I just got my first issue of Vogue Knitting. It’s hard to know what kind of a magazine it really is, because this is their 25th Anniversary issue, and all magazines are a “different” for their anniversary issues. Although in some ways it felt more like a really big source book (it’s the only magazine I’ve ever seen that has several state by state directories for various specific yarns), I actually had to read it. I mean, read it not give a brief skim, look over the pictures and be done with it in about 15 to 20 minutes. In some places, this magzine had text, and text that was on the small side at that. There was actually substance. I call that good place to start. I’m interested in seeing what the next issue looks like.
The most interesting thing (text-wise, to me) in this issue was the interviews with the “old gaurd knitters” and the “new gaurd knitters”. They covered a lot of ground, and there are many different things I could pick up on, but I guess what I feel like talking about today has to do with that hot-topic of copy rights and money and the internet (all three. In the same conversation). The hard part is knowing where to start and how to arrange my thoughts.
Trisha [Malcolm: Editorial Director, Vogue Knitting]: You know, I’ve witnessed a distinct disrespect for copy right in a lot of cases. . .I have a bit of a personal vendetta on the copyright issue. . .I always use Debbie Bliss as an example. They all know her, and I say, “You know, she has two children to support. If you give away her patterns or don’t buy her books, she can’t eat.
Ok, can somebody out there quickly and succintly describe copyright law? Your average lay person tends to understand copyright law as thus—“If I’m not taking credit for myself that someone else deserves, and if I’m not making money at it, I’m respecting copyright law.” But everything I’ve ever read basically boils down to “It isn’t as simple as you think, if you’re doing anything with anything that someone else has designed you can get your butt sued off; always consult your lawyer.” When it gets to the point where the average person doesn’t understand what counts as legal and what doesn’t, you know there is something wrong with the laws. Naturally, we can all understand the more extreme examples, like the one Meg Swansen offered.
Someone, qoute, “redesigned” the Baby Surprise Jacket in seed stitch and called it their own.
Everyone can easily see the offense in that. But did you know that, for instance, if you buy a sewing pattern from one of the major pattern companies, it’s against the law to sew that pattern for more than one person? If you’re a seamstress, and you are sewing bridesmaids dress for a client, and all of the bridesmaids can fit in the same size range of that pattern, you are still obligated by law to buy a seperate pattern for every dress you sew. Otherwise, you’re not respecting copyright, you’re not giving the pattern company the money they are due, and you’re using a pattern in a manner it was not meant to be used.
The more people try to find out about copyright law so they can be good law abiding citizens, the more resentful they get. The list of things you “cannot” do grows longer and longer and longer and longer. Nearly anything you want to do, which does not give you credit you don’t deserve and doesn’t make you any money, is still illegal. You find out you are not buying a product at all; you are merely buying very limited temporary rights that the company can revoke any old time it it wants to.
It’s a bit like gun control. If people want guns, and you want them controlled, you can out-law all semi-automatic guns. People might grumble and whine and complain, but generally speaking, it means that semi-automatic weapons are harder to get a hold of, and people give the law a bit grudging observance. But if you out-law all guns, then it doesn’t matter if they get a hold of semi-automatic or guns or not, they’re still breaking the law. Instead of enacting more restraint, it gives way to less. If they’re going to get in trouble regardless of what kind of gun they have, they’ll go for whatever one they want.
Or you can think of the time of the Prohibition. All alcohol was utterly banned; it was all agasint the law. The result wasn’t that everyone quit drinking; it was just that everyone became lawbreakers. Perhaps they might have had more success if they had tried to only limit alcohol and only banned the hardest, strongest stuff. But once you tell people that no matter what you do, you’re a lawbreaker, they feel no restraint to even follow even the least strict guidelines. If it’s all illegal anyway, they might as well do what they want. What’s the difference?
I feel that the same is happening toward copyright issues and intellectual property and the like. People are feeling increasingly more that “everything” is being outlawed—and if they’re going to have to be an outlaw anyway, they might as well do what they really want to do. People seem to think that if they just make copyright laws stricter and more serious, they’ll be able to crush this problem for once and for all. I think the opposite is true. Oh, you’ll always have those who are out to truly take what isn’t theirs, but for your average Joe Blow who isn’t trying to do any harm, I think it would be more profitable to simplify the copyright laws. It would do away with a lot of the grudges and bitter tastes in the mouths of the consumers which make them so loath to follow the fullness of the copyright laws to begin with.
I am reminded of an article I saw once, written for entreprenuers. It was something like “The Five Hard Truths Of Entreprenuership”, or something like that. I unfortunatley didn’t save the aritcle and can’t find it, and I can’t even remember what all of them were. But if I remember right, the first one was something like:
Don’t try to sell your orginality. You don’t have any; there is no such thing as original. And even if, by some wild freak of nature, you do happen to have something orginal, everyone else can do the same thing and do it better to boot.
How hard! But how true. Everything can be and will be knocked-off. You can cry, kick, scream, bewail the unfairnes of the universe—or you accept it as fact, and sell something other than “orginiality”—like quality, promptness, courtesy. If you think you can have one brilliant idea, and be the sole porpritor for that brilliant idea, and live off that single idea—you are destinied for dissappointment. Generally speaking, if you have to resort to the line “But I have a family to support!” you are fighting a loosing battle, and you are out of touch with reality. It may not be nice, but capitalism is survival of the fittest. If you are running a business in such a way that you can’t live off it—that’s your problem.
I am not, by any means, encouraging copyright infringement; I am merely stating the situation as I see it. When people build skyscrapers, they don’t build them to resist and stand strong and rigid in the face of every breeze. Instead, they design them to move in the wind—to not fight so powerful a force, but rather to realize it is not a force to be fought with. They must learn to live with the ever-present reality of wind, however unpleasant they might find that fact.
You may very well find it very unfair that seamstresses accross the world are taking the one pattern they bought and using it to make clothes for more than one person—pants for their husband and their father, shirts for all three of their boys—but no matter how unfair or illegal you might find it, I can assure you it is being done. If you ask my opinion (and you shall get it wether you want it or not), it would be far more constructive, conductive to good customer relationships, and much more profitiable to stop fighting it and find profitable ways to co-exist with it—even gain from it.
A profitable business is one who realizes that thier customers are more valuable than their products. People can always find the same thing, or something similar, from someone else. And what makes a valuable customer is not making sure the costumer pays every last red cent that you so richly deserve, but a loyal customer—a customer who comes back time and time again for the pleasure of doing business with you, a customer who tells everyone about you. It does not take a business degree to figure this out—you need only be a consumer yourself. Where would you like to shop? How would you like to be treated? Why do you keep going back to the same place?
The indignant response is that it looks totally different from the other side of the fence, that of course the customer thinks it’s all about him, but really it’s not.
Naturally everyone thinks they are the center of the universe. But it is my desire to start my own independant pattern company someday, and my intention is to use Creative Common Liscences. Because I want people to swap my patterns, and have “pattern libraries” of my patterns. I want people to build on them and share them, and spread them around.
But then how will I make any money?
Because if you get a book out of the library and you like it enough, you buy your own copy so you always have it on hand when you want it.
Because copying patterns is a pain, and it’s easy to click on the “Download now!” button and a pay a little money.
Because it’s even more convinient to get a printed patterns shipped right to your door.
Because I want to do custom drafting, and if the pattern your borrowing fits your friend Mary perfectly, you’ll want a pattern that fits you perfectly, too.
Because sharing, using, changing and enjoying patterns is the best advertising in the world.
Because people are basically lazy, and they’d rather pay a little rather than go through the bother of doing it themselves.
And maybe, say, a major pattern company will knock-off one of my designs. . .but they’ll be following me, and I’ll be first. I’ll make other designs, and they’ll trail me. And my customer service will be better than theirs ever could be, because it’s a rather well known fact that the larger a company is, the worse their customer service is. And if I loose a little market share to them, that’s okay, because I’ll be a small company, and having all the world wanting my glorious product would be more than I could handle. A small bit of the pie is easier to savor. People have some how got it in their heads that the end goal of any business is to conquer the world, but I don’t want to. I want to serve a small niche market that values quality and custom work. Ruling the world is utterly un-appealing to me.
Urk. This has gotten quite far a field from the Vogue Knitting article. One thing I found amusing in the article was when Mari Lynn Patrick said:
. . .And I don’t care how good a knitter you are, you have to have something to work from, technically, to get it right. You can knit off the cuff and do all kinds of things, but there are so many factors that go into putting it out in the right way. And it has to be nurtured through all the stages of getting it out in the right way.
I do find it amusing. It’s rather arrogant, I think. That there is “the right way”, that you must be “nurtured through all of the stages”, that you must get instruction from everyone else. It was even more amusing, because just a few pages before there had been an interview with Barbara Walker, who is apparently quite famous for her innovations and “discoveries” in the field of knitting. I wish I could qoute the entire interview, because I just loved it. Carla and Adina are VK editors.
Carla: How did you figure out a technique you’d never done before? Did other people help you?
Barbara: No, I’m entirely self-taught.
Carla: That’s amazing.
Barbara: I don’t know why that’s amazing. The directions are there to be read. The thing to do there, I found, was to try it a different way and see what it looked like. That way, you learn to do things differently.
Carla: That’s how you stared to invent your own stitch patterns, I assume—by doing somethign in a different way and saying “this looks great.”
Barbara: Sometimes. Or sometimes I just wanted a different-looking technique and I tried it various ways until I got what I was after.
Every little bit needs to be nurtured along to come out the right way, indeed. I also like this bit:
Carla: Tell us about other innovations of yours.
Barbara: I invented the slip-stitch color technique that I named mosaic knitting. Antoher thing was the SSK. Slip 1, knit 1, psso looked so cumbersome. I thought, There’s got to be an easier way to do that, so starting with the first treasury, I changed it to SSK. And then Elizabeth Zimmermann picked up on it and put it in her books, and from there it just spread everywhere. So now it’s the common use, right?
Carla: It is. So many people prefer it over the SKP. I didn’t realize you had introduced so many of these techniques.
Can you imagine what it would have been like if Barbara Walker had made a fuss over Elizabeth Zimmermann using “her” technique, if only certified Barbara Walker patterns could use SSK, if every desginer who wanted to use SSK in their designs had to pay Barbara Walker royalty money, if Barbara Walter spent the remainder of her time chasing down people “unlawfully mis-using” her work instead of spending her time on new knitting methods? Actually, she didn’t even spend “the remainder of her time” on new knitting methods. She moved to a warm place where sweaters were almost useless, and basically quit knitting. Her most recent obsession is mineral collecting, instead.
Adina: You’ve inspired so many designers. Do you follow the work of any in particular?
Barbara: Well, there you’re talking above my head because I have followed absolutely nothing for the past eleven years.
Adina: You’ve followed nothing! You must have been in Wal-Mart maybe? What do you think of all these crazy novelty yarns.
Barbara: I don’t even look at them.
Carla: You only knit with wool?
Barbara: No, I used all kinds of yarns, but I haven’t been buying yarn, so I haven’t bothered to look. So I’m passe, a dinosaur.
Adina:To us you’ll always be a rock star.
I love that being brilliant in knitting hasn’t made Barbara apathetic about trying new things or bitter about not getting the recognition she deserved, or being properly respected. And I think that Barbara pretty well illustrates the fact that the knowledge we have now is because of knowledge being freely taken and freely given. Times of learning and progress come in times of openess and sharing, not times of closely gaurded secrets and well-defended rights.
The “old gaurd” seemed more defensive of “getting what they were owed” than the “new gaurd”. I think the discussion of the “new gaurd” inadvertantly touched on that. In the “old days” you really had a lot of business overhead. It was mail order, you had to print your patterns, it was tough getting the word out about your business. Everyone photo-copying your designs could mean the difference between going out of and staying in business. But as Vickie Howell said, now “you can start a business with 100 bucks and a computer.” Debbie Stroller says “It’s interesting that it took the Internet to bring back the possibility of running a cottage industry again in an industrialized era. You don’t have to run from store to store to see who might be interested in buying your stuff; you can immediately make it availiable.”
The Internet does change a lot. The ones who will be successful will be the ones who understand the best way to use it, instead of fighting it or misusing it. The “new gaurd” got to talking about Local Yarn Stores.
Adina:. . .Yarn shops do have to adapt to the Internet, but the Internet has to respect from whence it came, which is the yarn shop.
Debbie: Adina, I don’t think that can actually happen. I think the LYS needs to think about what it can offer that the Internet can’t, and focus on that, for better or worse.
I think Debbie hit the nail on the head, though the others felt that “it’s our obligation to keep people going to the yarn stores,” and that “that’s an excellent point: keeping in mind that this is a profession for the owners.”
I’m sorry, guys, but capitalism is survival of the fittest. It doesn’t care what would be “nice”. If you’re trying to make money, it’s your responsibility to see to it you offer something people will buy. If no one is buying, that’s not the customers fault, it’s yours. Adapt or die. Nobody “owes” it to you to keep you in business.
Clara [Parkes]:That’s what we’re fighting against—that all-for-one, one-for-all, free-patterns, we-should-be-helping-each-other, it’s-women-after-all. That it’s almost crude to introduce filthy lucre into it.
Kinda sad, I think, to live in a day in age where it’s virtous to fight against that “all-for-one, one-for-all” mentality. I think the yarn shops just have to get with it. They have to decide if they’re a warm and fuzzy community or a business. If they’re trying to be warm and fuzzy, well, I don’t think they do have much place to be charging money for teaching. It’s a called a knitting guild, it’s a community, and people help each other. Maybe they should just turn it into a coffe shop and sell coffee instead.
If they’re a business, then they should charge—it’s called “classes” or “one-on-one tutoring”, and there’s nothing nasty about it, as long as they don’t treat their students in a nasty manner.
I suppose that shall have to be all for today, though there’s lots more I could say, and I’m sure it’s all in desperate need of editing and proof-checking. My mind is frizzled, my eyes are sick of the computer, my back is tired of this lousy computer set-up, and it’s utterly glorious outside. Hopefully it has been good enough to inspire a little thought, regardless.