Thursday, June 4, 2009

On Originality

Lately I've been seeing a lot of little turtorials on other blogs for basic items like eyeglass cases and lanyards. These are items that require little or no thought to create a pattern but the bloggers are nicely putting together a photo tutorial on how to do them. I think this is a great thing that they are doing- until I get to the end and find: "please do not sell anything you make using this tutorial." Now. I completely understand that you don't want someone else to make money off your original work. I really do. And I think if you make something that is unique, that this is perfectly reasonable. In the last couple weeks though I've seen tutorials for things I could have made myself and would have done in the exact same manner. So what happens now? Am I never allowed to make and sell those items? What about the key lanyard that someone did a tutorial for that is literally:

Take a strip of fabric x inches long by x inches wide. Make a tube and turn it inside out. Slide a toggle clip on and sew the ends together to make a loop. Please don't sell any of these if you make them!

REALLY? SERIOUSLY? I mean, her tutorial had pictures and all, but couldn't anyone have done that? Where is the line? It seems clear that I should be able to sell this lanyard if I wanted to sell it.

There are a lot of tutorials out there for simple totes with boxed bottoms. I made quite a few of them before I discovered the world of craft blogging. I did not use a tutorial at all, but used techiniques from a pattern that I had bought for another bag. Now though, I have read those tutorials. If I unintentionally follow some aspect of their technique instead of doing it in the same order I did before, am I allowed to sell my bag? What if I make my pocket like they did, but do everything else the way I always have?

On the other end, if do make a bag that is clearly not the usual bag, I can understand saying that I can't copy that. But at what point does it swap over? I've seen tutorials for items for which I've bought mass retail patterns. I think it's great that I could have made my own without buying the pattern, but what's to say the blogger didn't copy the publisher of the pattern? Am I not allowed to sell something made from a McCalls or Simplicity pattern? What about if I make a quilt from a pattern in a book? Can I sell that?

Before the book Weekend Sewing came out, I saw a tutorial to make a checkbook cover. There is a pattern for that in the book. Did Heather Ross copy them? In 1997, two friends and I made checkbook covers and book covers to give to people for Christmas. Our pattern was shockingly similar. Too bad we didn't publish a tutorial.

At some point it seems that everything has been done and nothing is original (you should be able to say this about books too though, right?) When does the 200 crayon rolls I've seen turn into me copying someone else's idea illegally? Have you looked for a crayon roll on Etsy? Because clearly the majority of the people selling them, myself included, copied that one original person, intentionally or not. (That search found 990 of them.)

After giving this a lot of thought, I've decided to use my best judgement on this. If an item is a simple basic item I'm not going to worry too much about copying you. I've seen a millon handmade tote bags. I'm not going to stop making them for my shop because someone did a tutorial. I don't particularly want to make lanyards, but if I did I'm not so worried that you told me how to make a long tube. I know this is gonna make some people angry at me, but let's use some common sense. If I bought your pattern and you asked me not to do it, I won't. If your item truely is unique and is something I'd never thought of myself, I won't try to sell the items I make from it.

So what do you think? Do you only sell things you've created in a vacuum? Am I being unreasonable? Are you about to call the craft police on me? Should I just close the shop now? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. This is a really hot topic. I am basically exactly where you are. I mean, for crying out loud, people have been sewing for, um, a WHILE, now so I bet at some point, someone, somewhere made (for example) a cherry quilt. (I am using that because I made one and it's really really really cute. Pat pat pat. LOL!)
    With my leftover cherry blocks I made up a pattern using black and white checkerboard setting squares. Way after I made that up I found a pattern for it online for sale. So I really did make mine up, and it isn't exactly exactly the same, but it is very similar. So then I can't make a pattern and sell it? I can't sell the quilt? Can I take pictures of my quilt?

    I read somewhere that you can't stop someone from selling a product made from your pattern. That it is illegal to stop them, but people do try to. I will have to find that page. It's hard to know what to believe on the Internet. I have stopped worrying about it. I do what I do, and if I ever decide to sell my stuff and someone complains, well, I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

    Oh, crap I have to leave for work. I will check back later and see what others have written. And maybe expound on my ideas a bit more... heehee!

  2. What!? No one else commented!? I was all excited to read what other people thought. Well, here's some more of what I think. LOL! I will use quilts because that's what I make, but you could substitute an apron or a teddy bear or whatever.

    Ok, here is a link that I liked because it supports what I lean towards:

    Of course, there are the websites supporting a sort of different viewpoint, like this one:

    I think part of the issue is that some people consider quilts to be works of art, and some consider them to be, well, just blankets. So right there is a huge thing because of course you can't copy art, but you CAN copy a useful item. I make my quilts to be used, but some people make them to hang on the wall. Does that make mine less pretty? Or theirs less useful? I don't know exactly where I am on that issue, but I do lean towards a quilt being a useful object. Although, I have seen some stunning quilts that are surely deserving of being called art. I don't really know where I stand on that issue.

    I personally think that if someone copied one of my quilts it would be a huge compliment. I have tried to send people basic, generic instructions to make any of my quilts that they said they liked. If someday I wrote a pattern for one of my quilts and someone bought one, made 50 photocopies of it and sold them on e-bay, well, I would be a bit peeved at that. If they saw my quilt, broke it down into their own pattern and sold that pattern, well, I guess I would figure they were more on the ball than me.

    I guess that means I am pretty much on your side here. People are going overboard with this "you can't make something like mine" thing. I don't know why- greed, I guess. I will just do my thing and hope that no one sues me!

  3. I only do a tiny bit of sewing and crafting. It seems insane to me to post a tutorial online and then say, but don't make it to sell. If they didn't want it used, they shouldn't post it. I think that once you give the pattern/recipe over to people then control over what they do with it. Also, if you are going to ask for people not to copy it to sell it, then it should be something so unique that it is unlikely someone else thought of it before.

  4. I have made a pattern of a quilt. I am selling that pattern. Since I made my pattern I have seen similar quilts. My pattern uses a jelly roll but includes instructions for yardage, ect. I have had people voice their opinion on both sides of the issue. Everything from I should sue others that are selling a similar patterns to I should stop selling my pattern so I don't get sued.

    I feel their is a market for all of us. In my pattern I ask to please not photo copy and mass produce my pattern for others. If you a copy it for your mom, who cares. If you copy it for your whole guild (200 memebers) please don't. If you make a quilt using in my pattern and can sell it, hurry and get the money. If you want to teach a class on my pattern, please order them from me a a discounted price.

    I think things are getting out of hand on how people and make some extra money. If you don't want people selling items made out of your pattern don't post it on the internet (for free) and don't sell your pattern. On the other side I can see people saying "don't order a kit from me, make the product and sell that product."

    Their is a famous fabric designer that has posted that you can not sell items made out of her fabric. The way I figure it if I have purchased your fabric it is now mine to do as I choose.

  5. Late comment, but I agree with you and all the above comments.

    I recently saw a small zippered bag for sale (with an "original design; do not copy" comment) that was exactly like one that each of us in 4-H sewing made for a fair exhibit 44 or 45 years ago. The pattern was part of our 4-H project book. I still have the original bag plus a couple of others just like it that I've made and used over the years. I made several and gave them to family and friends - probably long before the "original designer" was even born.