I actually have been naive enough to think that this day would never come. You know, the morning you wake up, turn on your computer and find a message that says:
"This looks an awful lot like your shawl." With a link.
And you click on the link, and yes, there it is, the "this" that looks an awful lot like your shawl.
In this case, a "this" that looks an awful lot like a pattern I published two and a half years ago.
In case you're not one of the 2049 people who faved it on Ravelry (more on that in a bit) and don't know what I'm talking about, this is Amalia:
Actually, it's a photo of Amalia that I've never used for it, because, obviously, it's too dark. But I've chosen it deliberately, because it's a view that's very similar to the one in the link I was sent to another shawl from another designer that looks very like Amalia.
Now, let me be clear: I fully believe that similar designs happen independently, and I believe that's what has happened here. It's inevitable that similar inspiration would strike when we're all working from the same pool of available stitch patterns. And having messaged back and forth a bit with the designer, I pretty much understand that from a legal standpoint, there's not much I can do here. The other designer is not breaking my copyright. The other designer has taken great pains to point out that her version is worked top down, it's in a different weight of yarn, hers has a different shape than mine. To prove her point, she's also sent me links on Ravelry to designs that end up looking similar because they use the same shaping and edging.
She is not wrong. From a legal standpoint.
And I get it. I do. As I said, pretty much, there's nothing I can do here.
Oh, I could make a hypothetical argument. Imagine you're a designer. Let's say, as part of your New Year's Resolutions, you decided to work your way through all your Japanese stitch patterns. To make it a useful exercise, you decide to turn them into scarves. And since you're in the business of publishing patterns, you decide to put them out in a series of e-booklets.
And what if (hypothetically) a designer who is known for turning Japanese stitch patterns into scarves (Can you think of one? I can. Hypothetically, of course.) writes to you, because along the way, one (or more) of your scarves look almost exactly like hers.
What would you do?
Think about it. What would you do?
This is an important question. It's an important question for everyone, but it's especially for those of us who are essentially small business owners, independent artists and creators. Because it moves us beyond dealing with the mere legal issues of what we do, and goes right to the heart of the moral issues that we occasionally have to struggle with.
In this case, do you argue that you have all the legal rights in the world to procede with your scarves, because you and this other designer are working from the same pool of available stitch patterns, and there are only so many ways to shape a scarf, and you used a different weight of yarn, so yours is a wee bit bigger?
You could. You would be legally right.
Or do you do what is morally right -- recognize that you have those legal rights, but respect the fact that someone else managed to put together those elements first? Do you say to that other designer, yes, I see we arrived at this independently, but you did it first, so I respect you and your work, and I'll walk away from those scarf designs that are similar to yours?
Face it -- this is a situation we, as designers, knock up against constantly. I cannot count the number of times, in talking with another designer, I've heard, "Man, I worked so hard on this, got the sample knit, the pattern written up, it just needs to be test-knit, and then, crap. Saw someone publish almost the same thing on Ravelry."
I've said it myself, when I've seen a design I've laboured over suddenly turn up.
And maybe it's just me, and maybe it's just my small circle of similarly-minded designer friends, but not once did any of us decide that we were within our legal rights to just go ahead with things.
What we did was respect the work of another designer who happened to get there first. We shelved our designs to see if maybe, at a later time, we could change them, or salvage something from them, or turn them into something different.
And that's the key thing here, for us as small, independent business people and creators. For us, those moral imperatives are absolutely key. It's important for us to respect each other's work, to support each other, and to know when it's time to do what's morally right, as opposed to what's legally right.
I don't know what will happen with Amalia. It's a design I'm fond of, for many reasons, and a design I'm proud of, for many reasons. The inspiration for it hit at a time when I needed it most. In 2010, my husband had been out of work for a very long time, and we were struggling financially and emotionally. Because Amalia struck a chord with so many knitters (I mentioned there are 2049 people who have favourited it on Ravelry, something that still boggles my mind. TWO THOUSAND AND FORTY NINE PEOPLE, PEOPLE!), it sold very well, and gave us a much needed boost. In addition, I entered the shawl in the Kitchener-Waterloo Guild show in the spring of 2010, and it won a prize. A small thing, but it made me feel so good.
But it was more than that. Amalia represented the best of the kind of community support that I've been trying to talk about in this post. First and foremost, I had the support of my wonderful local yarn shop, Shall We Knit. Owner Karen Crouch and her staff (including Lynne Sosnowski, Cari Angold, and Lise Hymel) either test knit my pattern, or knit versions for themselves, or along with friends like Sue Frost and fellow designer Janelle Martin, encouraged me and shared my happiness in how successful this design became. Beth Graham, another SWK staffer, did me the great honour of taking Amalia as her inspiration for a crochet crescent shawl called Scarf Theory.
Shall We Knit also kitted my pattern up and took it to shows, and sold many, many kits. Karen didn't have to do that. But she liked the design, and made the effort to support a local designer, and threw her resources into it and her energy behind it just as she would have for a Name Designer. That's the kind of person she is, and that's the kind of attitude that makes her shop a great place. It's a fabulous store. But it's also a place that believes in community.
I can't even begin to detail the support I've received from that very community in the last couple of days. I'm an introvert, spend a lot of time isolated at home, and sometimes I forget that there are people out there willing to sympathize with me, help me work through issues, and just give a few words of support. I don't know how to begin to say thank you. And my heart swells just to think that there's a community out there like this.
I've been asked the last couple of days what I would like to see as the outcome of all this. I don't know. I'm fairly certain the legal arguments are what will prevail, and there's no way, really, that I can complain about that.
I think what I'd really like is that, if you're reading this post, that you think about supporting all the great small, indie, local, whatever designers and creators out there. Go buy some yarn from a great indie dyer (here's a suggestion: indigodragonfly or oceanwind knits or waterloo wools ). Go buy a pattern from a small designer (hint: Janelle Martin or Meghan Jackson) . If you're in the Waterloo region, go check out Shall We Knit, and see what great people they are.
Just go out there and support all the great indie business people and creators. They have heart and soul, and they need to know you love them.
That is all.