just trying to focus on the arguments in favour of this code of ethics.

    However, your second paragraph ties into something else I just wrote up…

  8. Marnie says:

    @Jenna, I’m clearly and woefully out of my element making any comment either way about legality. I simply cannot. That said, I think there’s merit in considering the community at large and what constitutes the sort of behavior that is most equitable. I think it’s a good policy to touch base with the designer and at least let him or her know that you are so enamored with her pattern or there’s been so much interest at your LYS, that you’d like to offer a class for it.

    Also, with my aforementioned lack of any legal training and limited understanding of copyright, I might assume that the limitation to “non-commercial use” of the pattern would prohibit the profiting by way of a class. Though, to your point, if everyone goes out and buys the pattern, then the designer really hasn’t lost anything and it seems like a win all around, so I dunno.

    Like I said, for me it is a non-issue as long as everything is on the up-and-up, credit given, pattern name intact, and each student purchases the pattern, so devil’s advocacy mode is officially off.

  9. j. says:

    @Marnie, this presupposes that the designer has the right of first refusal when it comes to teaching off her pattern, or that she is somehow entitled to deference from her potential competitors. Again, if the designer chose to publish it beforehand, why does she have this right of first refusal? (this is the part I’m struggling to understand)

    An alternative would be for the designer to advertise pictures of the finished item, and market her teaching services to shops–if they have students who want to pay to learn, the designer will teach the class and provide the pattern, all for the teaching fee. That way, the pattern is not generally published to begin with. If the designer chooses outright (free) publication over this alternative, is she still entitled to that right of first refusal?

  10. Marnie says:

    I’ve only been asked if people could teach my free patterns and I’ve always granted permission as long as full attribution, my copyright and URL and a note saying I’ve approved this use, is included on the class hand outs.

    I would love if people wanted to to teach some of my for sale patterns, as long as everyone bought their own copy. More money for me, yay.

    But, to play devil’s advocate, I would ask about the designers rights to make money off of teaching a pattern. Don’t many designers supplement their income by teaching their patterns throughout the country? It may seem impractical to an individual LYS to fly out a designer just for one class, but often, designers who do this full time, make their rounds of various states and try to fit several LYSs into a single trip, which makes it all far more affordable.

    If the designer isn’t at least contacted to see if this is possible, then the LYS is directly competing with the designer for income off of her pattern.

    I’m seriously playing devil’s advocate. I do not teach my patterns often if ever and rarely travel. Designing is purely a side job, but I could see it being an issue for others.

  11. Ivete says:

    Jenna, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head now. It does seem like maybe the free pattern designers realized after their pattern started going around and maybe made money for other people, that they COULD HAVE charged for it and made some money, too . . . and that made them a little bitter, maybe.

    And you’re totally right in asking where the trickle-down would stop! Shouldn’t I get a cut of all future knit-related earnings for the hundreds of knitters I taught to knit while I worked in a LYS’s? ;o)

  12. j. says:

    … or perhaps, to put it another way: if the designer does not avail herself of the legal mechanisms for obtaining and exercising legal authority for doing so, why does her choice to make something available without charge give her, or the public at large, the moral authority to say that nobody else can financially profit from the knowledge she has contributed?

    The designer may have sacrificed something in foregoing monetary compensation. Perhaps she needs to be given recognition or in tribute for that act. The mere attribution on the pattern is not enough–the designer can get that anyway. So instead, her choice needs to be honoured by not making any money off the knowledge she provides for free, unless she gives permission? Is there a middle ground between “nothing but attribution” and “ability to prevent teaching of classes” that would be sufficient?

    I think I’ve made this suggestion more than once to people, but maybe one option is adware. Distribute patterns without charge, but plant ads (for yourself, or sell ad space!) right in the middle of them where they’re unavoidable. Shop wants to teach with your free pattern? Awesome, you can without asking permission first, as long as you leave those ads in. You want a version without the ads? Contact the designer for her terms. (Private individuals who don’t want to waste ink printing ads they don’t want? Stop whining.)

    I don’t know if that counts as “middle ground”.

  13. indigirl says:

    You know, I’ve been thinking about this too, especially as more and more shops are contacting me about teaching one of my Knitty patterns, or even knitting up a shop model.

    I have never been tempted to say no to any of these requests, provided the shop plays by the rules, keeps the original attribution/url/etc as part of the pattern. I actually view it as additional promotion for the work I’ve done.

    After all, that’s the main reason I submit something to Knitty rather than self-publishing. No, I don’t get the same amount of financial compensation. But, the visibility is priceless.

  14. Sara says:

    i wonder if some of the ire comes from a false sense of unfairness, sour grapes as it were (though that term sounds more negative than i want it to). the designers are upset that money is being made from their free patterns, but they are not the ones who are making the money. they have eliminated their ability to make money by offering the pattern for free, so it feels wrong that someone else should be profiting, even if it is perfectly legal.

    honestly i think there is a lot of beautiful, well-written, and creative work out there being offered for free. in my opinion, by choosing not to profit from the pattern yourself, you forgo any right to be upset that others might be (and i include selling finished objects from this as well. i have no problems with small operations making my designs to sell, as long as i am properly compensated for my work, ie: a copy of the pattern was purchased)

  15. j. says:

    Yes, I was trying to narrow the scope of this to the scenario where (a) the shop does not remove credit on the pattern and (b) the shop does not make unauthorized copies — in other words, the scenario where individuals are free to print off or store a copy for their personal use, but then bring the pattern to the class, where they then pay for tutelage.

    It’s not the same as selling FOs, I agree… that would be a different thought exercise. I think I’m just trying to figure out whether the reluctance to allow teachers to profit from teaching with a pattern as outlined above stems from the same sentiment (not legal basis) as prohibiting sale of FOs.

    I’m just wondering if I would have been in that position, too.

    ETA: tried posting this before Sara posted hers, but it wouldn’t materialize:

    @Ivete: but the question is, *why* do you think it is reasonable? Is it strictly because if one person profits financially, then in order to be fair all others who supplied the means for that person to profit must have also profited financially as well? Is it not enough for the designer to have realized that she could have profited financially, but chosen not to? [echos Sara's comment below]

    We then wind up having to have the argument about where the line must be drawn. Is it limited only to the suppliers of physical goods? Copyrighted materials? What about those who supplied the teacher with know-how, so that the teacher was able to teach?

    I suppose what I’m pondering is why knitting morality has evolved this way. It’s one thing to work the guilt when there is copyright infringement, but it’s another thing to tell a teacher–whose value, theoretically, is in her ability to instruct and demonstrate techniques, it’s not like she’s standing at the front of the class reciting the pattern–that she cannot charge for classes.

  16. Ivete says:

    I totally hear you, but I think there’s a difference between patterns that are available for free online and for-sale patterns. Everything you’ve written seems, to me, to fit very well if the pattern is a for-sale pattern. But if the pattern is offered for free, it does seem a weird that someone else is making money off it when the designer herself ISN’T. I think that’s what’s at the root of the “don’t teach this without asking” sentiment I’ve recently read online — unless I’m mistaken, the people complaining are talking about patterns that are offered for free, not for sale.

    I’m guessing that legally, that’s no distinction. But it does seem like a reasonable objection from the designer’s POV . . .

    Looking forward to hearing what you think!

  17. Augh! I found myself nodding along and agreeing and that surprised me. Personally, I have always felt that the line is drawn between commission knitting and production knitting. If someone wants to make my Linen Market Bag pattern personally, that’s great. If they want to make one on commission for someone who requests it (but who might not know how to crochet), that’s fine too. The maker is being paid for her time, not for the pattern. However, I would be pissed off to find someone crocheting my bag and selling them at a craft fair or in their store. But you bring up the point about how we decry mass-produced goods…and I think, wow, how cool would it be to see more people using my market bags instead of plastic or paper bags? And wouldn’t it be great to see the average person start valuing handmade goods again? Does that mean that every production knitter or crocheter has to design everything they make and sell?

    Hrm. I need to think about this. :)

  18. turtlegirl76 says:

    I’ve pondered the same thing recently. I guess I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to have a shop teach other knitters how to work through your pattern to get an FO they’ll love. So long as, to your point, copyright isn’t being violated, why is it such a big deal? Sure, it’s a courtesy to ask if it’s ok, but wouldn’t you just be thrilled to know that there’s enough interest in your free pattern to warrant a whole class on it? The more FOs from your free pattern that come out being loved and admired by other knitters, the more of a base of future customers you’ll have for your next for sale pattern.

    I just have a few patterns but I swear. I’m gonna put on the bottom of each and every one “Feel free to copy and distribute, teach or make and sell this pattern to all your friends that are interested. Just leave my name & website on the pattern so they know where to come for more.”

  19. JoVE says:

    I think the knitting for sale issue is different from the teaching your pattern issue.

    On the teaching issue, what seems particularly odd is that allowing people to run a class based on a particular pattern (as long as every participant buys her own copy) would increase visibility of the pattern and thus sales.

    I would think it was good marketing to encourage people to teach classes based on a pattern and maybe offer a bulk price on the pattern (10 copies for x). This would discourage photocopying and encourage such use.

    The designer herself can’t possibly teach classes in every location so it isn’t like it does her out of that kind of income.

  20. Amber says:

    From what I understood most of the objection was because authorship was not given credit/was removed. Not everyone is internet savvy or is going to understand proper protocol of asking permission, but stripping down a pattern of identifying markers and using it is definitely not kosher. You could say that I half agree with the arguments raised you are speaking about. Altering the pattern = bad. Using it as is to teach a class without telling the author? As long as all patterns were obtained legally = good. If you want it otherwise, put it in the copyright or terms of use!