There’s a new skirmish in the quilting community. Apparently the admin for a Facebook group used tutorials and patterns created by other people, without attribution. When challenged on it, she kicked the complainers out of the group and made the group private.
Stealing is wrong, and though I don’t know the details of this story, it sounds like the admin did the wrong thing.
A couple of bloggers/quilters I respect have written about the incident and how to avoid copyright infringement. (See Sam Hunter’s post and Lori Kennedy’s post.) I’ve written about it, too, with some different links and thoughts. Since the last time I posted about it was a couple of years ago, I’ve updated that information below to provide it again.
Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s famous essay? “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” begins like this:
The essay was published in Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I am using this excerpt based on “fair use” rules for copyright.
Honestly, we don’t share everything, but I know bloggers and crafters are incredibly generous. Mostly we don’t hit. And as to messes, what happens in your studio should stay in your studio!
But there are three things here I think we should take seriously. One is playing fair, and one is not taking things that aren’t yours. And when we do mess up, we should apologize.
I see two separate areas of trouble when it comes to playing fair and giving deserved credit. One is for bloggers, and the other is for quilters and crafters. Obviously the two groups overlap.
Sometimes, in enthusiasm to share cool stuff and brilliant thoughts, bloggers use work that is not their own. Using information from other people might include photos, words, charts, tables, logos, or illustrations. The easiest violation is with photos. I wrote some about this earlier this year.
Are you sharing photos of someone else’s work? (This happens a lot after quilt shows.) Did you give them credit? There are both ethical and legal concerns on this. Legally there are copyright rights to the photo itself, and also to the creative work being photographed, such as a quilt. I am not the best person to speak about the legal issues, but I know enough to be very careful about sharing photos of anyone else’s quilts. In fact, unless I am linking directly to a picture someone else posted, I pretty much don’t do it anymore. (Some photos are in the public domain, meaning there is no copyright protection. Those can be shared freely. Still, information about the creator and the owner of the work should be included.)
Ethically, using someone else’s work without crediting is taking something that’s not yours, and it’s not playing fair. Ask yourself how you would feel if a photo of your quilt appeared in various blogs, but the bloggers didn’t have the courtesy to credit it with your name, or a link back to where they found your glorious quilt. Or even to ask permission to use the picture.
If you’d like more information on posting other people’s content appropriately, see a really helpful post from HubSpot Blogs. It is on citing sources and not stealing other people’s work on the internet.
QUILTERS, SEWISTS (SEWERS), CRAFTERS, ET AL
When it comes to creating tangible (rather than digital) work, there are other ways to take things that aren’t yours. Here again, there are obvious (I hope!) examples of wrong-doing, as well as others that might seem more grey.
First, a lot of people see no harm in copying a pattern that someone else purchased. If your friend buys a pattern and you want to make the same thing, you can just make a photocopy or scan of hers. In fact, your whole bee or swap or small group can have copies, too, right? But there is harm, as it deprives the creator of pay for their work. Imagine working — many hours of effort — to create a product for sale. Imagine someone taking it without paying for it. That is stealing, plain and simple.
Sam Hunter wrote about this better than I can. When a friend-of-a-friend stole one of Sam’s patterns rather than paying for it, it created a sticky situation, to say the least.
And remember, this isn’t true just of patterns that you buy one at a time. It also counts when you didn’t buy your own book or magazine patterns, but photocopied someone else’s instead.
Now comes the harder part, the grey area. Now also comes the caveat. I am NOT an attorney and am not providing legal advice. Most of the information provided below is based on two posts by Jen Bernstein. [Links below.] She is an attorney, but she also is not providing you legal advice. If this is an area of concern for you, please retain your own attorney.
The design (what a quilt or project looks like) and the pattern (instructions of how to make it) are separately copyrighted. So let’s say you see a quilt and don’t want to buy the pattern. Instead you spend time figuring out how the block is made, how many of them there are, and how big they likely are based on the size of the original. You draw it all out in EQ7 to get your layout and fabric requirements. Ta-DAH! It’s all good, huh? Well, maybe not.
Depending on how closely “your” design matches the original, you may have infringed on a copyright. For more information, see Jen Bernstein’s guest post “Can You Copyright a Sewing Pattern?” on Abby Glassenberg’s While She Naps blog.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That’s the legal part of this. Now I’ll return to the ethical part: play fair. To me that includes acknowledging others for their inspiration and contribution.
That might mean literal acknowledgment in blog posts and Instagram and pins, or on labels. Some people say when you label your quilts, you should include the pattern and designer’s name, or the source of inspiration. I’m not likely to put that stuff on labels (I design my own quilts), but I agree with the intention.
Or it might just mean having an attitude of gratitude when we create. None of us is the first ever to make a quilt. That happened thousands of years ago. Regardless of how original we think we are, how fresh our designs, we were inspired by something.
Even if we are “self-taught,” likely that means learning from online sources or books, which someone else wrote and made available to us. We should be proud of ourselves and our work — we do amazing things! But we can be humble enough to feel gratitude for those who came before us, and for those who work by our sides.