Monday, April 2, 2012

Copyright terrorism

I don't usually link to other people's blogs and say "read this" but today I will make an exception.

There has been much hoohah on various quilt lists and blogs about a certain copyright case, which I mentioned in a recent post of my own.  Of all the hundreds of comments I've read regarding this case, there's only one that I would recommend you read, and it's this blog post by Leah Day.  She titled her post "copyright terrorism" and I think she chose her words aptly.

It's a long post and you may want to skim over some of the details, but please stay tuned until you get to the end and read Leah's exchange with Kate Spain, the fabric designer whose threatened lawsuit set off the whole thing.

Basically Leah says that if the quilting industry gets any more bogged down in worrying about who is (perhaps) copying whom and who might conceivably make a dollar that might conceivably belong to somebody else, it will hobble everybody's creativity.  I won't repeat her arguments -- go read them yourself -- but will say that I agree entirely.

Unless we all plan to paint, print, dye or otherwise create our own fabrics for everything we ever make as fiber artists, and unless we all can swear that we were never influenced in any way by any other piece of art, craft, architecture, furniture, clothing, cinema, photography or edible foodlike substance made by any other person, we all should be concerned about these issues.  Please read Leah's post, and let me know whether you agree.


  1. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, aka the Copyright Clause:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

    The key things here are "to promote progress" and "for limited Times." Copyright was NOT intended to award exclusivity in perpetuity, it was intended to reward people's industry and invention for a limited time, after which their industrious inventions were to pass to common use, and that use would spur new invention that would pass into common use, and so on. The goal was to promote general uplift through sharing. Funny how things evolve.

    There is a long history of precedent on copyright issues. My understanding is that it is not all that difficult for a court to sort out who owns what. It's expensive for the litigants, but the kinds of issues under discussion here have precedent and are not all that difficult.

  2. I completely agree with everything Leah said. While technically I am a fabric designer too (hand dyed fabrics) it's certainly not the same situation so I tried to think of it as if I were a commercial fabric designer. If I design a line of fabric and I'm fortunate enough to get it manufactured and sold I am happy. By the time that fabric ever appears in a book (or on a tote) I am probably designing 2 lines past that one. If my fabric is photographed or a quilt made from my fabric is photographed the maybe someone who sees it will come looking for that fabric. That's all good. I think Kate Spain's fabric is very cute. Love the colors and love the images BUT that fabric is wholly interchangeable with any number of other very similar fabric lines on the market at any given time. It simply isn't that unique or special. What's so unique about fan images, cherry blossoms or swirls? Some lines are and one example is Paula Nadelstern's fabric. It's obviously hers and completely original and give the type of work she does I can't imagine her screaming copywright violation if someone sold an image of an item made from that fabric. It's crazy. In fact, C&T has sold tote bags with images of Paula's quilts and those quilts have HUNDREDS of different fabrics in them. I respect Kate and her work but this claim of copyright infringement is ridiculous and I think C&T should have fought it. There is lots of precedence in the garment industry and even in the case that Paula won against that carpet designer for the hotel in Houston.

    The uproar over this, in my mind, mirrors the uproar over Pinterest and pining images from a blog. I live on the internet. I know that when I place an image on my blog, post a tutorial or project that that image may be pinned or downloaded to someone's hard drive to an "inspiration" file. My color palettes for the color palette challenge are posted all over the web by people participating in the challenge. I watermark them so a reader could find me if they wanted. Someone may even do something unethical with my image by representing it as their own work. Is that illegal? Yes, maybe. But I've moved on from that project and I'd rather spend my time creating new things than worrying about the security of old things.

    There are some things that I make or do that I want to protect. I don't share any of those things on the web.

  3. I am like many, I see mis-steps on both sides of this issue but in the end it's about money.

    If the fabric company/designer gave the gave with the understanding that they would be credited for their products then they should have been credited.

    The artist should have credited them especially as it was such a simple thing to do! No one loses if credit is given.

    Design companies copy from each other all the time with the intent of making money off proven winning designs. My feeling is this is in part why they sued. They figure this woman had the same intention to "borrow" that they have.

  4. Leah was spot on.

    In this particular situation, it would be nice to say what line of fabric was used, for the quilters who insist on copying the cover picture exactly and because the fabric is in big pieces, but I don't think it is necessary. If it was an actual requirement, then the Moda people or whoever should have given a caveat when they sent the "free" fabric.

    Artists have always 'copied' each other. Go to any museum. The more knowledgeable you are in art history, the more you look around and see where all the ideas came from.

    It's what we DO with the crayons, and not the crayola color namer who should be credited with the artwork.