Friday, December 16, 2011

When is a design mine?

I suppose this one of those old chestnuts that comes up every so often. I’ve been madly crocheting away, every spare moment I can get, to make Christmas presents for the Children in my family. Often, I start from a pattern written by someone else and wander off on my own doing what I think will work better, or making it into the thing I want to make. Sometimes, I’ve seen a photo online and tried to make something that looks like the photo. But when do these designs become my own?

I suppose, of course, there’s no simple answer. It all comes down to when an item becomes substantially different from the original design, and the crossover isn’t clear.

For example, say I want to make an amigurumi doll. I already have books with patterns for several which I will look at before I decide exactly what I want to do. The end doll that I make may have elements from several designs from my books, none of which include all the features I want in my doll, and there will also be elements that I’ve thought up from scratch. There may be a significant amount of trial and error involved in putting all this together. The overall doll may be my own ‘vision’, but individual components may be copied from elsewhere. When does it become my own design?

And what if something’s copied from a photo? Cedric is the perfect example here – he is based on this photo, but I have no idea what the pattern for it is like, although I suspect I have one ‘significant’ difference.


I would like to start writing up and selling patterns but I’m just struggling a bit with this cut-off point. To date, I’ve been thinking more of publishing the patterns here on my blog with reference to my sources of inspiration, but if my pattern is based on someone else’s what right do I have to publish the directions for the bits I’ve copied?

And anyway, how many different ways are there of making amigurumi heads, arms, legs or bodies? If you want something roughly the same size, you’re likely to end up with a very similar pattern.

And where does Petal fit into all this? Her pattern is a translation with one or two tweaks.

I have a doll I’m making for Iona (and I’ll have to make one for Niamh sometime too), it’s based on a pattern by someone else, but I’ve done some of the basic body parts slightly differently. However, I’ve gone completely off at a tangent, influenced by someone completely different, in embellishing the doll and in the techniques I’ve used to do so. I’m really excited about her (Iona will LOVE her) and I’d love to write it up as a pattern, but I don’t know that it’s sufficiently different to count as my own design.

Anyone know any answers or advice?

Spot the cute monkey! Too busy crocheting to get decent photos these days!


Annie said...

Your crocheting is just so cute!

You bring up a lot of good questions. I'm sure all designers and artists struggle with the same issues. After all, how many ways are there to design a little cross-stitch snowman?

Hopefully, you will get some good advice from other crafters since I often wonder about the same thing.

Laura said...

I think you might find some advice on Ravelry about this, but as far as I understand it...

~ Legally, you copyright the expression of a pattern, rather than the stitch itself. ie, no one can copyright a stitch pattern or crochet stitch, or even the pattern of stitches that make up an object. What they *can* copyright is the way they write it down. So if someone copies and pastes a pattern, they've broken copyright. If they re-write it in their own words, they haven't.


~ Morally is where you get into the grey area, and usually this one depends on money (doesn't everything?) If the original is free and you write and publish a slightly different version of it for free, I don't think anyone would have a problem with that, especially if you link to the original source.

If the original is a 'paid for' pattern and you publish an almost identical free or paid pattern, then the original author is probably going to think that's a bit cheeky.

BUT as you say, there are only so many ways to make an Amigurumi ball, so no one's going to mind your putting something similar up in that sense. The difference will be what you do with the basic shape - how do you make it *yours* rather than identical to the original.

For example, I have published patterns for fingerliss mitts, a hat and a swirly scarf. All three of these are similar to other patterns out there. What's different about mine is the way I write my instructions, the exact number of stitches and the detail. No one's objected (yet, touch wood!)

Looking at Cedric, although he's inspired by that original, there are also significant differences in exact shape in style, especially the fluffy bits!

My rule of thumb is that if you can follow my instructions and get something that isn't identical to my source of inspiration, then it's probably a publishable pattern.

Not sure if any of that helps, but it's good to think everything through before you start. Copyright is a real minefield (I'm a librarian, so I know what I'm talking about!), but I think if you go in with the right attitude, you should be okay.

Good luck! And FWIW, I'd love to see a Cedric pattern. He's ridiculously cute :D

Theresa said...

I think Laura said it all. It's the details that make things yours. As long as you don't intentionally try to copy someone's work and kind of make your own signature on your piece, that makes it yours. The fact that you are asking these questions is very sensible to me. Good luck!!! I'm sure we would all love to see more Cedric out there~~

SusanD1408 Crochet Addict said...

I find that when I try to follow someone elses pattern I end up changing it to "my style". I have certain stitches that I like using above others and I usually make changes to what looks better for me. By the time I have made all these changes I find that it isn't really like the original so I think it's now a pattern I have designed. I usually do mention on my blog where I got the ideas from. If you see a picture and design it yourself without looking at any patterns I think it is also then your pattern.

Val said...

Mmmmm .. not sure how to answer your question on copyright ... but I have just designed a small biscofleur with my own design, but using the instructions I found on your blog a while ago - I have said as much on my blog where I have uploaded the pics ...