dusktreader knits

February 18, 2010

Thoughts on copyright

Knitting is way older than the concept of copyright. Long before you could own the expression of an idea, knitters were sharing their patterns with each other to survive in cold weather.

Believe it or not, copyright was created as an incentive for creators to share their work, because it gave them the opportunity to make money from it for a fixed period of time. It was meant to balance the rights of users and creators. Today, that fixed period of time has steadily increased, and updates to copyright laws have failed when it comes to including users’ rights. (For more information, see the works of Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow.)

Nothing in this world is new: everything is inspired by or built upon something else. It’s how creativity works. People mash up existing songs to create new ones: they juxtapose music and images to make cultural criticism. Knitters take stitch patterns which have existed for centuries, combine them with different ways of constructing garments, borrow a thumb gusset from one mitten and a braid from another. It’s something I’m fascinated by, and I believe strongly in a culture of sharing that also supports creators who in turn share their innovations.

In fact, if you’ll direct your eyes to the righthand* sidebar of my blog, you will see that I have licensed the contents under a Non-Commercial Attribution Share-Alike license. This means you can copy any of my work here for non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute it to me. If you are going to modify it in any way, you must make it available for copying under the same license. When I get to the point where I’m making my knitting patterns available (the Crazy Cat Cave is coming!), I’ll use the same license for them.

This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in selling or paying for patterns. I often use free patterns, either from sites like Knitty where the bills are paid by advertisers, or from patterns that other knitters make available on the internet. Part of my reason for starting this blog was to give back to that community of people who have shared their work with me over the years. But I also buy patterns, particularly when they are unique, or when the designer has done something that will make the knitting easier: charts that simplify a written-out design, explanations of difficult techniques or recipes which allow for endless modifications.

I actually think the knitting world does a pretty good job of of balancing the rights of users and creators. Free patterns and patterns you pay for coexist in the knitting world, and most designers offer both. You can make as many copies of a knitted object from someone else’s pattern for personal use (for yourself or as a gift), but you can’t sell these objects without the designer’s permission.** Knitters can choose to share their work with others via sites like Ravelry or their personal blogs, and they can choose to sell them through the same means, or by publishing them in print and online magazines. Knitters share. They also support each other. It’s a community I’m proud to be a part of.

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*pause while I make the little backwards L with my hand (“righthand? yes righthand”) because I don’t think I’ll be able to confidently tell left from right on the first try

**At least, that’s the license that most designers print on their pattern. I am not actually sure whether this holds up in court (if anyone knows of any case law regarding personal use of knitting patterns, please direct me to it. I except most indie designers don’t have the resources to take legal action, so there probably isn’t a lot). Copyright law doesn’t cover the items you make from someone else’s pattern, only the pattern itself. Regardless, it seems to be the accepted norm in the knitting community.

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