Pattern Design Series-Inspiration, Copyright, Imitation and Staying Original
Hello fellow makers! I’m so excited to be starting a brand new series of posts. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing the ins and outs of pattern writing and design. It can be a bit scary when you first decide to start pattern writing and my hope is to make you feel at ease and equipped with knowledge so you can venture forward without fear.
For me pattern writing and designing has been one of the best and most challenging ventures in my life. It gives me a creative outlet while also helping me to stretch myself to learn more about my craft. I’ll be honest though, when I first started I didn’t know what I was doing and it took a while to figure out the proper way to write a pattern, the legal aspect of design and my own style.
Today we will discuss where to find inspiration, how to avoid imitation, what copyright really means and how to stay original in your designs. For a full list of topics that will be covered in this series, scroll all the way to the bottom.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney or a professional in copyright laws. These are my interpretations of the laws. If you are looking for legal advice please contact an attorney in your area.
When it comes to designing crochet or knit patterns, or really any art form in general, inspiration can come from anywhere. It could be nature, fashion, stitches, colors, feelings, fulfilling a need or finding a solution to a problem. Whatever it is that inspires you is great! I find a lot of my work is inspired by graphic designs, stitches I want to try, a color I’ve seen in nature, a design found in nature like the leaves of a tree, or from current fashion trends. I tend to find inspiration from everywhere!
We live in an image heavy culture right now which can be great! Hello Pinterest! Am I right? But, one thing I try to avoid finding inspiration from are other people’s designs. So if I go to Pinterest to find inspiration, instead of searching for crochet hats or tops, I’ll search for Spring or Fall fashion trends, crochet stitches, knitting stitches, home decor, or geometric designs. By staying away from looking at other people’s designs for inspiration I am less likely to create something that looks similar to another designer. Now, I’m not saying you can’t follow other designers and see what they are creating because that would just be crazy. What I’m saying is don’t look for your inspiration from other people’s work, find inspiration from the things around you and design things that bring you joy and that you want to see in the world.
A hot button topic in the fiber arts community is the issue of copying. If you’ve been a part of the community on social media then I’m sure you’ve seen patterns that are very similar to each other and even heard some heated discussions about whether a design has been copied or not. It can make pattern writing and designing a bit scary and may make you feel apprehensive about starting. I will tell you, it’s not a fun topic and it’s awkward and uncomfortable for all people involved. One of the things that you need to know before you start designing is what is legal and what is not and how to protect your work.
Copyright laws are here to protect you and your work, but I think a lot of people have some misconceptions when it comes to what copyright really means. Copyright protects your tangible works of authorship (ex: a written crochet pattern and the graphics and images used within the pattern), but it does not protect an idea, a process or method of doing things. So you have copyright on your written pattern and images, but you do not have copyright on a stitch or technique you used in your pattern. Another example would be if I create a cable knit hat, I now have copyright on the pattern I wrote which includes my images and logo. I don’t have copyright on the idea of a cable knit hat. Anyone else who wants to design and write a cable knit hat pattern is able to do so.
Copyright starts the second you write something down. You are not required to register your patterns with the copyright offices, but you can put the words Copyright and the copyright symbol on your pattern if you wish. If you would feel more comfortable filing your patterns with the copyright officials you can find all the information you need at www.copyright.gov. Filing sometimes requires a fee and you will need to provide a copy of your work as well. Filing will not give you any added protection and is really only necessary if you believe you may have to deal with a lawsuit over your work.
For more information on copyright laws and how they pertain to crochet and knit patterns check out these helpful blog posts:
Now that we know what kind of protection we have on our patterns, let’s talk about what to do when we are accused of or think someone else has copied our work. I’ve had to deal with both sides of this coin and I can tell you from experience that it isn’t fun for anyone and can make for a very awkward and uncomfortable situation. I hope by sharing these three basic scenarios you’ll find the best way to handle these situations if they ever arise.
Scenario A- Someone accuses you of copying their pattern.
If someone ever accuses you of copying their work it can be a bit scary. They may be angry and threatening so it is best to stay calm and not get defensive. Take your time in responding to them, if you decide to respond at all. It can be easy to want to defend yourself right away, but taking a step back to process your feelings and come up with a thoughtful and respectful response can keep the situation from escalating. If you know that you did not copy and that you created your pattern on your own then you don’t need to worry. The other designer may not be aware of copyright laws and what they mean. In most cases it is just a matter of coincidence and no legal action will be taken. It may be disheartening and discouraging if this happens, but it doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. Take the time to educate yourself on the topic and make sure that you are always designing things on your own from scratch so you can go forward with a clear conscious.
Scenario B- You see a design that looks just like yours.
Let’s say you just released a new design and then a few weeks later you see another designer come out with a pattern that looks just like yours. At first it can like a punch to the gut, especially if you know the other designer. Don’t automatically assume that they copied your design. Whether or not they copied your design has a lot to do with intent. In most cases the person did not intend to copy or even knew they had a similar design as you. Remember that just because you put content out in the world, doesn’t mean that everyone sees it. Coincidences happen a lot and I have seen a lot of designers come out with similar designs at the same exact time, it just happens! Since intent is a hard thing to prove it is best to first process your feelings and confide in a friend or family member about the situation. Sometimes just getting those feelings out can help. Having someone else say “hey, that really stinks” can make you start to feel better. Seeing designs that are similar to yours can make you feel unoriginal and less unique and to be honest it bruises your ego a bit. So the best thing to do is step back a bit and decide if you want to do anything about it. If you do decide to contact the other designer make sure to keep it private. Send them an e-mail expressing your feelings and concerns. Remember that we are all real people with real feelings and it is best to stay respectful and professional. Also, know the extent to which you would want to take this issue. Are you willing to take it all the way to court if you believe they have really copied you? A lawsuit can be a long drawn out process and will require legal fees from both parties. Sometimes just a simple e-mail or conversation can be enough to put both party’s minds at ease.
Scenario C- You’re in the process of designing a new pattern and you see another designer is releasing something similar.
This situation can definitely take the wind out of your sails. It’s hard when you see another designer having the same idea as you. In this situation it doesn’t mean that either of you have copied the other. This is just a coincidence. It does not take away any value from you or your design. I would say you are free to go ahead with your design and if you want, you can reach out to the other designer to let them know. It can be a bit awkward, but if you are both open and communicate with each other then it doesn’t have to be. If you are worried that others will think you copied then you can always make some changes to your design to set it apart and make it look a bit different. But at the end of the day, as long as you created that pattern and design yourself then it’s okay to go ahead with your idea.
Overall the issue of copying in the designer world is awkward and uncomfortable, but if we act respectful and professional we can make it a bit easier to deal with.
Staying original in designing can feel challenging at times. When you look around our fiber community you will always find items that look similar and it can feel like everything has already been done before. The truth is that most ideas are not “original" but rather “original to you.” Meaning it is a new idea to you. Somewhere in the world someone else has probably had that same idea or put those same stitches into a pattern. That doesn’t mean you can’t create your own original designs, it just means you need to stay true to yourself. Don’t go looking to see if an idea you have has been done before, because more than likely it has. Design things that make you happy and things that you would like to see. As you start designing you will learn new things and will create your own unique style. People will start to recognize your designs because they will inherently have your mark on them. As long as you create a pattern from scratch and do the work yourself you will be original.
I hope you found this post helpful. I’m looking forward to sharing so much more about pattern writing and design in the coming weeks. Here are some of the topics that will be covered in this series:
The Process of Design- From Idea to Publication
The Building Blocks of A Great Pattern
Construction & Sizing
The Great Debate- Free vs Paid Patterns
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org