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Crocheters Break the Law Every Day. Surprised?
Last night, I was casually perusing my Facebook feed – you know how it goes, glass of wine in one hand and phone in the other…chilling after a long day of crocheting…when I came across a viral video for a new crochet pattern series.
“That’s awesome!” I thought…ever the entrepreneur…”I’ll repost this video to my page, my followers will love it!” Even better, “I’ll post repost this to my page with an affiliate link, my followers will love it and I’ll make some money!”
<< Whooahhh, wait a second! Insert the sound of screeching tires>>
This is where I slammed on the brakes and had to check my impulses to share.
You see, that video was for a set of patterns for superhero blankets…much like the mermaid, owl, and shark bite blankets that have been popular the past few years…except with comic book characters. Cool right?
Well, not really.
(Note: since the video contained no statement about licensing those images and logos, I assume the designer didn’t have a licensing agreement with Disney, Marvel, or DC Comics, but I will edit this post if I learn otherwise.)
I couldn’t share the video on my page.
I, especially, couldn’t share it with an affiliate link.
Why? Because integrity is one of the core values of my business and sharing that post would be blatantly encouraging copyright infringement. Adding my affiliate link would be my willing participation in that infringement.
All of those patterns…the patterns for Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Hulk and more…each one of them is infringing on the copyright belonging to Disney, Marvel, and DC Comics.
Did you know the fine for each instance of copyright infringement can be up to $150,000 PER INFRINGEMENT?
That means, if you were to purchase all seven patterns, the person profiting from those patterns could be fined for seven instances of infringement. Then, when you make the products and sell them, you could be fined for infringement for each product you sell.
It’s too much risk…it’s not worth it and it’s not right…it’s a crime.
Not only could you be liable for legal fees and fines, but (and this has happened more times than you’d think) your Etsy shop could be closed down at the drop of a hat…are you willing to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to build for a quick buck?
I didn’t think so…but just in case you didn’t know…
Ignorance of the Law
Oftentimes, crafters commit these crimes because they don’t know about copyright law. (Hint: as a business owner, it is your obligation to know about copyright law.)
Other times, and I’ve seen this over and over again on Facebook, handmade business owners will angrily defend their decision to sell copyrighted items even with the knowledge that it is illegal because “Disney is making millions of dollars, I’m not hurting them” or “John Deere doesn’t own green and yellow…I can do what I want in my own business” or “”I said “inspired by” in my Etsy title so it’s not infringement.””
(I admit, I was guilty of that one…until I learned better.)
Oh, the things we’ll say and do when money is on the line, right?
If you fall in the first category, those who are selling out of ignorance, please know that I’m not judging, I’m simply educating and hoping you’ll make the RIGHT choice for your business.
If you fall in the second category, just stop it, you’re giving yourself a bad name…maybe not to your customers, because they want what they want and probably don’t know the law, but you’re giving yourself a bad name within the maker community and once your name is tarnished, it’s hard to recover.
Integrity is everything. (Well, maybe not everything, but it’s a lot.)
OK, so we’re on the same page now, right? We don’t want to be breaking the law with our business. And yet, I was witness to each of these infractions within the maker community just yesterday…multiple times.
Might you be breaking the law and not even know it?
The Top 5 Ways Crocheters Break the Law
Designing and Selling Copyrighted Products
OK, we’ve got that covered, see above.
Don’t do it. (Caveat: it’s OK to design a Disney character pattern for personal use. It’s not OK to profit from it) Additionally, if you purchase a licensed pattern…you’ve seen them at Barnes and Noble, right, the mini Star Wars patterns and such…unless specifically granted permission, you can not profit from the finished product.
Feel free to make as many as you’d like as gifts. As soon as you make a profit…you’re in dangerous waters.
Sharing Images That They Don’t Own
- Other Designers and Crocheters Images: When I had a pattern go viral, I received report after report of crocheters using my images to advertise their own business. This is wrong on so many levels – if you can’t stitch up a one-hour hat and take a quick photo to advertise your finished product, I have little confidence in your ability to make a quality hat. Again, it’s easy to fool your customers…until they receive a product that looks nothing like the picture. Even if your product is beautiful in the end, it is still infringing on copyright to use another person’s image without her permission. Yes, even though you may believe that if you “found it on Google and, if Google can use it, so can I.” That’s just not true. That’s not how the internet works. That’s not how any of this works.
- Images from TV and Movies: Makers have fallen in love with Outlander. Seriously, there was a time there when I watched it, just for the designs. They’re amazing and, simply, beautiful. I wanted to make them all! When I designed the Sassenach Cowl (yes, I checked that the term is not copyrighted and if you have info that it is, I’ll change the name immediately), I was so tempted to use the Outlander name in the title because…well, more searches/more sales, right? But, having already gotten caught up in the Katniss craze of 2013/14 (back when I was ignorant), I was careful not to use a term that could get me into trouble. Interestingly, though, when I did a search on Etsy for Outlander Cowl, Highland Cowl, Sassenach Cowl and such….the site was filled with copyrighted images taken directly from the show! Ugh…don’t do this. I haven’t checked recently, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Starz and the show’s producers haven’t come down hard on that kind of thing. Make your product, take your pictures, and save yourself the heartache of DMCA notice and possible loss of your shop.
Just as an aside, yes, it’s ok to share images by clicking a “share” button. I’m talking about downloading someone else’s image and then using it to advertise your own business.
Similarly, Sharing Images They Don’t Own…and Using Them to Drive Traffic to a Monetized Blog
Alright, I’m not convinced that this is so innocent, but I have seen instances where it just may be.
What this illegal practice looks like: A person builds a crochet/knit/DIY website (much like this website). It is filled with posts sharing links to free patterns along with images of the finished products (much like this website). They monetize the website with ads (much like this website). The drive traffic to their website using stolen images and pins (yikes!) and make passive income from those stolen images.
I can’t tell you how many Pinterest accounts and Facebook pages are owned by people who are stealing from the original designers. You can spot infringing accounts easily – they will be sharing an image with a particular watermark (a light colored logo, URL or business name superimposed on the image) and linking that image to a completely different website.
For instance, all of my pins say “www.crochetpreneur.com” at the very bottom. If you click on a pin that says www.crochetpreneur.com, but takes you to a site called www.%%%crochet.com (or whatever), that pin has been stolen. You’ll find that the URL has been overwritten by an unscrupulous website owner who is simply profiting from the work of independent designers.
It is similar on Facebook. If a page owner “shares” a post about a particular pattern (that she didn’t create), but links back to HER OWN site instead of the original designer’s site, she has absconded with the image and using it to make a profit.
(Please note: On occasion, a reputable website owner will get permission from other designers to share posts, such as in roundup posts and other legitimate pattern sharing sites. In this case, they would indicate, “images used with permission,” or some such phrasing.)
Sharing Patterns (they didn’t write)
Yes, yes, yes, it’s OK to share a link to a free pattern that you found on the internet. In fact, please do!
(Go, right now, check out my patterns and click on the social sharing icons….pin, share, tweet….do all the things!)
What isn’t legal is for anyone, other than the designer, to copy the text of the pattern (free or not…in full or not) and share it…anywhere. If you’d like to share a free pattern, simply click on the social sharing buttons provided – almost every website owner has easily accessible social sharing buttons.
Additionally, there are sites specifically created for others to copy the entire text of paid patterns and give them away for free. The comments on these sites attest to the gratitude of crocheters who are so excited to get the pattern without having to pay for it…but it’s still theft.
(Yes, I think these people – the sharers and the users – are creeps.)
The problem for designers is that most of these sites are hosted in foreign lands, have no contact information, and designers have no recourse. Even if you are a lover of free patterns, please stay away from these sites.
Editing Patterns to Claim as Their Own
Take a look at the most recent pattern that you purchased. Check out the copyright blurb that the designer has carefully crafted. Did she state, “do not alter and claim as your own.”
I mean, it’s kind of sad that she’s got to cover herself and protect her design by using such language, but in the age of the internet and the plethora of copycat ‘designers’ trying to cash in on the promise of passive income, it has become a rampant problem.
Though, sometimes, it’s not as blatant as it may seem…
This is a tricky issue and I know it’s one of the things that brand new (ethical) pattern designers are most concerned about. We all know that there are only so many crochet stitches to go around and you can only configure those few stitches in so many ways. In reality, it’s hard to come up with a pattern that is revolutionarily unique.
The difference between a pattern that has been inspired by another design and a pattern that has been infringed upon can be a fine line.
If you, as a designer, are concerned that you’ve infringed on another design, then just don’t. However, if you’ve seen a beautiful image on Instagram of a new shawl shape, for example, and you design your own in a similar shape but with different stitches and a different configuration of stitches, but the same shape…you haven’t infringed.
Again, it’s tricky waters, so I’m having my buddy, Joey Vitale of Indie Law, pop on over and write us a more detailed post about this issue. It’s coming soon.
Ultimately, your heart will tell you when you’re doing the wrong thing…check your gut and you should be OK. If you have doubts, come check in with our Crochet Entrepreneurs Collective and get a second opinion.
It’s always best to err on the side of integrity, though.
(BONUS) Ignoring Safety Standards
Did you know, particularly in the US, that there are guidelines that need to be followed if you are a maker of wearables and toys? If we’re being honest, I must admit that this is an area of which I am not well-versed. There are safety standards for children’s items, labeling, buttons and safety-eyes….so, so many rules that it’s easy to be out of compliance without even knowing it. If you don’t understand these standards, you’re probably out of compliance. (Yikes, again!)
What To Do Instead
- Trust that you have the talent and skill to design, market and sell original products. Let Disney sell Disney products and you do you. It’s that simple.
- When advertising your finished products, use your own, original images. In this way, you get to show your customers just how amazingly talented you are.
- Always ask permission. If you’re doing a roundup post or you’re wanting to link to someone’s pattern online, just send a quick note to the designer and ask permission. Most people are happy to give permission to use one image from the original post, as long as there is a link back to that post, too.
- Don’t share the text of a pattern anywhere. If you have a question about a pattern, just contact the original designer and most will be happy to walk you through anything you’re having trouble with. Yes, there are FB groups to help, but no one knows the pattern like the designer.
- Be original. You know in your heart if you have been inspired or if you’re copying. If your heart is a little faulty, let me be clear – looking at someone else’s design and writing a pattern to create that product is copying. (This is fine to do for your own use. But don’t do this if you’re planning to sell the pattern.)
- Get in the know. If you want to learn about US Safety Standards, be sure to join the Facebook group, US Safety Compliance. For more personalized help, contact someone who knows. I recommend Misty Henry, a Product Safety Consultant.
- Contact a Lawyer. For specific questions about copyright infringement and your crochet business, schedule a discovery call with my friend and lawyer to creatives, Joey Vitale of Indie Law. Be sure to join his Facebook group, Friends of Indie Law, too!
See, easy peasy. I know some people aren’t going to read this far.
I know some people will read and be angry.
And I know some people will say, “Duh!”
Really, once you know, it seems like common sense, but in the amazing, beautiful, talented, awe-inspiring, wide world of crochet, many people just don’t know.
Now you do. So, go do right. 😉
Won’t you share your thoughts, below? And, if you know some crocheters who might be putting themselves at risk because they don’t know the law, please share this post with them and drop some knowledge on them….with kindness. K? The more we know and do the right thing, the better we make the whole maker community experience.
(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I do not claim to be. I am just sharing what I understand about the laws surrounding the products we make and the images we use to advertise them. If you have a question, please seek the council of a certified lawyer.)