In June of 2008, this is what my friend’s activity tab looked like. It was the inception of the phenomena known as The Sweater that Ate Ravelry…also known as the February Lady Sweater. It’s easy for me to see why the sweater became so popular so quickly. It’s a beautiful design, and from the projects that have been posted, it looks very flattering to a number of body types. How many projects?
Just a few. It’s also in 8677 queues. It’s not quite in the same realm as Fetching (11039 projects) or even Clapotis (10793 projects)…but they were published in May 2006 and September 2004, respectively. February Lady Sweater was published in June 2008. And neither takes quite as much time as a full-sized sweater.
Unfortunately, such popularity can be a double-edged sword, as February Lady Sweater designer Pamela Wynne recently revealed.
If you haven’t read her blog post yet (and you might have, since it’s been Twittered and reblogged extensively recently), please do so before reading further. Personally, I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
I know, even without the benefit of reading extensive convoluted Ravelry threads, that copyright and licensing law can be painfully complicated. But these parts aren’t: you don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you. You don’t benefit from someone else’s hard work. You do give credit where credit is due.
Too many people think that just because a pattern is free, that means they can do as they please with it. They can photocopy it to hand out to all of their friends. They can make things using it and sell those items. They can sell the pattern itself as if it’s their own, as I blogged about last year…ironically, about the same time the FLS pattern was released. Or, as has happened to Wynne, they can use her pattern to teach a class–making money off the class and the sale of the yarn–without even bothering to give her credit…even though her Creative Commons license states clearly that the pattern can not be used for commercial purposes without obtaining her permission. Some stores have respected Wynne and her work and done that from the start. Others have apologized and sought permission after having their error pointed out (and received both forgiveness and permission).
And others have failed in basic courtesy to a designer.
Let’s be honest here: who benefits from free patterns? First and foremost, knitters and crocheters do. I learned to knit thanks to free patterns, and now that my skills have improved, I still have a plethora of beautiful and even intricate patterns to choose from at no cost to me. Second, yarn stores benefit. We have to get that yarn somewhere, right? If there weren’t patterns to knit or crochet (free or for sale), what would we need the yarn for? And I’ve seen it happen: people who get patterns for free often decide to “upgrade” their yarn purchase since they saved money buying a pattern. More money for the yarn store!
It’s only when you get to #3 on the list of beneficiaries, in my opinion, that you find the designer him/herself. There are designers like me: I only offer free patterns, so all I get from offering those designs are the thanks from knitters who use them and visits to my blog–which, for me, is more than sufficient…but it would be a whole different story if someone was making money off of, say Jeffrey’s Slipstitch Wristers. Other designers sell some of their designs in addition to the ones they offer for free, so they get the added benefit of increased exposure hopefully leading to increased sales.
Of course, if people are using one of those free designs to make money themselves without giving credit to the designer, so much for increased exposure, eh?
The outrage I feel over the subject is not for me, even though I offer free designs…partly because as far as I know none of my designs are being exploited. I’m outraged because I’m one of those in the first category of beneficiaries. I use free patterns, and I delight in what I’ve been able to find. So I feel it behooves me to speak on their behalf and let those who would exploit these generous people–whether through ignorance (which it is, in most cases) or malice–that I will not stand by in silence.