Prying Control from Your Cold, Cramped Hands

Remember this, people.

With a couple of important yet not universally applicable exceptions (patents can be used to protect unique manufacturing processes; copyright can be used to protect the distribution of text and drawings), you cannot control what others do with your work.

The minute it escapes your possession, your work will be interpreted, judged, manipulated and sometimes downright defiled by people you don’t even know. One day I’ll tell you the story of how Greg reacted when his parents hung one of his stunning mosaics over the toilet*.

This is the nature of creative work. Hell, this is the nature of some dude on Twitter overhearing your vacuous conversation on the bus.

And I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face that this isn’t a bad part of creative work. Even if it stings. Even if it offends.

Which is why I think this post by Katrina over at the Salt City Spice blog is bunk. In it she argues that it’s bad behaviour to publicly bookmark (on Pinterest) a product with the intent to make something like it yourself, specifically if it’s a handmade item. That somehow it’s failing to support crafty businesspeople.

But that’s not how it works. The onus is on crafty businesspeople to make products that people will buy.

If your products are constructed very simply and you photograph them well and you market to a crafty audience, you’re going to find that some potential customers will make something similar for themselves instead of buying from you. If you want fewer people to do themselves and more to buy from you, you’re going to have to create some sort of perceived value that convinces them to buy your goods instead of making some on their own. This is totally possible. It happens all the time. Look at how many people turn a profit selling zipper pouches.

Even if your products are complex, people may take inspiration from them for their own projects. So what?

The scope of Katrina’s post is limited to recreational use – she’s not even talking about the far more complicated topic of where the lines get drawn when the parties in question are all selling things[3. Remember the recent example of the jewelry designer who accused Urban Outfitters of stealing her design? And then it came to light that her idea wasn’t terribly original in the first place?].

There is an insidious undercurrent of rule-following in the crafts world. Did you know there are people out there who think they could get arrested for altering a crochet pattern for their own use? They think making a short-sleeve sweater with long sleeves instead is violating the designer’s copyright.

Their fear of breaking these rules (that don’t exist) hinders their enjoyment of their craft. And then there’s the effect it has on their creative expression, in general.

That’s an extreme example, but as evidenced by Katrina’s post there’s a far more widespread assumption that we need to watch out for people’s feelings when we make creative decisions. And though of course I’m not advocating rampant assholery, I do think our creative business community would benefit from a somewhat tougher attitude. Not an attitude of everyone for himself, but an attitude that as businesspeople, we sometimes need to be headstrong rather than soft-hearted.

Creative work is personal. And so it can really hurt when people behave in ways we wish they wouldn’t when it comes to our work. But the sooner we accept that we can’t control these things, the sooner we accept that the free exchange of ideas is the basis of a healthy society, the sooner we’ll be able to return our focus to creating a sustainable business for ourselves.

A business, I hope, that participates in the exchange of ideas and knowledge in our creative community.

* He was all, “Uh. This isn’t really the best place for it, is it?” And they were all, “We don’t have room for it anywhere else.” And I was all, “Dude, you relinquished control over where this piece could be hung when you gave it to your parents.” And then his parents moved it.

42 responses to “Prying Control from Your Cold, Cramped Hands”

  1. Tara Swiger Avatar

    OR! Or you could stop marketing your handmade thing to the community that handmakes everything themselves. You could find a market of people who will NEVER make the thing you’re beautifully making and are thrilled to pay you to make it for them!
    (ah! this is my soapbox. I will step off it now)

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Don’t stop saying it! You’re so right, Tara.

      I was talking this issue through with Greg over lunch, and you’ve reminded me of something I failed to include in this post. Which is that crafters read crafts blogs! If you don’t want crafters to rif off your ideas, don’t write a crafts blog to promote your work! Write a home-decor blog if you make blankets! A style blog if you make clothes!

      1. Tara Swiger Avatar

        “Which is that crafters read crafts blogs! If you don’t want crafters to rif off your ideas, don’t write a crafts blog to promote your work!” Exactly!

  2. Kirsty Hall Avatar

    I’m not scared of people copying me because I always reckon that very few people would be daft enough to undertake the sort of crazy-ass obsessive projects I do. Of course, I don’t usually manage to make money at what I do, so my point may be entirely moot. But still, not scared of the copycats (and I do get them).

  3.  Avatar

    Heh! You weren’t kidding about the whole “gloves off” thing, were you?

    At the end of the day, though, I totally agree that creatives need to stop wishing to control the fate of the stuff they release to the internet. And I agree with Tara, that marketing to other creatives isn’t necessarily barking up a productive tree. (Lord, that’s torturing a metaphor.)

    It’s interesting to me how Pinterest is getting used. I see it as, primarily, a personal tool for saving and organizing stuff you like. But I see Etsy sellers posting their products for sale on there all the time. I see crafters posting their own tutorials on there in hopes of getting more traffic (heck, I’ve tried that myself).  And I see the same people who get up in arms about protecting indie designs pinning pictures of products from big companies as inspiration for DIY projects. Clearly, we’re bleeding a lot of lines here.

    If I had one wish for Pinterest, it would be that it incorporate a more foolproof attribution engine. That can’t be impossible, right?

    1.  Avatar

      Tumblr recently changed (well, a couple months ago) to make attribution an absolute in it’s posts. images, at least, always carry a line at the very bottom of the post that links back to the original poster, once it’s been reblogged, and on the original post it will link back to the source of the image (such as where the image is on flickr, or what website it was lifted from). I can’t imagine that pinterest would find this impossible? It could also be a case of pinterest not really have the employee/codemonkey power to do this in its current state?

      1.  Avatar

        That’s great news about Tumblr! Attribution frustration was the major reason I quit reading Tumblogs. I’m so glad to know they’ve addressed that messiness.

  4. kalin whyte Avatar

    It seems like there’s not just a lack of awareness about how not-snowflake-special our craftiness is, but also no idea that sharing creativity is super awesome. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to make an income off the items I make (and occasionally sell) but I really enjoy someone see my items and be inspired to make their own version of it. 

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      This. Creativity is fun and feels special, but a crafty biz is still a biz and a lot of time I think the creative community in general just needs to get over themselves.

  5. Katrina Avatar

    Hi Kim, I’m sorry we had to meet like this! I caught this post through SisterDiane’s tweet. I’m Katrina, the original blogger who wrote that post and I can appreciate your difference in opinion. This has been a pretty heated debate on all sides.

    I want to make clear that I’m not referring to someone being “inspired” by something and riffing off of it to create something new – that part is the amazing thing about creativity, seeing something and being able to re-interpret in your own way. I’m talking about a pin that is perceived as a literal copy of the original idea.

    To me, the concept of “recreational use” on Pinterest is kind of a misnomer. Pinterest is a very public site where users are encouraged to share, NOT a personal notebook full of ideas that will never see the light of day. This is my whole point – finding something for sale in a place of business (I’ll broaden this to mean anywhere, not just Etsy) and publicly declaring you’ll be making your own copy may not be illegal, but it’s definitely tacky. And possibly unethical. Honestly, I’m still thinking about it myself.

    For me personally, checking the sources for my pins before pinning and being picky makes me feel better about the content I create.

    PS I have a follow-up post on Oh My! Handmade appearing tomorrow if you’d like to check it out –

    1. Sophiefair Avatar

      Disagree completely! People often begin crafting (knitting and sewing spring to mind) specifically because they see something they want, but decide to make it rather than buy it. That’s often how we, as crafters, grow, learn new skills and improve. The food analogy springs to mind — there are artisanal bakers and cheese makers out there, so should I never attempt my own sourdough, my own ricotta?

      Should people be able to sell stuff that is a direct copy of someone else’s creative work? In most cases, no. But people can make themselves whatever the heck they want for their own home and private use. I don’t see anything “tacky” about it.

    2.  Avatar

      I’m going to use knitting as an example, as it is my primary form of expression and where my creative business is firmly stationed.

      I can see your point. I can, but i can only really see it in certain, specific situations. Such as, if I see you’ve designed and knit a sweater, then released a pattern. I haven’t bought this pattern, but i spend a few minutes examining your sweater (possible in person or in pictures), then declare that i will be making my own but not buying your pattern to do it. This seems fairly tacky, particularly if i say it to you! I knit my sweater and it looks like yours. I add it to my ravelry projects page and link you pattern. Yeah, i find that tacky – but really only socially. I still had to sit down and figure some math and chart some stitches and swatch at stuff, there’s a good amount of work that goes in to it at least.

      However, if i’m in a store and i see a sweater i like and i file it away in my brain for later, i don’t think that’s tacky. Hell, i might even spend some time dissecting the stitch pattern or construction, then i eventually go home and make some more notes and swatch and chart and do a bunch of math (i’m a big excel fan, there would be lots of math involved) and in the end i knit a sweater that more or less resembles the sweater i saw in the store. I don’t really think this is tacky. There are lots of differences between the sweaters. I probably used a different material/fiber, i probably used a different weight of yarn (since so many storebought sweaters are much finer than i’d ever try to knit), the stitch pattern might be different, i’ve probably worked it in to the particular stitch count, which has been tailored to specifically fit me in a way a storebought sweater has a very low likelihood of ever fitting me – a lot of work has gone in to it. Yes, the intellectual concept isn’t 100% original, but what is?

      Recently, a ravelry friend of mine posted a project that was based off of a hat design of mine. They didn’t buy the pattern, they just tried to figure it out from pictures. It was more or less similar, although they didn’t do a part of it right causing a noticeable difference between their project and the other projects for the design (which they linked their project to anyway). This is tacky, but only because their hat is tacky :P they kind of outright proved that trying to wing it isn’t usually the best way, because without my specific instructions – they got it wrong. Most people realize this, or will come to realize it after they’ve goofed up one time. The only reason i feel slightly offended by it is that they linked their project to my design, and they DID NOT knit my hat. *shrug*

      I will always 100% agree that profiting from someone else’s idea without their permission is tacky as hell. Always. 100%. Tacky. 

      But declaring your interest on pinterest, whether that interest is “figuring it out on your own” or coming back and purchasing a pattern or following instruction… I just don’t think you can really take offense at that with impunity. It’s still publicity, it’s still visibility, people are still appreciating your work, and most people would prefer to support a creative professional rather than do all that pesky math (or metalcasting/silversmithing!) themselves.

    3. Kim Werker Avatar

      Hi Katrina!

      I don’t mind that we met this way. There’s nothing like a good ol’ respectful argument to bring bloggers together.

      I don’t see a difference between privately taking inspiration and publicly bookmarking the same things. The technology we’re now surrounded by has changed the general means by which we keep track of things, and we can’t expect the old rules to apply the same way.

      I don’t find it tacky at all if I see something online, even if it’s something for sale, and I want to make something just like it myself, and so I pin it publicly or tag it on Delicious. I suppose this is, in part, because I’m simply not inclined to buy it. And even if I don’t make one myself, I still won’t buy it. (This is fully related to the points Diane’s been making about not relying on crafters to be your customers.)

      There’s nothing wrong with not buying something. It shouldn’t be an offense to a seller when someone doesn’t buy from them. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to a seller when a crafter decides they can make one themselves.
      I’m glad the topic of proper attribution is a part of this conversation – this is a very important part of public bookmarking.

      I look forward to reading your follow-up, and being a part of the continuing

  6. Elizabeth Avatar

    I agree with this and a lot of the comments.  I think it’s sad when the creative community gets so protective of their own work that they inhibit the “I could make that myself” impulse in others.  It’s what first gets us all started, no?  Plus, like Tara said, most won’t ever get made, and we all still go buy stuff anyway.  People that never buy stuff weren’t the target market to begin with.

    In fact, since we so regularly bounce off other’s ideas, I’d say we should all take a more humble mindset and release things into the world with an attitude that says, “I love this & think it’s fantastic, but someone out there will probably jump off this and find another way to do it.  Maybe even better.  Long live creativity.”

  7.  Avatar

    Recently, a friend of mine knit a sweater vest pattern of mine for her husband (she purchased the pattern through ravelry, which i really appreciate, but i also would have gladly given her a copy) and then was tasked with knitting a sweater vest for her brother in law. Not wanting to knit the same thing again (can you blame her?) she decided to plug a different cable into the vest pattern (which is a really smart way to go!), but before she even got started she pulled me aside at knit night and asked if it was okay for her to do this.

    I think it’s really respectful she asked – but completely unnecessary! She paid for the instructions, if she wants to use them with her own cable chart, why would i ever try to stop her? I almost felt kinda bad, wondering what kind of browbeating had she received or been near in the past where somebody made it seem like this kind of thing was totally unacceptable? 

    Realistically, it’s not as if a sweater vest, particularly my pattern, is a new invention, invented by me, exclusively for my use. I relied on knowledge that came before me in order to understand how to write the pattern, and yes i put a lot of work in to it, but that doesn’t make it sacred it any way. 

    I think a lot of people repin things, particularly patterns or tutorials, because they’re excited about them, and even if they have the capability of making them without looking at your information, or visiting your webpage/doing more than looking at the pin, the chances are most craft & creative people will choose to at least defer to your instructions before ever going it alone. 

    What really frustrates me is that for every person who is super respectful of copyright and proprietary knowledge, there is somebody who doesn’t realize that profiting from somebody else’s work is wrong. There are any number of etsy sellers out there selling handmade/handknit/handcrocheted items that come from patterns they either got for free from ravelry, or possibly even paid for. IT’s not hard to secure permission from a designer about these things (though most will probably tell you no), but when it seems like that hasn’t even been acknowledged, it’s really frustrating :(

    1. meh Avatar

      Fun fact: the pattern is copyrighted, but the finished objects are not. You can do whatever you want with stuff you make from patterns no matter how “browbeater” people get.

  8. Jessika Hepburn Avatar

    Hi Kim, I’m not usually compelled to leave a comment on a site I have never visited before and disagree, but I just have to call attention to a few things I feel are being missed in the discussion. 

    What is bunk about seeing something that feels wrong for you, noticing that others feel the same and finding a solution that makes you feel more at peace? Not in control-but like you have respectfully said your bit and can move on. I agree that once we create something and send it out into the world that we release control of it, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring about it. As illustrated perfectly by the anecdote about the mosaic-it felt crappy to see the beautiful piece stuck over the toilet, he said something, they moved it. He didn’t have to, but by saying that their decision didn’t feel good for him he made them consider how they may have affected him and change if they chose to. While we can’t control what others do with our work or what is done with once shared it is completely within our rights to say how we feel about it! And encourage others to think of whether their actions are truly respectful.

    In my eyes this is very similar, Katrina & other creatives were upset about seeing their work dismissed and wanted to do something about it. Its rude to go up to an artist and tell them what they do is easy and I would react to a statement like that by telling the person they were being hurtful and dismissive but good luck with their creative adventures. Same thing here. By all means pin the work with a link to the shop or the name of the artist under inspiration or work i love etc…and by doing this show that you support and respect the creativity around you. Be inspired by their work and style then riff on it, write about it and share it! Then not only have you made something you have built community at the same time. Check out this fun project by Marisa for her riff on inspiration/pinterest 

    Why should handmade biz grow a thicker skin and become more like the bottom line corporate business model most of us dislike? We have a chance to create an economy based on respect and true value. Setting boundaries about what we are okay with is part of this as is having these discussions. Thank you for sharing your perspective and opening the door for a conversation about this. 

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      I’m really glad you commented, Jessika! Thanks for not biting your tongue, even though it’s your first time here.

      I think the idea that a small creative business can’t be like a “bottom line corporate business” is a dangerous one, and one that prevents many small, creative businesses from being successful.

      I assume that by “corporate business” what you mean is a large, faceless behemoth of a company. We’ve been having a very interesting conversation lately about how we think of businesses of different sizes, and why we’re so inclined to write some off as evil –

      But it seems that in contrast to that, you’re saying that we small crafty businesses don’t need to heed certain rules of business, and I don’t agree.

      We can complain all we want about how our feelings are hurt when someone wants to make a product themselves, or when they write a negative review of our work, or when they buy someone else’s similar product instead. But what good does that really do? I don’t see any good in that at all. I see a business that’s inclined to blame others for the hard parts of doing business – for dealing with competition (whether that competition is from other businesses or from DIYers), for pricing, for budgeting, for marketing.

      There seems to be a fairly pervasive attitude in crafty business that the buck doesn’t stop with the business owner – the buck stops with the tough economy, it stops with DIYers, it stops with IP infringers. But that’s just wrong. It’s up to the business owner to adapt to economic hard times, to market to a less crafty audience, to choose their IP protection battles wisely.

      There’s a conflation here between “kowtowing” and “respect”. It’s not disrespectful to a business when someone wants to make a product oneself instead of buying it. (As David explained very well in his comments above, it’s a different story when one business rips off another.) Even if the business’s owner’s feelings are hurt.

      When that first business wants people to bend to their whim, they’re not asking for respect, they’re asking for kowtowing. And I don’t think that’s a healthy way to do business – for the owner or for their prospective customers.

      1. Jessika Hepburn Avatar

        Hi Kim-I think these are definitely two different topics. The first is that small creative businesses can absolutely act and behave like large corporations that think the bottom line is the end all be all of a successful business-I fail to understand why they would choose to. I disagree with profit being the sole determinant of a successful brand. Businesses that demonstrate that their bottom line is the people they serve, the quality of their product,  their community and their ethics/integrity are the ones that get my money every time. I think the power of creative businesses is to build a supportive and innovative community that has values above and beyond that of making money. I can think of a number of large businesses that are highly ethical/respectful with how they interact with their communities and would never consider them “bottom line” corporations. Its not the size of the business its their attitude/ethics! I think the idea of small businesses growing bigger while valuing things other then just profit is awesome. Which is why I have dedicated a lot of my career towards social enterprise and entrepreneurship. 
        To me Katrina’s stance is the opposite of whining or complaining about feelings being hurt.   There is no kowtowing or demands, just saying that she & others don’t think its cool and are making a statement that they won’t be doing it. No ones forcing anyone to bend to whims just offering another perspective. In response to Kristen below I don’t think sharing how people feel about seeing their works pinned as projects is suppressing discussion but opening it up to a genuine dialogue.

        Thanks again for getting my gears whirring: )

        1. Kim Werker Avatar

          I think what we have here is a false dichotomy, not two different issues. Valuing your bottom line is not inconducive to valuing your customers, the environment, fair practices, etc. But often in our community we talk about it as if to profit is to be evil. That’s what I find dangerous, because a business without profit is a failed business.

          The reason crying foul when nothing is going wrong is a bad thing is that it makes people – sellers and buyers both – hypersensitive in ways that hinder any number of aspects of their experience of craft, be it their creative expression, their product development, their customer service, their innovation, etc.

          That’s why I think we need to leave feelings out of it in this case. I don’t think this issue is at all one of ethics. It’s not about nefarious competitive practices. It’s not about infringement. And so the result is that a small group feels vindicated and a larger group feels alienated.

    2. Kristen Avatar

      While it’s great for people to think about issues such as respect, one of the things that can bug me about being part of the online crafty community is the sense that hurting someone’s feelings is the worst thing one can do. I sell knitting patterns, and people complaining publicly about my patterns or coming up with their own way to make the same project might be aware that I might see their comments. And yes, they might (and do) sting when someone dismisses my work. But a culture that suppresses such discussion, or suppresses the ability to take inspiration from the work of others is one that will collapse inward. An insular community that suppresses perceived rudeness is one that allows unscrupulous practices to flourish, because if you suppress anything that might hurt someone’s feelings, you also suppress genuine issues such as sellers who don’t follow through on orders, employers who don’t pay promptly, bloggers who make promises they don’t keep. We’re talking about a specific issue here, but it’s part of a larger idea that crafty businesses are personal to the exclusion of business.

      When sellers complain publicly about others copying their work, or pinning things that are handmade with the intent of making them themselves, or are perceiving appreciation as a threat, then this creates a culture where customers may feel like they’re being put on an opposite side from the makers, or where the makers are perceived as an exclusive and protective clique. Of course it’s good to promote attribution, but I think telling people not to use our work as inspiration at all will in fact lead away from attribution. Why risk being accused of copying or unscrupulous behavior if you liked someone’s doohickey and later made one that was similar?

      Instead, I think greater welcoming of any form of appreciation is more professional and ultimately more beneficial. For every person who says, “I can make that doohickey!” and does, there are at least 10 people who don’t want the trouble of making it on their own. If the DIYer is free to link to their inspiration, then people who like their project are being funneled to the store that sells it. If we make attribution our cause rather than the suppression of other makers, then I think we’re better off as sellers and as makers.

      I’ve actually had an opposite issue with Pinterest, since I sell instructions rather than finished objects. One of my sweaters was pinned on a lot of style boards by non knitters. They are not my customers and will not be buying the pattern to make the sweater – if anything, they’ll be looking for a similar store bought sweater. But they’re not skimming my business. They were never going to buy from me in the first place, and by telling others they like my sweater, they are bringing more eyes to my work and perhaps some of their friends who do knit might also like my sweater and want to buy the pattern. I think the people pinning handmade projects as DIY might be seen in a similar way. They are bringing more eyes to a project they like, essentially recommending it to others, and hopefully bringing it in front of an audience who will want it as consumers rather than makers.

      1. Kim Werker Avatar

        Oh, yes yes yes! Thanks for writing this out so eloquently, Kristen!

  9. maryse Avatar

    so i’m one of those people who pins something that i like and files it under “i want to make all of the things.”  and if it’s simple enough, yeah i’m not going to buy the pattern.  or if i like the item but hate the color or have a better idea for a color, yeah i’m not going to buy it. but chances are, given that i’ve got 100’s of pins now, i’m not going to make it anyway.  but even if i did try to recreate work that i had seen online in a photo, what i’ve come to learn, is that very little of anything that we make now is truly original.  all i have to do is look at the multitude of knitting pattern books with a basic v-neck sweater pattern in it.  but i’m a knitter and a crocheter.  i’m not going to buy a cowl pattern unless it’s really really special.

    on the other hand, if i see something that’s sewn or quilted and i love it? i’m not going to try and recreate it because my sewing skills are just not that good. 

    anyway, that’s my thing.

  10. Hannah Avatar

    As an avid Pinterest user, occasional DIYer and a knitter, I would just like to note that the comparison to knitting patterns with these craft items on Etsy is not really viable. I work for a company that hires designers to write knitting patterns for us that we then publish — a LOT of work goes into these patterns, and not usually just by a single person. In addition, many of these patterns are protected by various types of copyright law that *do* exist. If someone knits it up on their own and posts it as inspired by, that’s not illegal. It’s only if that person is trying to SELL the final item that it becomes sketchy. 

    From the original argument (that caused this blog post), I got the feeling that the pinning was more of the issue than the making. And selling copies was never even addressed. If you put something up on the internet, which is huge and public and unregulated, it is going to show up other places. Pinterest is an online bulletin board that you can share with the world. I constantly pin things that are clothing items, couture items, paintings, crafts, objects from corporate stores, objects from Etsy stores — as DIY. How is it that none of the major stores seem to care, but the Etsy sellers are getting whiny about it? Because their profit margins are effected? If you aren’t making something that makes you money, and is easy to duplicate, maybe you should ask yourself why you have a business online in the first place. There are many different markets available. If you want to be the only soap seller or believe you’re the only person who can melt crayons onto canvas, go to your local farmer’s market. Don’t put things up on the internet.

  11. Katrina Avatar

    I want to thank everyone for weighing in on this discussion.
    This topic has continued to bring up countless smaller debates and questions
    and I think it’s important for each individual to decide where they feel
    comfortable drawing the line. Are there exceptions? Sure. Is it a slippery
    slope? Absolutely.


    This is not so much about “hurt feelings” as it is about starting
    at the most basic of community-building concepts – showing outward respect for
    others. I hope we can all agree that this IS a community covering new territory
    and with the proliferation of idea sharing sites, we’re all playing a role in
    shaping these sites from day to day. I’ll say it again that each one of us is
    ultimately responsible for the content we put out there – what do you want your
    curated content to say about you? The answers are going to vary
    since we’re all on our own path here, but I know I’m not alone in my admiration
    for those that challenge themselves to come up with interesting, original ideas
    instead of adding to the chorus of complacency with the way things were, are,
    and always will be.


    Whether you’re selling a product, service, or your opinions
    in the written form of a blog, I completely agree that the onus is on the
    individual or company to create something worth buying and market it in a way
    that builds trust. Concurrently, I hope we can also agree that the onus is
    on artists, crafters, and makers to search for a bit more inspiration inside
    their own head, drawing from their own perspective rather than relying on too
    much “inspiration” from outside sources.


    Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond – there
    are definitely specific exceptions and niches and many shades of gray to the
    bigger topic at hand of inspiration versus copying and where each of us draws
    the line, so I consider this another small piece of this important ongoing

  12. Natalia Heilke Avatar

    This is a really interesting discussion, and something that I imagine most crafters spend at least some time thinking about. For my own part,  I write a crafting blog that specifically teaches people how to do particular crafts, and my personal interest (other than crafting itself) is in creating more community around crafting, and bringing more people into that community, convincing them that yes they CAN make stuff themselves. I’ve received comments on my blog from people who craft a lot, and from people who don’t, and people from both groups have tried my crafts and shared photos. It’s deeply satisfying to know that other people out there can share my passion for crafting, and that I can help to develop that passion in others. A guy in Australia recently told me he’d tried one of my tutorials and it was the first time he’d done any sewing since high school home ec. He seemed to really enjoy it, showed me what he’d made, and even said he’d used one of the crafts as a prize for a local games night. Now how cool is that?! 

    Also, I am undeniably one of those people who looks at things and says “I could make that,” and I enjoy then figuring out how to do so. So I can’t really stand against that mentality. That said, I try to also honour the skill and creativity of other crafters, linking to them and tweeting about the work of other crafters that impresses me, and I do my best to avoid posting tutorials that specifically demonstrate how to do a craft that is someone else’s clever idea. It can be a fine line sometimes. But there are also many MANY crafts out there that have become sort of public domain. Needle felting a round wool bead, for example, or making a teddy bear. Those crafts themselves aren’t owned by anyone, though specific patterns might be. As I say, I think there can be a lot of grey area in this realm.Someone else pointed out that for every person who will follow your DIY instructions, there are 10 more who don’t want to DIY, or who don’t have the time, or who just want to support you and will therefor still buy your stuff. It’s so true, and I’ve seen it happen many times. And although I myself make tons of stuff, I still enjoy buying handmade items from other crafters. I also feel that there’s something to be said for the idea that people will better appreciate the value of handmade items if they know a little more about what goes into making them. They might learn that many handmade things are better constructed than their commercially manufactured counterparts. A friend once picked up a handmade bag and expressed his delighted surprise that it looked so good he thought it had been factory made, not handmade. I could have cried.

    As for Pinterest specifically, one of my blog tutorials was once pinned, and it has brought me overwhelming amounts of traffic. This has made me all kinds of new connections, linked me to all kinds of other interesting crafters’ blogs and projects and probably led at least a few people to my Etsy store, which is linked to from my blog. So in my personal experience, Pinterest can be highly beneficial to the crafters it features. I’m not a frequent user of it though, so I’m sure that other people have had less happy experiences, and that Pinterest has plenty of flaws. Granted, I’m also selling things casually and on the side, and not trying to run a full-on business, which certainly makes a difference.

    Some of my points may have gotten slightly off topic, for which I apologize. It’s just so nice to discuss these things with fellow crafters.

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Natalia. I agree that the more people know about how things are made, the more likely they’ll be to appreciate handmade goods.

  13. Amy Johnson Avatar
    Amy Johnson

    I’m late to this comment party, but I’d like to add another perspective. I’m an art teacher who blogs about teaching art.  I use Pinterest and blogs as a way to source ideas for cool lessons etc. etc. The art ed. community is growing more and more aware of the importance of citing wherein your “project inspiration” derived if you are using it on your own blog (mostly as a courtesy).  But, I’ve run into some online crafty business people who need. to. calm. down.

    About 18 months ago I was a full time graduate student and a full time art teacher. One of my high school students came across a jewelry ceramicist online and wanted to try and create her own jewelry.  I walked her through the process of creating a piece that was similar to the artist, and then walked her through creating her own, unique piece that was inspired by that process.  

    The results were so great that I posted images of myself (NOT okay to post pics of underage kids -that aren’t your own- on your blog!) wearing her jewelry. I felt I explained the project.  I didn’t link to the artist because I had forgotten her name -as I wasn’t the person who sourced the inspiration work anyway. But, I did mention that my student had been inspired by an online source.

    About a week later I got a legal cease and desist letter from the artist.  She also had figured out from my blog that I was a graduate student. She had to research to figure out at which university and then figured out who the names of all of my professors and the Dean of my college.  In that same original contact email she copied my Dean and explained that I was copying her work, selling it, and turning it in for a grade.  She included pictures with comparison charts etc.

    I promptly sent her an email back stating that I was not creating the work, selling it, or turning it in for a grade. I patiently explained that the work was created by a teenager in a K-12 academic, educational setting and as such is protected from copyright infringement of the sort she was implying. I also stated that I wished she had just emailed me and explained her concern, because I want to promote positive artistic relationships online and was more than happy to remove and all offending images. And, to show good faith, I removed the images immediately.

    But, I still had to have a formal meeting with my Dean and ALL of my professors to explain this ruckus. Fortunately, they concluded the artist was an insane person (they actually used that word), and that I handled things “okay”. Nonetheless,as a 4.0 student, I was extremely embarrassed to have to have the meeting at all. 

    As for the artist, I never heard from her past the first cease and desist email. I do know that I’ll never buy her art and that she has left a bad taste in my mouth for crafters who insist on this kind of sacred protections of their work. 

    I whole heartedly agree that once you post something on the internet, you are accepting that you no longer control that thing. People should be polite and cite etc. etc. . . But you can’t expect that to happen.

    Thanks for a thoughtful contrast to the usual “bunk.”

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      I’m so glad you shared your perspective, Amy. Education is definitely an area we often overlook in these kinds of conversations, and it’s a very important one. The old masters trained by copying each other, for goodness’ sake. Most of us can’t quite get to a place of original creation without learning the ropes by copying. And that’s not a bad thing.

      As a kid who rarely, if ever, felt comfortable in art class, I’m really excited to discover your blog. I never quite felt encouraged to *be creative* in art class – what a horrible shame! Your students are very, very lucky.

  14. Jenn A Avatar
    Jenn A

    Kim, where do you draw the line with this example? It doesn’t come from Pinterest, but from someone who saw a wildly successful pattern on Ravelry and made their version of it, and posted it under the name “Purloined”

  15. Jenn A Avatar
    Jenn A

    And how about this example, where a copyscraper/splogger took original material from Ravelry, posted it on their site, pinned it on Pinterest, and now people are looking at it like it’s the splogger’s original material?

  16. Lauren Venell Avatar

    Though I don’t really use Pinterest in particular, I have not found an overabundance of politeness to be the issue int he craft community.  I have actually been much more struck by the number of crafty business that seem to have no apparent understanding of intellectual property.  It is amazing what people to think is within the bounds of “fair use.”  A few examples I have encountered lately:

    –Selling an item made with an embroidery or knitting pattern.  The seller bought the pattern, and therefore thought they owned the rights to do whatever they wanted to with it, including profit from it.
    –Taking someone’s image and claiming it as their own after minimally altering it, for example, by  changing the color, or pasting an embellishment on it.
    –Selling prints of someone else’s original artwork because they took an “original photo” of it, and are therefore technically selling prints of the photo.

    I agree there is often a fine line when it comes to intellectual property, but some of this stuff is getting ridiculous.

    Just look at the brou-ha-ha that errupted a year or so ago when a woman won a Spoonflower fabric design contest using a free image she downloaded from the blog, “A Print A Day.”  People spotted it immediately and the pile-on that ensued got ugly, but the most shocking thing about the whole story was that the woman was a professional photographer, who presumably should have known better, since she also makes a living selling her images.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the basic argument in Kim’s post.  I have had my work copied dozens of times, but my business thrives because I continue to make newer and better products, not because I stamp my feet about people “stealing my ideas.”  But I disagree that there is an “insidious undercurrent of rule-following in the crafts world.” from what I have seen, rule-breaking and/or ignorance is much more rampant.

    1. Dawnmarie Avatar

      I agree that there seems to be a lack of understanding of intellectual property on all sides of the discussion.   

      I would respectfully suggest that your first example – buying a pattern  and selling the item made with the pattern- is not a violation of intellectual property or copyright laws.   The copyright is on the pattern so  I can’t reproduce the pattern or templates for sale but the item made belongs to me to do with as I please.   Ethically, I should give credit to the pattern maker in any postings about it online and in any sales attempt.  I should not put it forth as my own design.  I realize that some people feel it’s unethical to sell a design you didn’t create but it’s certainly not an infringement of copyright and as long as you give credit for the design, it’s not stealing intellectual property.  

      It’s like recipes.  I made an apple pie from a Southern Living recipe.   I added pecans (buttered and dusted with cinnamon sugar) that the recipe didn’t call for.  I have now modified the recipe and if I wanted to share this modification online with a nod to the recipe that inspired it, I could without violating any laws or ethics.  Even if I made the item exactly as the recipe stated, I could sell it without problem.  That would not be a violation of the copyright.  I can’t reproduce the recipe without modifying it, but I can sell the product made from the recipe.

      I’m not sure I understand your second example – if you are referring to a photo  – then I agree that’s wrong.   Your description reminds me of a concept in papercrafting – CASE’ing.   Case means Copy and share everything.   The rules of case’ing are that you give credit when you copy someone’s card or scrapbook page.   If you change it up – put the images in different places, use different embellishments, etc, you should give credit for the inspiration.  But at this point, it’s not a CASE or copy, it’s a piece inspired by someone else’s work.   Part of what gets so tricky in the crafting industry is that so often we think our idea is original.   I remember a situation where I posted a card and someone else posted the same card a few months later.  I don’t believe either one of us copied the other.  We used the same stamp set and came up with the same way to use it.   That happens sometimes when you work with stamps and created images.   I’ve seen too many people too easy to anger over a perceived slight or copy.   How much of what we do as crafters is truly original.  Aren’t we all creating based on numerous inspirations that we’ve received over time?

      You’re third example – of course I agree with.   It’s completely deceitful and I can’t imagine the person doing it doesn’t know it.  It’s unethical and wrong.

      What I am seeing now that I have started quilting and sewing, is that in this community so many designers seem to think they own my work just because they wrote the pattern that I used to make something.  Well, they don’t, I own the created product.  They own the pattern.   I try to respect their wishes out of my own sense of doing unto others, but I don’t agree with their insistence that they can dictate whether or not I sell the item I made.   Copyright law doesn’t agree with them either.

      I’m getting long winded here – but the real issue seems to be that designers think that me selling a product made with their fabric or their pattern will hurt their sales.   However, someone buying a finished product from me wasn’t going to buy their pattern or fabric anyway.   They weren’t going to make it themselves.   

      (As a disclaimer, no I don’t actually sell anything I make.  I’m too much of a beginner to be ready to consider that and I don’t think people will pay what I’m willing to sell my work for.   I do firmly believe that I have a right to.)

  17. Funkytime Avatar

    I loved Evie’s post about that topic
    “I believe anything good is worth giving away – that includes ideas, art, beauty, design – I believe it should be shared. So please, steal my ideas. Steal my artwork and designs. Copy my stuff. Copy my blog layout. Steal my projects, make them yours.
    I really don’t mind. I hope it builds you as an artist to find your own original ideas and builds the creative community towards a more giving, sharing place.” Via Evie here

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Sibylle. It’s a masterpiece! And it hits on some points that have been swimming around in my head of late. Worth thinking more on, and writing on in the next while.

  18. Michell Kaul Avatar
    Michell Kaul

    Well said!! I have an etsy shop but I also write a tutorial for everything I make! I LOVE sharing ideas and encouraging others…..I would much rather show someone how to make something than sale it!

    I can’t believe how many people email asking if they can make and sell a crochet item from a  pattern I wrote for their church or some sorta fair…well that’s why I shared it!

  19. Laurie Wheeler Avatar
    Laurie Wheeler

    I heart you Kim. Great post. 

  20. Kevin Bonnett Avatar
    Kevin Bonnett

    I’m all for giving craftspeople credit for making something. They’ve spent time, money, and effort in making something. Most of us don’t, or can’t, do such things for ourselves. Those that DO deserve their due… good or bad.

    However, it’s clear that genuinely new ideas are more rare than ever. Just yesterday I listened to a science fiction podcast (Aural Delights episode 101, produced by Tony C. Smith of “Starship Sofa”) which contained the best ever explanation I’ve ever heard of the “idea shortage”.

    The featured story was “Melancholy Elephants” by Spider Robinson (a sci-fi great!) and I believe a listen would go a long way to helping explain the point you make here. If you’d rather just read the short story, Mr. Robinson has graciously posted it on his site for all to share –
    or listen to it here –

    I recommend the podcast. Spider Robinson reads the story himself. And, I must say, he’s a marvelous narrator. Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, and enjoy it you will, it’s well worth a listen for any involved in this discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x