Thursday, July 19, 2012

Copied or Inspired? my answer

Ethics and legality - two sticky issues for any artist, especially an artist who profits from her work.  If you take sponsors on your blog or make stuff to sell, on any scale, you are in some sense creating "for profit." Now I know that most of us don't make back enough to cover our expenses and this is a hobby community after all, but it still puts us in a position where ethics and legality come to the surface.


Last week when Maureen asked a question based on her own response to these West Elm pillows, I think it was pretty easy for folks to agree that there's nothing wrong with making something very similar to an item you see online or in store, so long as you're making it for yourself (i.e. not to sell).  There seems to be a common feeling that if you can make it for yourself, by all means do!  Some prefer to buy from the artist when the artist is "indie" (selling on Etsy, for example), but don't feel this same pull with items from corporations like West Elm, Anthropologie, Target.

Ok, but what about the stickier questions?  The ones that actually apply to me, for example (and also to so many of you)!  Anything I make and share on this blog I "profit" from, since I have paid sponsors.  If I were to make a free tutorial, it would drive traffic to this space.  If I were to make a pillow like that and sell it at my craft show, I'd also stand to gain.  This arena of what counts as "inspired by" and what counts as "copied from" is a practical concern to me. And, I bet it's also a practical concern for many of you too.

herein lies the labor

Reading the comments on Maureen's post sent me in to two very useful directions.  First, I listened to a TEDTalks Beauty & Fashion episdoe via Netflix titled "Johanna Blakley: Lessons from Fashion's Free Culture".  I learned that in the fashion industry anything goes.  There's no legal protection against one's designs being copied to the "T".  The only caveat is you can't copy someone's logo!  The speaker explains, "Copyright law's grip barely touches the fashion industry... and fashion benefits in innovation and sales."  Johanna Blakley holds up the fashion industry as a model, asking listeners to consider if their own industries would benefit from this environment.  It got me thinking how like fashion is our "home decor" category, which includes quilts, pillows, wall hangings, etc.  Our items are both useful and beautiful.  It seems likely to me that in a court of law one would be able to protect oneself from a lawsuit for "copying" that West Elm pillow (as an example) drawing on the fashion industry's standards.  I have not come across any info that suggests that there are different precedents in place for home decor.  But you should know, I'm no lawyer!  

waste not, want not

Next I read this post from free motion quilting hero Leah Day.  Her post, "Copyright Terrorism" is a very strong stance against "I own this" kind of thinking (and the TEDTalks video is imbedded in her post, as it turns out).  Among other things, she addressed the legal debacle that most recently surfaced in our corner of blogland regarding the fabric designs of Kate Spain, a quilt and book made by Emily Cier and the tote bags which were produced by C&T Publishing.  The alleged lawsuit was never brought to court so we don't know how the courts would have ruled.  I don't bring up this post or the lawsuit so that we can argue about it.  What I took away Leah's post was this part:

I'm all for sharing great products, and I love telling you all about the tools and materials I'm using.  It's when it becomes a REQUIREMENT to tell you every tool, every material that went into a quilt, that makes me very uncomfortable....

If you want a quilting world where we all work in secret, creating in a void of new ideas and innovations just so your work can be "yours" to slap a copyright on, you can be guaranteed of one thing: failure.


Because no one wants to deal with this.  No one wants the headache, the complication, the fear, or the negativity that this kind of attitude will bring.  The more you shut down and lock up the quilting world, the fewer people will want to have anything to do with it...

Spend some time thinking about copyright today and what world you're helping to create with quilting.  

A world where we share ideas, techniques, fabric, and tools as freely as our grandmothers around a quilt frame.


Or it could be a world locked tight by fear, lawsuits, negativity, selfishness, and egotism.


cats!

So, I did.  I spent some time thinking about this.  My policy with tutorials and patterns has always been to freely allow folks to sell the things they make, if they like (but not to mass-produce).  I feel that I'm putting it out there and so, of course, people will want to make to sell sometimes.  That's the nature of crafting!  If there were a pattern that was so important to me that I wanted to use it exclusively, it would be better for me not to make it public.  But even then, someone clever would eventually figure it out themselves. And... that would be FINE!  I don't own the ideas.  Ideas are human rights that spread like a glorious wildfire in our newly connected world.  I own my own interpretation, my words, my pictures.

the making

Now, yes, it's great when people do credit the artist when they use someone's pattern or tutorial.  That's being polite and honest (this is ethics).  But sometimes people won't even remember where they got an idea from.  Happens to me too, I'm sure!  I'm not going to get upset because I think they used my idea and didn't credit me.  They may have come up with the same idea all by themselves, after all!  Coincidences happen and great minds think alike.  And that's one reason why I don't think this kind of credit should be a legal requirement.



So, back to the pillows.  I decided to illustrate my thoughts by making a project, which I intend to sell, that is inspired by the West Elm pillows.  What do I like about those pillows?  The scrappy raw edge applique (I've done that before) and the chevron shape, which is all the rage these days.  Neither are original thoughts, so I would feel legally safe to just copy the pillow as it is, with my own fabrics.  Unlike a drawing of a person or animal or something, the chevron shape is a classic.  No one "owns" it.

But, I wouldn't feel ethically sound with a straight, exact copy.  I'd feel a little less as an artist. I'd be settling for "good enough" instead of 100% beyond reproach.  If I'm going to make something to sell and I don't have the artist's expressed permission to copy, I hold myself to the standard of evolving, not copying, the idea.

Scrappy Chevron wall art

So here's what I came up with.  I didn't want to make pillows, I wanted wall decor.  And, I didn't want to work in a square either.  I used my favorite fabrics for a much brighter, "me" kind of color scheme.  I played around with the fabrics until deciding to leave gaps in the larger work.  But, actually, the smaller 8" x 10" pieces are my favorites.  They look great no matter how you orient them, horizontal or vertical.  Maybe I'll make another of the small ones!

Scrappy Chevrons wall art

So, this is my answer to the question, "What is copying and what is being inspired?"  I felt that a physical response would be the most useful.  It's ok if you disagree.  Ethical questions are never cut and dry.  I'd love to hear what you think!

And I encourage you, along with Leah Day, to think about what kind of world you want to create in our industry.  Do you allow others to make things for profit with your tutorials/patterns?  How do you react when you see something made that's similar to yours with no credit given?  Do you ask everyone for permission for every little thing, even when your work is evolved and unique?  In doing so, aren't you creating a precedent that may have negative repercussions?

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Let's own our work, because actually virtually any sewn item is unique to the artist when you get down to it.  And also, let's not own our work.  Let's realize it's already owned by everyone else anyways.

96 comments:

  1. Ah Rachel. I agree and disagree. I believe its okay to make anything you see as long as it is for personal use. I also think its okay to make something that is inspired by anothers work, but obviously different (not just different fabrics, but a new, evolved item such as your wall art). I do, however, believe that is is any artists given right to sell patterns strictly for personal use. Artists all over this industry do it, and I don't think its at all selfish, but a way to protect your work, and to continue to be able to make a profit. If everyone else is selling your work, how much profit are you getting? In addition, I believe selling something close to what another is selling shows a lack of creativity on the part of the "copycat" (for lact of a better word). I think if you are inspired by something, then make it, but for Heaven's sake! Make it your own. Period. I can tell you feel strongly about this subject, especially since your reaction to Maureen's post was as blatant as to physically make something. I respect that, and applaud you for stating your feelings in such a cut and dry manner.

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    1. Thank-you, Meredith for so politely stating your disagreements. I appreciate the conversation that allows! As far as the patterns, I'm not concerned if it's an artist's "right" to sell them to be used strictly for personal use. I would agree! I guess I'm more asking if that's the way we want to do this. That's for each person to decide, I realize. For me, I don't worry about others selling items made with my patterns, so long as they don't sell my pattern. I still make money when people by my pattern. Those who buy the finished item are probably folks who wouldn't want to make it themselves, I'd wager.

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    2. This kind of thinking is not at all what I'm used to. I'm a knitted and knitters are lets say more tight fisted with their patterns. That is to say that almost all knitting patterns are for personal use only, generally including tutorials and blot posts. Copyright is serious business in the knitting sphere. Check out the story of Alice Starmore. The knitting designers solution/compromise to the profit from my work conundrum is the cottage liscense. Personally, I feel as if the issues of copyright stifle my creativity because I am constantly worried I will infringe on some one else's work. I thank you for your statement about selling items from your patterns. I'm sorry I cant be more specific about the stories and precedents I refer to but frankly I don't completely understand them myself. I wanted to refer quilters to the discussion that is ongoing in other spheres that they probably aren't aware of.

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    3. I've seen the cottage license used a bit in the sewing realm too. It seems to be well-received in general. People are probably appreciative of a clear path towards making-to-sell even if they have to pay extra.

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  2. Great post, Rachel! I definitely think similarly on this subject. I especially think it's important to give credit when you can. This community is based on relationships, so when I can credit someone for inspiration, I do. But as you said, sometimes it's hard to pinpoint inspiration.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

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    1. hear hear, jacey! that's how i see it too. and great post, rachel - i love reading different people's thoughts on the subject. so glad maureen brought it up in such a constructive way. :)

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  3. As a shop owner on etsy (www.CrosStitching.etsy.com), I've run into this sort of thing all the time. I crochet baby hats and accessories, and frequently see someone else's work and am inspired by it. I even spend time looking up what popular things are selling right now and come up with my own interpretation of it. And I can look around and see where people have clearly mimicked my designs as well. That's just the nature of things. I've also run into problems with copyrighting, rather "trademarking", of a specific name. I had another seller message me and say that I couldn't use a word to describe my item because they had a trademark on it. I thought it was a fairly generic word and thought trademarking it was silly, and maybe not even possible, but I removed it nonetheless. Another incident actually bothered me a bit. I have a photographer friend who I make hats for and she lets me use her pictures. She has a similar arrangement with another seller who also sells some hats, but mostly applique tie onesies. In a particular picture my friend used my hat, and the other seller's tie onesie. But this other seller used the picture on her site and copied my hat to sell in her shop so that she could use the picture and sell the hat and onesie as a set. This bothered me, because it wasn't her hat in the picture, it was mine. But I let it go and just used the picture too since it's only a seasonal item, and never contacted the seller about it.

    I think the biggest thing to remember, is like you said, just be overly generous with your work and "ideas" and understand that if you're putting it out there, you're opening the window for it to be copied. If you want to keep it to yourself, then don't post it.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing the seller's perspective, Erin!

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  4. I had a long answer written out sharing this very dilemma I'm in right now, but, by doing so I got my answer that my idea is inspired by. It's sometimes a very fine line, but I agree with the idea of being generous and sharing our ideas. Because, honestly, why are we blogging about it then?

    With that said, I'm going to go make ME one of those pillows…

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  5. Well said....I am always seeking that inspiration and looking for a way to make it my own statement. Copyright police should be locked up!

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  6. Excellent well thought out post Rachel! I am a lawyer and trained in textiles and spent time in the fashion industry. I know there is no protection in the Fiber World akin to say Patent Law which is extremely technical, specific, this is mine and no one else's etc. In a world of Etsy, Pinterest, and let's face it The Internet altogether there really isn't room for it! Think of all the knock off designer bags out there. As a seller it can be frustrating, as an artist it can be an ethical dilemma, as a buyer it is a great opportunity to explore the options offered by a diverse market for quality, price, and variety!

    I think as creators we tend to forget how many people out there Do Not DIY. We just don't see it but they exist! So when I think about selling a pattern I feel silly because I know if it were me I'd just reproduce something I see in my own way...but a lot of people are not like that! So I say, keep creating, share the love of handmade and think big picture. If your item gets purchased in Colorado then maybe someone in New York will see it in an airport and go searching for something similar at the next NYC craft show. You just don't know. After all...as a former retail buyer let me ask you this: Where do you think the West Elm Designer got this idea anyway!!!

    Gorgeous wall art. Do enjoy guilt-free!

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  7. I totally agree , Rachel. And I like your point about the fashion industry. I know there are knock off gowns for sale the day after any big Hollywood event, and that is OK !

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  8. Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is doing something else.
    - Leonardo da Vinci

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  9. This is such a complex issue. I have heard it said that you can not copyright a quilt or a design; what you can legally own is pattern directions and diagrams. So you can own your words and instructions and photos, but not the "concept" of a quilt. It's an interesting topic to consider.

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    1. That sums up my understanding as well.

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  10. I very much share your sentiment. I never use a pattern for anything I make (unless it is clothing). All of my quilts just "happen". I never know my plan when I purchase fabric or start something. The fabric tells me what it wants to be. Does that make sense?

    A while back a friend of mine wanted a certain block made by a quilting hive and she had seen it somewhere and had figured out how to make it herself. It is a take on a very old, very beloved traditional block so she saw no problem with putting up a tutorial for how she had made the block. Well the uproar was deafening! Everyone was sending her nasty emails about how "this" designer had a pattern out for "that block" and how she was stealing someone's copywrited work, blah blah blah. She had posted a link to where she had seen the block and said she had been inspired by it and had figured out that it was "this traditional block arranged this different way".

    My question is where does it all end? Is someone going to claim that I can't arrange my log cabin blocks in a certain way because they invented it? :D As you can see I have definate feelings on this issue. As I am a "traditional" quilter I know every thing I do has been done and done and done by everyone before me. What makes it special to me is that I chose the fabric and I made it. I can't claim it just because I might have made it with different borders than anyone before me.

    If something I make was inspired by something I saw and I know it then of course I give credit where credit is due. For me though, most things I make have been inspired through my nearly 35 years of quilting by EVERYTHING I have seen. :D

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    1. What you're saying, Samantha, is a good reminder that the longer we're in this world of handmade sewing goodness, the more our backlog of inspiration grows. Pin-pointing our inspiration will become more and more complex! If we feel burdened (legally or ethically) to be able to ALWAYS cite our inspiration, I can see how limiting/discouraging that could be.

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  11. Being an interior designer, I can't help but think of this in similar terms to a recent article I read in Dwell. (http://www.dwell.com/articles/The-Real-Cost-of-Rip-Offs.html)

    This except particularly hit home: "For Jason Miller, founder of the manufacturer Roll & Hill, the desire to trump knockoff makers is a far more powerful motivator of creativity than intellectual property laws. “What are you going to do as a designer, sit back and complain they’re acting immorally?” he asks. “That’s not going to pay the bills or make you feel better. You need to get to a place where they can’t knock you off—reach a level of craftsmanship or take a design risk that a knockoff company wouldn’t take. If you can’t create that individuality or specialness, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.”

    I know that it's a little different than crafting/quilting, but I do think that it's something to think about. I think it's similar to when I see a quilt pattern for sale, if it's basically an arrangement of HST or something fairly straight forward that I can figure out easily, I don't spend the money and just work something similar out on my own. But if it looks different enough that it would take some time to figure out (something the pattern owner already put in), then I think it's worth my money.

    I like your idea to be more creative/innovative instead of straight copying, just because it is how any creative art evolves and something that sits better with my ethics. But I do understand your point about these pillows not being "innovative" enough to be legally protected. (and gosh! sorry for the long comment! I've loved the discussion on maureen's blog and can't wait to read the other comments here)

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    1. Your excerpt from the Dwell article is akin to what I heard Isaac Mizrahi sharing in another TEDTalks. It's an example of how when we focus on innovating instead of protecting "our own" it can drive us, and drive us far.

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    1. Bea, I follow quilters and cookiers, so it is kind of freaking me out to see those two worlds colliding.

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  13. Great post. I agree with you. Everything you've said matches what I've heard from people in the fashion industry. I love the chevron wall decor. Now I'm wondering if I could cover a wooden box with scraps in a chevron patter and mod podge them. It'd make a nice treasure box for my daughter. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  14. I remeber reading a food blogger's post about her recipe that was printed word for word on a food product box without her permission. She contacted a lawyer and was told that she doesn't "own" the recipe because she doesn't have excusive rights the food products used and that it isn't impossible for someone to come up with the same ingredients and amounts. It was a bit disheartning to her, but she understood. She would have been better with it all if the company had asked for permission(ethics). This is a lot like the fashion/arts industry, too.

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  15. I came across this a few days back http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriation_(art) It's kind of lengthy but a good read.

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    1. Woa, that is interesting stuff. Yes, lots of info, but thanks for sharing!

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  16. I loved reading this post! I feel the exact same way. I know what I'm risking putting my tutorials and patterns out there but I do it because I want to share my ideas and inspire others. I can't get mad when they do get inspired enough to make and sell my items!

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  17. This is a topic I am very aware of lately. I have being sewing (painting/drawing/etc.) since I was about 5. My mum used to sew for money. Probably from copyrighted patterns, and if there was a garment or toy in a store which I loved, she would figure out how to make it for me. It never occurred to me that we were doing anything wrong. As a copyright aware grown-up, I try to respect a designers decision to list a pattern as 'personal use only', although I don't personally believe it to be legally binding, it's more about ethics. I have seen quilt patterns marked 'personal use only' that involve only squares, HSTs, and other simple shapes. This really really bothers me. Basically, I hope that the quilting community will continue to share and inspire each other. I also really really appreciate it when pattern designers state specifically that they are ok with small scale stitching for profit. I'm a bit shy about asking those who don't state either way.

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    1. Hopefully as we raise the issue more and more pattern designers will decide to specifically state small scale sewing for profit is permissible! Whether or not they legally have the option to preclude it is something I'm not very informed about.

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  18. Section 102(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. from Copyright.gov

    Seems to me that is what a pattern is. So when people put asinine restrictions on just what you can do with a finished item made from a pattern, it makes me wonder. Is that ethical? Even legal? If your item is SO original you don't want people making the item to sell, then don't sell the pattern for it. Sell the items and be done with it, but don't tell me what I can and can't do with a pattern hoping that I will blindly accept legal threats you don't even have the authority to make. You own the copyright to your pattern and if I copy the pattern and sell that, then yes, that is a violation. But putting additional (baseless) restrictions on the finished item (which I used MY fabrics, MY thread, and MY time for)...sorry but that just goes too far. And according to Copyright.gov, it shouldn't even be an issue.

    "You" in this sense is general, not directed at anyone in particular. These are just my thoughts that have come about over the last few months with the Kate Spain/C&T Publishing and also a comment from above that took me in this direction. Sorry for the novel.

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    1. Thanks, Lorraine! I have also heard that it is not legal to make that restriction. I wonder, do you think it's not legal to restrict mass production from your pattern? I think that the pattern is purchased for "single use" and so mass production (presumable by a team of people) is not legal?

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  19. It's such a difficult one. I recently was so inspired by a cushion I saw on flickr I copied it. Not exactly but hey it could have come from the same person. The person new as I posted pics in their flickr group and when I was thinking of doing my own thing with it she even suggested I did the backing her way not my own. I was making for myself. I wouldn't have tried to pass any of this off as my own idea or sell it. I quite regularly see tutorials re hashed by different bloggers. One recently I read by a blogging friend was almost identical to one I'd read just days before - the blogging friend just used better photos. She made it sound like she had invented the technique yet when I'd tried it after the first tutorial I'd changed the method because I found a better way for me. The fact she'd copied the tutorial step by step made me sure that she'd read the same tutorial as me and just rehashed it. That said I know there is coincidences. I was sent a gift by an American blogging friend. She asked me not to post pictures of it because she'd made the item for a book she'd been asked to write for and she didn't want someone stealing the idea. I had to tell her I'd had an identical item for about 20 years and they had been designed and made here in the UK previously. I am sure this person had no idea and it was just coincidence. For me a lot of it comes down to credit. If you make something or write a tutorial knowing you're ripping off someone else for whatever reason it's theft. And with tutorials why not just link back to the original rather than re-write as your own?

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  20. I have followed this with Leah and all. Maureen and Leah have it right. Leah has done a huge favor to the entire quilting community with her guts to say it as she feels. And the Chevron pattern has been around for a million years..Quilters are nice people. We do not want to step on toes. I remember being so thrilled with a quilt I made and then seeing something almost just like it posted on a European blog...totally separate from me. Lets just enjoy fabric and design and creativity and the friendships we have with gratitude.

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  21. I have a perspective from both sides. For starters like most people I am inspired by what I find out in the world. While I don't copy things exactly, I do pull inspiration from them (color, print, layout, etc)...much like you have done with the pillows. I believe with all my heart that this is how we learn and aspire to do better.

    On the flip side, I do have an Etsy shop and sell quilt patterns. While my pattern is marked "copyrighted"; it's more to protect the actual work itself (the photography, the pattern and it's diagrams). If someone really wants to, they'll find a way to make it themselves without the pattern. Yet, at the same time, I'd like to think that because I've already done all the work for you, it would be easier to just buy the pattern. It's your choice, of course. I do belive that it is blatant infringement if someone were to buy my pattern and then post it online.

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    1. Yes, absolutely it would be infringement. You own your photos and your words, so a paid pattern cannot be legally shared.

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  22. Good thoughts Rachel! I've had similar feelings about this subject but have never been able to articulate them like you have! thanks for sharing!

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  23. Very thought provoking! I read Maureen's article & was impressed by West Elm's response. I love where you took it with fashion industry & Leah Day's view on it. I agree - I think we need to just see imitation/inspiration as a form of flattery and realize once our ideas are public they are really set free.
    I love how you said to credit "if we remember" who to credit. Sometimes I think I have a great idea for color or fabric combo, happen to look on flickr & realize my good idea was just a memory! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your wallhangings! They are uber cool!

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  24. Love this post Rachel! And speaking of where West Elm got the idea (or maybe where Anthropologie got the idea), Maureen linked to this pillow in her article: http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/product/home-pillows/76301.jsp
    If you look, there are two color choices for the pillow. The one on the right, the reddish orange box, is the flower pillow. BUT the aqua box on the left is...surprise, surprise. Is it just me, or is that like THE SAME pillow?!

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  25. Free tutorial is what attrack the readers. How about translations? Is it all right to translate pattern and make your pictures and pass it (even sell) to those who don't speak English? There is probably more to this issue than you think.

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    1. You're right, I hadn't considered translations. That's an interesting question.

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  26. Thanks for the post for thought. I made a similar post several months ago mainly to encourage people to give credit in blogs and Flickr IF THEY COPIED someone else's design. Not were inspired by (because we're all inspired by everything we see, as has been said). I think it's nice to give credit.

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  27. totally love what you did here rachel. LOVE it. and i fully agree!

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  28. Really interesting post - food for thought (which was the point, right?)

    Not sure i agree that you don't own your ideas, but there is certainly a tension that emerges as a field gets more commercialised.

    I guess we need to strike a balance between academia and the fashion industry. I don't want to formally credit everyone from the fabric designer to the sewing machine engineer, but equally, i want to be able to trace influences, and give and get credit for being part of the disucssion.

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    1. What an elegant way to put it! I wonder how that balance could be struck? Would it be easiest to achieve by legislation or by volunteer "niceness". I think we all want to think it could be volunteered. And, I guess it's up to us to make that work now, while we still have a chance?

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  29. Love your wall art, and I love the conversation you've created based on Maureen's questions (lol - you both get 'credit'!). It is important for us to know the law, and to also think about what we're really doing and sharing as bloggers. For me its primarily about creating, sharing it is secondary, and if I'm able to inspire that's the icing on the cake!

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  30. Personally, I would be thrilled if anyone copied my work. What a treat to see that someone loved what you made enough to repeat it. Alter it. Redefine it altogether. I don't think this community is lucrative enough to worry about the financial aspect of loosing a few sales. That item is probably putting a smile on someone's face and at the end of your life, will it really matter? Sewing is such a joy and should be shared. I rather release my ideas rather than control them. That seems stressful and the complete opposite of what being artistic is all about. That being said, being polite is always important. I like the idea of crediting your inspiration. As Jewel Kilcher said, "In the end, only kindness matters." I think that's true. And Rachel, I agree, if you make something, it's yours. The inspiration doesn't matter whether it was inspired or copied. Sewing is such a commitment from purchasing necessities, learning your craft, and finding the time. Whether you copied something you love, or found inspiration and made your own, I think you should be proud {as long as your truthful about your journey}. And if you can make some money doing it, go for it. It's probably not enough to account for the material and time anyway. Just have fun. Live and let live. Gosh, life is just so special and short to be worrying about the small stuff.

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  31. Very cool post. As a beginning blogger, I struggle with this all the time. The concept of what is 'original'. It is always interesting to hear peoples views. Thanks for always posting about such cool things that get us talking!

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  32. From a copyright point of view, I have absolutely no problem with people using my tutorials to make things for themselves, friends, whatever, but I am a bit less comfortable with people who take particularly complicated patterns that I have worked on for some time (which, admittedly, I don't often give away)and then use them to make things specifically to sell with no further reference to me.

    I did a pattern recently for Julie at the Intrepid Thread's newsletter, and she always says that if people wish to reproduce any of the patterns to sell, then they must contact the pattern writer, and includes all contact details. One of her readers then went on a huge rant about why she shouldn't have to do this, and that basically she should be able to get patterns for free wherever she liked and sell the results, and to hell with whoever had put in the hard work to develop them.

    Now I realise that putting anything out on the net means you lose control of it immediately, so I wouldn't know if she had made dozens of them to sell, but the whole idea of complaining, and then comparing us with people who charged for their patterns and allow people to sell without 'ridiculous restrictions' was frankly baffling. If I sell my complex patterns, I'm happy for people to sell the output, as by buying the pattern I have received some compensation for my time, but I'm not sure why someone should profit from a lot of people's hard work when they're too lazy to put anything in themselves.

    In the meantime, I'm happy to put simple patterns and tutorials out there for free and easy use :o)

    As for inspiration, someone asked me the other day how I'd come up with an idea, and then declared their head hurt at the end, so I guess the convolutions of the myriad of source ideas being credited was a little much ;o)

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  33. Great Post! Thanks so much for sharing! This is the very issue that almost made me completely leave the quilting community last year. I saw someone being attacked because they came up with a block and someone tried to tell her that someone else had it in their book, therefore it belongs to that person. In today's world it is hard to go around in a bubble and not be inspired by the items we see every day. If I am taught a technique that is up and coming, it won't be long until that is standard! Look at how much FMQ is all over the place compared to the world of quilting blogs before the FMQ Project came along.

    In the late 1800's Lady Goody book magazine wanted to sue stores that offered "ready-to-wear" items that were made using the patterns in their magazine. The courts upheld that though they offered the pattern they had no legal rights to the goods made by those patterns. The pattern is the work and accomplishment of one person/company and I believe that the works created from such patterns are the works and accomplishments of another. After all, just because one purchases a pattern the items do not make themselves!

    A few months ago I received my quarter copy of fabric porn (Hancock's of Puducah fabric swatch catalog) and I noticed that they featured two quilts on the front that actually looked to be the exact same pattern. However when you look inside the catalog they sell two different patterns by different designers and a quilt kit for each one! (Sorry so long, scarring topic for me)

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  34. Fear of people getting mad at me has actually stopped me from selling something that I already made and was very proud of. I come up with this awesome painting only to figure out it is already out there. After seeing this post I think I just need to move past that feeling and sell it.

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    1. I hope it works out for you! That's exactly the kind of situation that can so discourage creativity. I'm thrilled to hear this post has been helpful!

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  35. A thought provoking and timely post for sure. The more we share and create, the better this world will be. With that being said, it is our responsibility to act with integrity. Sew on! Your wall art is fabulous!

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  36. Fabulous wall art Rachel. I made some crayon rolls inspired by yours for my children. It took me ages and many attempts to make some sort of pattern for them. I was then asked to make some for other children in the class which I was happy to do and they paid me for the materials used. One parent asked me for the pattern which I was not willing to do as I didn't use a pattern, just liked the idea and made it up using the crayons to make measurements and fabric I had, but I directed them to your blog where I got the original idea from and that they could go ahead and make from that just like I did! I also said there were plenty around if you google and research books. I think this happens all the time and I appreciate so much all the time and energy you put into sharing this wonderful craft on your blog. I would hate to think of a world where we didn't share our ideas. I certainly wouldn't be the happy crafting person I am today with a long list of "I want to make" without your generosity and inspirations! The thing that happened with Emily Carr is one of the reasons I am terrified of blogging etc because I often don't remember where fabric came from etc!! Anyway great discussion Rachel and Thank You!

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  37. Quilted and sewn creations, designed for functional uses and for pure "release of the imagination," have endured through the years because the artists have shared their skills, experience, knowledge and passion with the next generation.
    Not only is a quilt made of many small pieces of fabric and thread joined together, but it also becomes a conglomerate of pattern, original ideas, memories, feelings, inspiration, originality, and individuality. With the growing awareness of these issues, I think that quilters will act with integrity, and give credit where {and when} it is due, in order to keep this creative environment alive and thriving. That's the nature of a quilter!

    Thanks for bringing this up for discussions and awareness, Rachel.

    Sue

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    1. You're welcome, Sue. Thanks for adding such a true and inspiring comment!

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  38. Rachel, I agree with you and many other comments here. Unfortunately, a friend of mine made one of those "taggie" blanket things to sell in her etsy shop and was slapped with a lawsuit. Apparently adding ribbon to quilts is patented. Oh well, perhaps if she wasn't trying to sell it?

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    1. Wow, really! Thanks for telling us. Did she settle out of court or take it to court or just kind of back out of it?

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    2. This happened to me, too, when I sold them from my Etsy shop five years ago. My fabrics and ribbons and color combinations were completely different from Taggies, but the company's lawyer emailed me demanding I stop selling them, with legal explanations of their patent included, and forms attached telling me to sign in compliance. I stopped selling them, but did not sign anything. The whole thing blew me away really. I'm all for respecting another person's hard work, but inspiration feeds inspiration and in our quilting/sewing world I just don't see that a whole lot is completely and flawlessly original. We're all building on what we've seen.

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    3. This happened to me, too, when I sold them from my Etsy shop five years ago. My fabrics and ribbons and color combinations were completely different from Taggies, but the company's lawyer emailed me demanding I stop selling them, with legal explanations of their patent included, and forms attached telling me to sign in compliance. I stopped selling them, but did not sign anything. The whole thing blew me away really. I'm all for respecting another person's hard work, but inspiration feeds inspiration and in our quilting/sewing world I just don't see that a whole lot is completely and flawlessly original. We're all building on what we've seen.

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  39. What a great thought provoking discussion! It is very important to give credit where we can. That being said, say I got my inspiration from "A" who got their inspiration from "B" and so on, my point is, we can't always be 100% accurate, but we can all be courteous and nice. I personally love the idea of an open, and supportive, creative community where we can all feel comfortable putting our own spin on time honored blocks and quilts.

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  40. Rachel, your post was so informative and thought provoking. I so appreciate the point made of where would we be if our great grandmothers didn't share ideas and patterns around the quilt circle? My creativity for creating my own designs has blossomed since I started reading quilt blogs - I am so inspired by reading the blogs of this wonderful, generous, creative quilting community.

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  41. I admire how thoughtfully you have gone about all of this. Your posts are well-researched and well written, and I appreciate how you are taking in opinions from many sources as your form your own response. This is terrific food for thought for fellow crafters/sewists/makers.

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  42. Really interesting discussion, Rachel. I agree with you. Personally, I like to make things my own. That's why, even taking your class, I deviated from the instructions and created a couple of my own templates. I find it annoying in the garment sewing world when people try to claim an idea that's simple. Now that tutorials are ubiquitous I think that's less common. But I remember a time when bloggers would offer a simple skirt tutorial and then add a disclaimer, "please do not sell items made from this pattern." I always felt that was a stretch.

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    1. Well, I suppose that shows that things have evolved even since the early online days, then. I don't see such requests on tutorials in general, just patterns.

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    2. rachel, it's still out there. i had a convo a couple of months ago with another blogger about this. i was getting requests to make certain things that I had made for myself based on tutorials. others wanted to pay me to make them for them. all of the tutorials had that disclaimer. here are a few

      http://www.noodle-head.com/2010/05/diaper-pouch-tutorial.html
      (the bottom line says "personal use only please).

      http://www.made-by-rae.com/patterns/ "my free patterns and tutorials are intended for personal use only."

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    3. Ah, yes. And those are both bloggers I admire and respect. Perhaps it's easier to feel good about someone profiting from your pattern if they've purchased it than if you've given it away for free.

      In this discussion my intention is definitely not to point fingers and say "you should change" but rather to encourage us all to think about what's happening in our community and where we want it to go. Everyone will have to make their own decisions, of course! And, I don't assume I'll always make the right ones.

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    4. Right, I'm not pointing fingers, either, just saying it's still out there. I always respect the blogger's wishes and have even made things for free for others rather than violate the blogger's requests at the bottom of the tutorial.

      This said, I have chosen for my own tutorials not to have any such disclaimer. And my own *personal* feeling is that if it's simple enough to be summed up in a tutorial, it's probably not original enough to stake a claim to it.

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  43. I have recently come across this with some scrapbooking supplies. Basically, the designer made it known that if you posted to any online galleries, or even your own blog or Facebook page you needed to credit her for YOUR work. I vowed to never buy another thing she designed. When I'm trying to create something I cannot imagine sitting there with a pad and paper writing down the designer of each and every piece! Coming at it from a sewing background I do a lot of mixing and matching!

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  44. I love seeing posts like this! Especially posts that reference that particular TEDTalks. Thank you!

    Rachel, I love that I can peruse your blog for inspiration, bounce to another blog for more inspiration, and then link to the next blog, and the next, etc...and then try something totally new to me, because I learned how from someone's free photo tutorial. And I honestly try to give credit where I can, but sometimes I've just spent too much time in the blogosphere and really can't remember exactly where I saw that idea first...but that's the thing.
    It's an idea. And ideas are meant to be shared.
    Otherwise, why do we spend any time at all on the internet?

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  45. Great call to think beyond the narrow confines of a single argument toward how our answers shape our community. Blogs are wonderful inspiration, you see something, you love it - then you go and search the entire site to find their 'acceptable use' policy. Not quite as enjoyable as the free quilt patterns in the newspaper our grandmothers cut out and kept. I'm sure many of them would have been so excited if others wanted to learn from them, and perhaps a bit tickled that people wanted to buy what they had envisioned. I worked in our local quilt shop for a decade and know that there are no new ideas under the sun - just new creative twists. Thanks for sharing your research and opinions with us!

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    1. What an interesting contrast - today's blogs vs. yesterday's newspaper clippings. Since I have no quilting in my "genes", in my history these kind of images are not something I've ever been exposed to. Thank-you!

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  46. Excellent post Rachel! I really hope this community of ours can lighten up a bit around this issue. It would be such a shame if we all had to stifle our creativity because it could be conceived as copying and wrong or even illegal.
    I am inspired by other peoples work daily. My ideas aren't original, I would go as far as stating I have never had a single original thought in my life ;) But to me it could be a new and fresh idea and I go with it regardless if it's been thought of and done before.
    I am influenced by the things I read and the creativity I see around me, this is reflected in my work and in the way I write my blog.
    Hasn't it always been this way? When I studied art history it clearly showed different style periods where large groups of artists were influenced by certain social issues, ideas and concepts. They were all creating similar things in their own individual way. Is that because they were simply stealing ideas and copying each other? I don't really think so.
    The great thing about being creative is that it is never done, there will always be new things to try new ideas new inspiration. So what does it matter if someone else is making the same thing as I am? It is only for as long as it takes until the next idea comes along.

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  47. I ran across a problem like this when I made a mini quilt with the ribbon tags on it. I put it for sale in my etsy shop and went on a few days later, the listing was taken down by etsy and there was a message from them not to sell anything like this item because it was copyrighted.

    I was a little upset because my item was like the copyrighted item but in a way it was in several ways different. It was a mini quilt, not just a solid square of printed fabric. It had different textures of ribbon, not just one type.

    http://joliesjunebugboutique.blogspot.com/2010/10/stacked-coins-tag-quilt.html

    That is the blog post about the item. I understand but then again I don't understand the ethics and morals of this. I just thought it was a cute item, and thought it would sell well in my shop.

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  48. Well written and well said! I aspire one day to have an Etsy shop and have been collecting inspiration and information about the whole cottage craft industry for some time. Thank you for your input on this. I often see ideas and meld them into something similar (or try a pattern straight out) and would love to sell some of my creations. It would be very hard indeed to remember where every inspiration (or pattern if not well marked)comes from. I'm an ethical person and would never want someone to feel I'd stolen something from them. I'm a single mom so if I could sell some of the things I make to help with cash flow that would help me justify more time (and fabric money) to devote to my love of sewing. It's a sticky issue and I appreciate you (and Maureen, and other popular bloggers) sharing your feelings on this topic.

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  49. I didn't have time to read all the comments above, but I have to agree with Lorraine (I tried to hit reply under her comment but it didn't work). It annoys me when pattern designers say we're not allowed to sell what we make with their pattern. They sold the pattern, that's their income, they have no right to tell me what to do with it, nor tell me I have no right to sell it when it's taken my time, my fabric, my thread etc. If you're a pattern designer, you're selling a pattern and that's all. I personally would not purchase a pattern that said that, so the designer is missing out on a sale. They may think that's protecting their own sales of the finished item, but unless they are local to me, they're not at all as we have different markets. This topic really does get me het up!

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    1. I agree with you so much on this! Very frustrating! I like what Rae from Made by Rae did with her buttercup bag pattern! A licenced to sell version. I know others have done this too!

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  50. Process or product? If you hand the materials/patterns to 10 people, results will vary, even if folks are trying to make the same thing.
    When you sell a pattern, is the purchaser looking for the info that fills in a personal void, or looking to replicate a specific item.
    As someone once pointed out to me, its amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit.
    Still hurts like hell when someone stands on your work and makes money.

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  51. Excellent post, Rachel :) I've thought about these issues quite a bit, as I am frequently inspired by others work. A couple of years ago, I actually contacted a pattern designer to specifically ask their permission to make and sell a few baby quilts, and was told no, and that it was some type of copyright infringement. I've since learned that even when designers specify in their patterns that you may not make and sell items from their pattern, they actually can't enforce that. You wouldn't try to sell the made item as your own, you'd credit the pattern designer. But the initial fabric purchase, and the time spent creating the item, is your work.

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  52. Very well said, you inspired me to finish a little rant that I had been sitting on for a while over on my blog. But you say yours so much better and I thank you for having the time and energy to put it into such a good blog post.

    I will take "let's own our work but let's not own our work" with me while sewing in the future.

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  53. Thank you for addressing this issue, it's one that's irked me from the start.

    I don't understand how or why some people make a quilt using traditional quilt blocks and attempt to copyright and put limitations on "their" work. These are quilt blocks people have been making for 100's of years, what claim do they have on them?!? To me, that's just offensive.

    I'm always happy to give credit where credit is due and only purchase patterns which allow me to sell what I make (or make my own). If someone wants to put limitations on their patterns, I just won't purchase them and as a result, they've lost a potential sale.

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  54. Thanks for this post Rachel - I agree with you on this issue and generally think that there is no such thing as an "original" idea - just different individuals innovating in various ways (which sometimes end up with the same result!)

    I certainly don't want a large amount of copyrights and patents involved in this industry - what's happening to the tech industry is a great example of the problems this can create. Companies known as "patent trolls" have started popping up in the U.S., and they exist solely to buy patents and then sue companies that "infringe" on the patent. They do not create or add anything to the world of technology, they only inhibit innovators from doing so.

    If anyone is interested, This American Life from NPR did a fascinating show on this a few years ago: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/441/when-patents-attack

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    1. Thanks for adding this thought and the link. It's good to be reminded how far off things can get!

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  55. This is a very timely post. I agree with almost everything you've said. We are becoming a nation of people who are afraid to move for fear of a lawsuit.
    Most quilt patterns I see in magazines and in stores are really just old patterns worked in a specific colorway. It is an old idea with new colors. On the other hand, there are designers, me included, who spend hours drawing out pictures that we make into designs, such as those for applique, and they are protected as "works of art". They are not old patterns that have been redone in a different color scheme.They are completely new and from the mind of the designer. Those patterns are copyrighted against mass production although the purchaser is allowed to make as many as she wants for gifts and personal use. If she/he ran off copies of my pattern and handed them out to her/his friends or fellow guild members (it happens all the time!)that is a copyright infringement. I would have a real problem with that.
    I put up a lot of tutorials and I expect people to use them as they wish. There's no reason to put them up if I have a problem with people using them. (I might have a problem with mass production of them, though.)

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  56. Very well written, I couldn't agree more.

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  57. That is just about the most common sense take on the whole thing I've ever read. You nailed it. Excellent. We all get such joy from this. Let's keep it that way.

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  58. I love this article, thank you. I'm just tiptoeing into the relm of making handmade goodness to sell, and I know I am definitely inspired by some of what I see out here in blogland. Up until now I had scathing attacks on people who has "stolen" other peoples ideas and I was quite scared about venturing into selling what I make because of that.

    I love this creative community and I was afraid of being ostracised if somebody thought I had used an idea of theirs, whether I had or hadn't. And like you say I love to give credit to those who have inspired me, but sometimes that can be hard to remember.

    Thank you for helping to make this an inclusive nurturing community.
    :)

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  59. Hi Rachel . You have expressed yourself so well and written a very thought provoking article . I agree with what you have said . It's an issue all of us in this handmade world have thought about and grappled with . But I agree with those who say that we should be allowed to sell an item made from a purchased pattern or a free one , after all it's our fabric , thread , time and effort that's for sale .

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  60. I love this post-- this is something I think about a lot, as I often take ideas I see elsewhere and make them "my own." I also really love your chevron wall art, I think it's exactly in the spirit of taking an idea and running with it!

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  61. Go Rachel!!! I LOVE this post and couldn't agree with you more (nor could I have said it better myself).

    I recently had to remove a quilt from my blog entirely, because the designer of the pattern felt I hadn't credited her enough. I had credited her quite prominently in the past, but didn't feel I should have to do so in EVERY single post in which I mentioned the quilt in passing. So rather than bow to what I considered to be unreasonable and impractical demands, I took the quilt off my blog (even all past references to it). It was upsetting, to say the least, especially since I had given the designer good exposure on my blog in the past. A much more sharing and understanding environment will benefit EVERYONE, both pattern designers and pattern end-users.

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  62. I love this post and I thoroughly agree 100%. Thank you so much for sharing it! It's awesome!

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  63. Awesome post Rachel!!! Awesome!!

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  64. I cannot tell you how clearly you read my mind on this topic exactly. I'm a long time crafter who has loved learning from tutorials or comparing different methods before deciding on one that works best for what I'm trying to accomplish. I created for personal use but received such attention from friends and family for so long that I finally gained the confidence to give selling my wares a shot-with success! That has evolved in the past two years into my full time business;crafting, teaching others certain projects or techniques, and selling my best pieces. I'm actually in the process of opening a brick and mortar space to continue all those efforts, for profit, of course. I would be nowhere without the amazing artists and bloggers that have inspired and taught me so many valuable lessons I now proudly pack in my arsenal of creating, had they not shared their wonderful tips and ideas so freely my own creativity surely never would have blossomed into this talent I am so proud of!Thank you for this post and for opening this conversation in the blogosphere!

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