What Quilting's Legal Battles Can Teach Us About Copyright

from the paradise-lost dept

Last year Techdirt wrote about Leah Day, who was trying to introduce a free model to quilting — apparently a bold thing to do. Sadly, it seems that the ownership mentality is nonetheless spreading in her field, as she reports in this really excellent new blog post entitled “Copyright Terrorism”:

Copyright issues seem to be cropping up with increasing frequency in the quilting world and I for one would like to try to stem this flow, or at least open your eyes, to the very real threat looming for our craft.

What is this threat? Where is it coming from?

It is coming from within our own ranks. Quilters with a certain penchant for copyright and legal wrangling are turning our open, creative craft into a mine field of rules, regulations, licensing, attribution, and copyright lockdown that it’s enough to make anyone set down their rotary cutter and sell their sewing machine.

She then goes on to describe a recent case that perfectly summarizes the growing insanity beginning to infect the world of quilting:

The basic story goes like this: Emily Cier wrote a book called Scrap Republic for C&T Publishing. Moda, a fabric manufacturer sent her lots of fabric for free to create the quilts in this book.

So far, so good. But things got more complicated when somebody tried to build on that work — which is precisely how art has always proceeded:

C&T Publishing randomly flipped through the book and picked a photo of one of the quilts, enlarged the image and printed it on the front of an eco tote bag.

Keep in mind, the fabric used in the quilts were obvious. The pieces they were cut into were large, making it very clear which line of fabric each quilt is created from.

The quilt used for the eco tote just happened to have been created using Kate Spain’s Fandango fabric. Kate saw the bags and decided they violated her copyright of her fabric line.

Kate Spain then initiated a lawsuit against C&T Publishing and Emily Cier and demanded both the eco totes AND the books be destroyed.

Now things get murky because on her blog, Kate Spain denies starting a lawsuit, but it’s obvious on both C&T’s and Emily Cier’s blog that a real, big, scary lawsuit was initiated. C&T Publishing ended up taking the blame and came to some accord with Kate Spain.

Day then points out just what a mess this is if people try to think in terms of ownership:

Let’s work backwards: the tote bag was printed with a PHOTOGRAPH which was taken by a photographer for the book. Whoever that person was, they aren’t credited in the book.

The QUILT was designed and created by Emily Cier.

The FABRIC used in the quilt was designed by Kate Spain.

Who really own the copyright?

She contrasts this mentality with the fashion industry, where there is no copyright (despite the continuing attempts to bring it in.) There, creativity is not only blossoming in a way that is hard to match elsewhere, it has created a huge, profitable industry many times larger than all the copyright companies put together, as the well-known TED talk on the subject emphasized.

She points out where the current obsession with ownership is taking her field:

If we lock up this industry, we will lose something powerful, something essential, something that brought me to quilting in the first place: freedom.

Freedom to play with fabric. Freedom to experiment with different shapes and layouts. Freedom to play with new techniques and materials. We can lose the freedom to create.

Because if you have to check with 5 different fabric designers and the quilt pattern designer AND the free motion quilting designer in order to make your quilt, how likely are you to do it? Even the idea of asking, even words like “licensing,” are enough to send many people packing. Off to find another hobby the lawyers haven’t ruined yet.

Finally, she offers her own vision of how things could be:

If you post something: an idea, a technique, a pretty picture, whatever, man up and give it away for free.

REALLY free. As in copyright free – as in anyone can use whatever you post for ANY reason.

What’s the worst that can happen? Someone might teach your technique or idea. More people will learn it and enjoy it than you could ever reach alone. Is that such a terrible thing?

Several times in her commentary, Day raises another key issue: that of attribution. As she points out, artists need their work to be attributed, so that people can give them credit, and maybe contact them to buy or commission more work. It’s the absence of attribution, not the absence of copyright, that can be problematic — and not just for quilters, but also for the photographers that take pictures of their work, and the designers of fabrics that might be used as raw materials.

It’s really a wonderfully rich post, which touches on many aspects of copyright and creativity, and I urge you to read it — along with the forthright comments (already there are 142 of them.) It provides another example, alongside the fashion industry, of a field that is currently flourishing without copyright, but that is under threat from those who have bought into the story that assigning ownership to something as insubstantial as ideas somehow promotes creativity, when in fact all it does is to shut it down through a creeping, paralyzing fear of infringement, as Day so vividly describes.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “What Quilting's Legal Battles Can Teach Us About Copyright”

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Paul says:

Re: Promote The Progress

I would be nice but I’m afraid close to impossible.

We need a consciousness change as a species. Why? If food is what I need for survival and to ease my job in hunting I invent the spear either I want to be the only one using it, copying me is out of the question, or if you use my idea I want claim on a part of what you hunt. Because hey without me you could not hunt so easy. And if you improve on my work… Hey without my work you would not have on what to improve on…

This is human nature seen all through our history, change this and the rest will follow

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: We need a consciousness change as a species.

No we don?t. We survived throughout virtually the entirety of the history of our species (300,000 years) without the concepts of ?patent?, ?copyright? or any sort of ?intellectual property?. Those concepts only came into being in their present form about 400 years ago at most.

Even if you restrict yourself to recorded history, that?s still only about 10% of the time since we discovered how to write things down.

So to say that ?intellectual property? is somehow fundamental to the human mindset is, shall we say, flying in the face of the facts. In fact, our civilization arose from our propensity for copying from each other.

Watching what other people do and copying what they do is a distinctively human trait. Even chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, cannot figure out how to do that.

?Human see, human do.?

Paul says:

Re: Re: Re: We need a consciousness change as a species.

I agree with most of what you say. What I was trying to point out is that we hate to see someone prosper from copying our ideas. At the end of the day if I have food to barely survive and the person who copied my spear has more, tastier food I don’t like that.

Maybe a bad example from me to explain this.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 We need a consciousness change as a species.

Yeah, sure, it’s completely ingrained in our culture. Right now. But to ancient writers, all the way up to the middle ages copying (subatantial parts of) previous works (without giving credit) was completely normal and acceptable. Why do you think fairytales never have a ‘true’ author, do you seriously think the brothers Grimm came up with everything they wrote down themselves?

I’m also wondering who came up with your fairytale about the spear. It’s completely ridiculous, because humans lived and hunted in family groups, like modern day monkeys. There would have been no profit whatsoever to keeping the spear to yourself, since hunting was done in groups and the bounty was shared in the entire group. The only way you’d really get to profit was by teaching the rest of the group so as a group you could kill more effectively. Even then the group would probably have no incentive to kill much more because hunting is risky business and why kill more than you can eat, while risking life and limb? Human culture is based on copying and sometimes someone wouldn’t just copy, but also slightly improve on the previous, which would then be copied again. That’s how our civilization came to be, deal with it, copyright isn’t ‘natural’ at all.

Paul says:

Re: Re: Re:3 We need a consciousness change as a species.

replace food, survival, hunting, spear with what ever makes the paragraph valid, try this

If accuracy is what I need for measurement and to ease my job in creating bolts I invent the micrometer either I want to be the only one using it, copying me is out of the question, or if you use my idea I want claim on part of what bolts you sell. Because hey without me you could not make accurate bolts so easy. And if you improve on my work… Hey without my work you would not have on what to improve on…

F! says:

Re: Re: Re:4 We need a consciousness change as a species.

Enjoying this spear analogy.

I think I see where the problem is here though Paul, you seem to be (and I could be reading this wrong) implying that such thing as a wholly original idea ever existed. The idea for the micrometer that someone used to make their bolts may have been your idea, but you got that idea from someone else who had the idea of the meter, and someone else had the idea of the centimeter, and someone else had the idea of the millimeter, then you came up with the idea of the micrometer. To claim you have any “rights” on the micrometer misses the fact that without other people’s previous inventions, you never would have come up with the idea in the first place. If someone had claimed rights on the millimeter you would have been prevented from inventing the micrometer.

If the person who invented the spear, a sharp stick, never allowed anyone to copy and improve on it, we’d all still be using a sharp piece of wood to hunt animals. Somewhere along the line someone got the idea to use a stone tip which made it a more effective tool.

Without copying, civilization stagnates.

Everything is created in a context. There is no truly original idea ever. As they say, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

AB says:

Re: Re: Re:6 We need a consciousness change as a species.

In the spirit of attribution I gave F! the insightful click because s/he improved your work. 😉

Seriously, though, I’m not sure I entirely agree. I think the whole concept of entitlement is a new one, actually brought about by the inception of IP laws. Before that creators had to actively compete to find out who would be the first to improve a past creation.

I don’t mean that you are wrong, greed is certainly a strong motivator, but I don’t believe it is instinctive. I think it is developed.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: The roots of Copyright?

I don’t think the concept of copyright is a bad thing, it is what it has morphed into that is the problem.

Giving creators short terms to profit from their works seems good.
Turning it into a 3 lifetime legacy is bad.

Allowing people to take down a creation 3 times removed from their original piece like in the above story shows the problem with it.
If someone had bought the fabric designers fabric and made a dress, she should have no claim on that dress and demand it be destroyed and be paid.
She should be flattered that someone enjoyed her design that much, and hope they would mention where the fabric came from if asked.

Much of this seems to be due to lawyers trying to create new legal ideas and definitions. When hip hop artists were sampling songs, the lawyers flipped. The lawsuits let them set stupidly high demands for 3 second snippets of songs. And that is the problem we see now, if something “I” have copyright on has any relationship to an item I am owed money, rights, and control even if my actual contribution was 2 seconds.

I wonder if those early hiphop pioneers had just given credit for the samples on the records if those they sampled would have been happy with just that.

explicit coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: The roots of Copyright?

I don’t think the concept of copyright is a bad thing, it is what it has morphed into that is the problem.

Giving creators short terms to profit from their works seems good.
Turning it into a 3 lifetime legacy is bad.

By now I’ve come to believe that copyright is a bad thing, because the problems and the costs caused by it far outweigh the benefits. Therefore, we should get rid of copyright altogether.

Obviously, it won’t happen – or if it would happen it would cause cataclysmic changes in the world’s economy.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The roots of Copyright?

What it has become and continues to grow into is a horrible thing.
What the disconnect seems to be from the Copyright Cartel’s side is that the more you push for the more people push back.

Had they not sued Napster, and users there of it would have slowed down the growth of people trying to stick it to them.

Had they embraced VHS from the beginning rather than wasting time and energy fighting progress, we’d be further ahead now.

Had they worried less about CSS, and more about making the discs an enjoyable experience instead of more forced advertising.

And it is because they want total control, even over the things you pay them for. They feel they are owed a payment because you ripped your CD to your iThingy. They feel they are owed a payment because you format shifted something you paid for to a different device. They are obsessed with the idea that every time someone hits copy/paste money vanishes from their pockets.

The copyright problems are reaching a critical mass point. We’ve had Federal Law written to protect an industry from having to adapt to a changing market, we have them spying on us and trying to get ISPs to cut people off, we have them wanting the right to inspect every electronic device you own and demand a receipt for every file or pay huge fines. They have gone to far, and eventually the people will speak louder than campaign contributions.

explicit coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The roots of Copyright?

Interesting times we live in indeed! And in it’s core it is all about control.

To quote Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri on a possible future:

As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.

Fanic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The roots of Copyright?

Sid Meier was a very smart man.
Is that not the truth we face today. Take for example the Entertainment industry, they do not want to just make music/movies/whatever else and make profit from it from you buying it. They want to control you and force you into buying ONLY there stuff they way THEY want it. Is that not a way a master works towards is servant. A master only wants his servant to work for him, give him knowledge of other things and he might want more and might want to leave you.
This also relates back to the other topic in this thread “We need a consciousness change as a species” Humanity wants CONTROL more then anything else. Its not the profits or the credit they are looking for they are merely looking for a way in witch to control everyone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The roots of Copyright?

“They want to control you and force you into buying ONLY there stuff they way THEY want it.”

That’s assuming they make the “stuff” they still have copyright control of available in the first place!

There’s a lot of material NOT in print/available on line/available on disc EXCEPT as unofficial (I refuse to call it “pirate”) versions.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I actually like it when people come here with some kind of point, even if they are shilltard trolls. But this is pathetic. Is this really all you have? You’re only argument against the article is the domain name? You read about copyright being used to stifle multiple people’s creativity and the only thought you had was that it had nothing to do with name of the website? Not even that, it had nothing to do with a portion of the name of the website! It also has nothing to do with dirt. Nor, except for the ads, is there a whole lot of commerce going on, so you might as well complain that it ought to be on a .net TLD.

Are you the same idiot who read the article about AMC deciding to ignore the MPAA bullies and show the documentary about bullies anyway, and all you could come up with is some it’s-not-tech whine? If you are, then you came from your Yahoo, which certainly shows that you only read sites where the domain name fits your profile.

Atkray (profile) says:

Closer to home

My wife makes baby quilts by hand, and has for years. She looked at trying to sell them on Etsy a couple years ago (before I discovered Techdirt) and was overwhelmed with the copyright issues. As I recall the best way around it all was to make a quilt then wash it and sell it as used so you can avoid being hassled by the fabric designers. But then people don’t want to buy the quilt. She abandoned the plan.

Volucris (profile) says:

Intermediate Goods

I don’t think I understand Kate Spain’s perspective here.

Fabric design is certainly a creative endeavor, and fabrics aren’t exactly commodities, but they are pretty clearly intermediate goods. The primary purpose of a fabric is to be used as a component in some other creation.

What goes through a person’s head when selling something like that? It’s okay if people buy it, but using it is absolutely unauthorized?

What was she expecting to happen?

Steve R. (profile) says:

Entitlementment Society

As That Anonymous Coward wrote: “What it has become and continues to grow into is a horrible thing.” Copyright is no longer about creativity, it has morphed into the concept that content creators are entitled to a perpetual revenue stream enforced by the power of the State.

Not only that but content creators are taking extreme liberties to aggressively reach-out and claim that anything remotely with the look-and-feel of their content is infringement.

Leah Day’s experience clearly illustrates these trends.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Entitlementment Society

As That Anonymous Coward wrote: “What it has become and continues to grow into is a horrible thing.” Copyright is no longer about creativity, it has morphed into the concept that content creators are entitled to a perpetual revenue stream enforced by the power of the State.

Actually there is a business model for this. It just hasn’t been adapted to creative endeavors very well yet. It’s called multilevel marketing. Everyone involved in the chain that results in a sale gets a percentage of that sale.

Coward (Anon) says:

Short story about copyright and art

A year or two there was an article here (I think) on Techdirt pointing to a short story that involved what the art world would be like after IP has become all-encompassing. Does anyone remember the name of the story and the author. I’ve tried searching here but can’t remember what story that link was attached to.

otherside (profile) says:

Who gets to make the money?

I’m rusty on trademark and copyright law, but in this country (US) you need to aggressively pursue your trademark or copyright or you can lose it.

This means someone else can take Kate Spain’s designs and put it onto scrapbooking paper and sell it. Or someone in China can decide to put it onto T-Shirts and sell millions of them in the US. Even if the artist did the T-shirts first, trademark and copyright law is the only way she has to stop someone else from copying the T-shirts and competing with her.

Why should anyone do something creative, if they will then have to stand by and watch someone else take their work and make money.

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