[utterly ridiculous handspun, handknit sweatbands. raveled]
ETA: I’ve edited some of the language here in my discussion of NAMELESS LYS. It seems more useful to stay focused on the broader culture here, rather than on the practices of a single shop. I want to be very, very clear that (1) I am not advocating — or myself practicing — any kind of boycott, or change in shopping habits; (2) this is not a problem limited to or reducible to a single shop; (3) I like, respect, and admire all of the LYSs where I regularly shop; and (4) I initially “named names” in this post because I am saddened that even otherwise-amazing shops seem to fail in this regard. And I think that failure warrants both discussion and some accountability. But I’m also lazy, and poor, and ill equipped to deal with accusations of slander. So, I did some editing instead. Those of you whose comments I edited, please forgive me, and please contact me if I need to grovel further.
In June 2008, I wrote up a tutorial for a sweater I had knit, thinking that some of my friends might like to make one too. Today, 10 months later, more than 5,000 Ravelry users (and probably a few other knitters too) have used that tutorial to make their own February Lady Sweaters.
That is so totally fucking awesome. All I did was execute some basic math and write down some simple instructions, and from that, I’ve gotten a crash course in knitting design, met loads of fascinating new people, and learned heaps about the indie craft world.
Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve learned the hard way is that not everyone bothers to honor the guidelines designers set out for how their work can be used. My free patterns page has always said that my patterns may not be used for commercial purposes, but I’ve been adding to that statement a lot in the last 10 months, as people have failed to honor it. As of today, it’s nine sentences long.
If you do a Google search or a Ravelry search for paid classes using the FLS pattern, you will find dozens and dozens of them, all over the country. They charge anywhere from $20 to $100 for the classes, plus materials. Only nine stores have honored my request that they get my permission to use the pattern for classes — which I granted, with some very reasonable terms. The rest of those stores, whether they realize it or not, are exploiting my labor and my free pattern to make a profit, without my consent.
The pattern is free for anyone to download and use and share. All I ask is that folks not use it for profit. Or, if a store wants to use it for a class, that they contact me first and honor my (again, v. minimal) terms.
My issue is not that I’m looking to make money off this pattern myself. There are a number of reasons why I chose not to charge for the FLS pattern. First, the design concept is not mine — it’s Elizabeth Zimmermann’s. Second, I made no great innovation here — I used the innovations of Barbara Walker and Elizabeth Zimmermann to create something new(ish). Finally, and most importantly, I believe that Sharing is better than Capitalism and indie is better than corporate — which is why I love local yarn stores, and is also why it fills me with livid, unholy fury to see these same businesses profiting from my free work without my consent.
I want to support local yarn stores. And I know that classes are an important way for them to sell yarn and to get folks in the door. Because of this, whenever an independent yarn shop has contacted me and asked to use my pattern for a class, I’ve always said yes, provided they give me credit for my work.
But, oftentimes, they don’t ask. They take. And the biggest concern for me is that they don’t give credit, either. If you check out the newsletters and calendars and class announcements for the stores using my pattern without my consent, you’ll see that almost none of them mention my name or my web site. Almost none of them provide a link to the pattern or the blog, or credit me for the photos they’ve stolen (and, sometimes, altered).
And, as much as I’ve been all “me me me” up to this point, it’s not just me. There’s a definite pattern of abuse when it comes to yarn stores using free online patterns for profit, without crediting designers. When I contacted my very favorite yarn shop, NAMELESS LYS, after I noticed that they were offering an FLS class without notifying me (and without crediting me in any way), they immediately changed the language on their promotional materials, linking to my site and including my name. Two weeks later, though, the class description in their newsletter was back to its original language, full of passive voice (the baby sweater “has been upsized”), and empty of credit. Today, my name and web site appear nowhere in their newsletter’s description of the class, which they seem to be offering for a second time. Moreover, while they temporarily changed the blurb for the FLS class, they didn’t change any of the other descriptions for any other classes, or their descriptions of their new shop models, or the “freebies” in their newsletter that link directly to PDF files — all of which almost always fail to mention pattern designers.
Let’s be clear, though, that this shop is not alone — they’re simply, for me, the most personally disappointing example of this widespread phenomenon. Almost no yarn shops give any kind of credit to independent or web-based designers when they advertise classes. Perhaps they don’t want to give links to free patterns, because they don’t want potential students to get the pattern on their own and skip the class. I understand why this tactic might makes sense to them, and am sympathetic to the challenges facing brick-and-mortar stores these days, but this is no way to treat the independent designers and crafters who make the free patterns that make those classes possible.
I get that many LYSs are struggling to figure out how to negotiate the online craft world, particularly in an economic moment when luxury items like full-price yarn might not fit into many people’s budgets (if they ever did). Well, here’s a primer: in Kate’s words, “DON’T BE A JERK.” In other words, don’t do things online that you wouldn’t do in the “real” world. Because the internets? ARE the real world. I am real. My labor is real. My intellectual property rights? Real.
It’s pretty simple: DON’T BE A JERK. ASK BEFORE YOU TAKE MY STUFF.
If we do that? If we treat each other like human beings instead of just businesses or resources for plundering? Then local yarn stores can only benefit, can only earn better reputations for themselves, can only set themselves further apart from the JoAnns and the Michaels and the fucking Hobby Lobbies. Because then they make themselves an indispensable part of a respectful, personal, supportive local and global community, in a way that that JoAnn and Michael can never touch.
That first Google search yesterday floored me. I am overwhelmed by the scope of this. After I post this, I’m going to draft a friendly e-mail to send to the yarn shops that are using my pattern and/or images without my consent. But I have a life. I work. I knit. I play. I snorgle kitties. I do not have time to be the pattern police. And I don’t know what to do here.
I ask these questions because the main reason I’m posting is that I’d like to think we can make some change here. Knitters! Post about this on your own blog, or in the Ravelry forums, and link back to me, and to Kate, and to each other. My hope here is that, if we can create (ETA: or continue) some kind of high-profile online dialogue among knitters, we might educate one another, and inspire each other to demand ethical and honest business practices from our otherwise badass LYSs.
Blog on! xo, Pam
ETA: So many fabulous LYS owners have contacted me about their FLS classes now that I’ve taken down the list of the 9 stores who had contacted me at the time of posting. Thank you!