Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Online Pattern Piracy -
by Rita Vainius

­ All of us know of the ripple effect when a pebble is thrown into water. Few of us probably think this has anything to do with the simple act of accepting a gratuitous copy of a copyrighted needlework pattern.

­ All of us know that we need April showers to grow May flowers. Few of us probably think this truism has anything to do with whether or not a needlework designer thrives or withers away.

­ All of us are familiar with the trickle down effect. Few of us probably consider the ramifications of this concept in the needlework industry.

Yet, important changes are occurring in the ways business is conducted today - in the needlework industry as well as nearly every other area. It is indisputable that the Internet has had far reaching positive effects on all of our lives. However, a practice that, at first blush, seems purely innocent and altruistic in intention, is having devastating consequences in the lives and livelihoods of the professionals in our industry.

Many stitchers are familiar with the Napster issue involving piracy of music on the web, but may not be aware of an issue of much greater significance to them as dedicated needleworkers - Pattern Piracy on the Internet. According to an August 1, 2000 article in the L.A . Times, "Is a Stitch Online a Crime?" a number of pattern publishers and designers claim that their patterns are being swapped on the Internet for free. While those involved in this practice say that it's just "friendly sharing", what are the deeper implications?

We've spoken to designers, manufacturers, large and small publishers, distributors, sales reps, teachers and shop owners and the verdict is unanimous that this is a potentially disastrous situation. The domino effect created by loss of sales at the beginning of the supply chain affects everyone and it is ultimately the consumer who will suffer the most.

Currently involved in the controversy are a huge number of charted designs for cross stitch and plastic canvas. The L.A. Times article states "...sewing enthusiasts have discovered [they] can steal copyrighted material over the Internet, thanks to anonymous file-sharing techniques." PatternPiggiesUnite! a digital clubhouse on eGroups, a free Web-based service that allows individuals to create e-mail groups and electronic bulletin boards to share files, was launched in late 1999. Although it's originator, Carla Conry, insists that those involved are only sharing these designs with friends, the site quickly attracted hundreds of stitchers anxious to download bootlegged patterns for free.

Initial reaction to this practice might be: "So what? Needlework is a hobby and people who stitch are mostly older women. Needlework shops are businesses run by older women who either don't need the revenues for their livelihood or merely are looking for something to do with the extra time on their hands." Nothing could be further from the truth. Jim Hedgepath of Needlecraft Showcase recently conducted a survey in the Needlecraft Showcase Newsletter, which has substantial readership. 75% of the stitchers who responded were under 55 years of age. Survey results also clearly indicated that designers and shop owners tend to be well below retirement age and many do rely on the income from their businesses to support themselves and their families.

Following are some typical responses we received to our questions on the subject:

Sharon Wainwright, President of the International Needleart Retailers Guild (INRG), a leading trade association, notes, "Without the designers, we might as well close our doors." The INRG, which represents 595 members in nine countries, is collecting monies that are being put towards a growing legal fund, named the INRG Legal Defense Fund.

Designer Jennifer Aiken-Smith of Dragon Dreams and member of the STP (Stop the Pirates) Committee: In an article entitled, "Needlepoint Pirates Pillage on the Internet," published on the montrealgazette.com site on Aug. 8, 2000, Jennifer states, "People say, 'I'm just sharing it.' But they're not sharing the original physical leaflets. And that's where they're breaking the copyright." She continues, "If you buy a book, you can sell it at a yard sale, you can give it to a friend, you can give it to your church for their rummage sale, but you can't scan it into the Internet and start distributing it for free." Although there are only a small percentage of people who are doing this right now, Jennifer knows of one woman who scanned 3,000 patterns and then shared them with several hundred people. "The biggest threat for me is the mental philosophy that this is OK to do," she says. "We want to educate the public so that they don't think that this is what is normal or this is what they're entitled to, because there won't be a cross-stitch industry." Jennifer explains further, "I think we WILL need to use it [the Legal Defense Fund) to go after some of the more persistent ladies behind some of the worst violations." The committee is in the process of putting together a design book to raise funds. Entitled, A Celebration of Stitching, it will be published by Krause. Jennifer continues, "I came up with this idea in Charlotte when larger companies stood up to offer to write cheques for the fund. I thought, 'What can I as a small designer do?'" Since Jennifer originated the idea, all agreed that she should coordinate the project. In retrospect Jennifer muses, "It might have been easier to just write a chequebut I feel this will create a thing of beauty, which will be treasured for years to come." Each designer is contributing a 30 x 30 stitch work, designed exclusively for the book. Those on the committee are donating their time and energy for the cause.

Designer Janice Love of Love 'n Stitches: A teacher who was using one of Janice's designs for a class called her for some information. Through her, Janice discovered that someone else had, without permission, scanned all the figures for her designs and used them as her own. Janice says, "I have a husband who supports me and don't have to depend on my needlework for a living. But if this keeps on, I'll quit. It's just not worth it. Unfortunately other designers do depend on their designs for their livelihood and they won't be able to afford to keep designing." Janice is considering hiring a good copyright lawyer who is familiar with needlework, to protect her rights.

Designer Emie Bishop of Cross 'N Patch Needlework Designs: "I've had a MAJOR and demonstrable copyright infringement. The Australian magazine Embroidery and Cross Stitch published my design "Emie and Mariann's Teaching Sampler" from my book Embellishments (Ginnie Award winner). It was brought to my attention by a fan in Australiayou can imagine my pain. It is now called "Heart's Content Sampler" and the introduction reads: 'INSPIRED BY EMIE BISHOP'S DESIGNS, THIS SAMPLER IS THE RESULT OF ADRIANA VAN BRUCHEM'S INTERPRETATION OF HER WORK' It wasn't just 'inspired by,' it is a line-for-line copy of my design! Adriana added THREE rows of her own. Any designer knows that adding three ROWS doesn't make it hers. The LABOR of working out the details of the design are all mine - no changes in color, dimensions, etc. They also stole my artwork for the stitches. They 'lifted' them right out of the book. I have contacted a copyright lawyer. There have been faxes and letters back and forth. Right now the ball is 'in their court.' They have suggested a 'commercial settlement.' They claim innocence and feel 'indemnified' from litigation by their contract with Adriana Van Bruchem. They state further that if we take them to court, Adriana will file for bankruptcy. My feelings have ranged from feeling violated - just as any victim would - to anger and wanting them arrested and thrown in jail! I have to agree with my husband who has always said that my designs are 'my children.' They were conceived in my imagination, they were incubated and given life through the process that I go through getting them ready for publication. I feel that someone has stolen one of my children! I don't believe in throwing good money after bad. And I don't believe in wasting my emotional calories on anything negative. As a creative person, I love looking forward and spending my energy on the future. And I am left wondering why I should publish anything else. If anyone can do this and get away with it, then I am wasting my time, energy and money."

Publisher Jim Hedgepath of Pegasus Originals: Already since 1997, sales at Pegasus have shown a drop of 40% as a result of the pattern piracy trend. Jim has personally been extremely instrumental in bringing this problem to media attention. He has been interviewed on this issue for articles in the L.A. Times, Time Magazine and on the radio. The definitive action that larger corporations, such as Time Warner and Disney, have taken with infringement on their copyrights has helped to validate the efforts of smaller businesses. Jim states, "It gives us a platform to speak from so that the media and the public take our concerns seriously." Jim Hedgepath adds, "I want...to show that this practice is not only illegal and hurts designers and stores, but it hurts consumers too."

Designer Lois Caron of The Caron Collection: "Free samples -- patterns, cosmetics, food or other merchandise -- are a marketing tool to entice the consumer to try something new and encourage them to patronize their local retailer. We provide free patterns on our website and free patterns to shops with every order for just this reason, as do many other designers. This is not a blanket invitation to help oneself to the entire production of a company or individual, however. Most of us will quickly be out of business if a large portion of our revenues is denied us because of free circulation of our designs."

Manufacturer: DMC is a huge company, which is very generous about providing free patterns to support their threads. DMC Senior Public Relations Manager, Jill Siroty states, "Obviously, we're 100% behind the designers, even though, not being a pattern publisher, we are not directly affected. But it is clearly an issue for the industry as a whole, because what affects the designers, affects the entire industry indirectly in some way and could be much more of a problem for all in the future. It's good that a lot of attention is being brought to bear because this will help the industry and also educate the consumer, whom it will affect in the long-run."

Distributor: Hoffman Distributing Company carries patterns from a very large group of designers, both large and small. President Lane Hoffman says, "From a wholesale distributing standpoint, this copying trend hurts designers across the board. Several designers have already decided not to continue designing. The consumer should realize that each time they don't purchase a design, it hurts both the designer and the shop. This issue impacts on the publishing business and retailers. When someone is distributing charts for free, shops don't need to order from us. A vast majority of the shops that we sell to are retail storefronts and they need every sale they can get. The shops and the designers need to be supported by the consumers. The designers need to see an incentive, whether financial or otherwise, to keep designing. Many consumers are unaware of the implications of taking a free chart. People don't really understand copyright law and therefore consumers think it's an innocent thing to copy and give their friends designs, but they need to think about it more carefully if they want to ensure the availability of designs for the future. Education of the public is where the emphasis needs to be. This will be the most effective tool to counteract the dilemma. We need to let them know its illegal but also to show them the long-term effects. I'm glad the industry is working together to resolve this issue and strengthen our industry. People who enjoy stitching should do all they can do to support their needlework supplier, therefore their favorite designers."

Distributor: Wichelt Imports, owner Joyce Wichelt: "We have not encountered this situation, but we certainly back the designers and all the efforts that Jim Hedgepath and others have done on this concern. I applaud them for all that they have done!"

Gay Bowles of Gay Bowles Sales Inc: "Basically, this situation puts a lot of designers out of workIt stifles creativity in needlework and needlework cannot continue to grow and prosper and may disappear. It is extremely unfortunate that artists and designers have no protectionPeople who are doing the copying are only hurting themselves in the long run."

Sales Representative Gary Fielding: "People that turn around and pirate patterns are stealing someone else's artistic output, reflecting their own selfishness. But if the artists don't make money from their designs, they cannot continue designing, so ultimately it is the consumer who loses out."

Just Cross Stitch Magazine, Lorna Reeves, editor: "The magazine has not taken an official position as of yet because we have not been hit directly with Internet Piracy. Our only exposure to the problem has been at the Charlotte show and through discussions with designers, whom we support wholeheartedly. Of course there are instances of people scanning or copying some charts from back issues, which is inevitable. I do know of several people in the industry who have been severely affected. In order to protect ourselves, we do ask designers to sign a copyright release, which states that for any design printed in the magazine, the designer is the sole creator of that material."

needlepoint now magazine - Assistant Editor, Maria De Simone: "As publishers of a magazine we must be very sensitive to copyright violations. We actively protect the magazine copyrights. It is important that people understand that designers and teachers make their living producing and selling unique designs. And of course, the very survival of a magazine assumes active understanding and observance of our copyright laws."

Teacher, Marion Scoular: This piracy situation is not new to Marion. She had first-hand experience with it about 10 years ago when she was on a teaching assignment and stayed at a student's home. During the night, her hostess photocopied all of Marion's instructions and then self-published a book using them. Marion subsequently spent about $3000 in legal fees trying to protect her copyright, at which point her lawyer told her that unless she was willing to invest $10,000 to $15,000 more, there was not much else she could do but request the person using her instructions unlawfully, to cease and desist. But Marion is quick to stress that what is at stake is not only the financial repercussions, "It takes an emotional toll as well, since the situation was deeply disturbing. As a small designer, I rely on my income from teaching and designing for my livelihood and such plagiarizing puts that in jeopardy. This is becoming much too prevalent and something has got to be done about it, to expose the people who are doing it. At the very least, we must compel them to seek permission when using someone else's designs and to tribute the designer for their work." Marion can cite several other designers who have been affected and have had their work plagiarized. She adds, "The Internet technology available today is definitely exacerbating the problem."

Shop owner Diane Pittman of Yankee Cross Stitch: "Theft of intellectual property has always been a big problem in the needlework industry. Our industry is very small compared to others - most of our designers are small talented and creative individuals who are not making a big profit on their ideas and designs. If stitchers do not support them by purchasing their ideas they cannot afford to invest their time and money into producing their designs. I will give you an egregious example of thoughtless theft: Several years ago a local designer named Myra Sevigy was a coastguard wife stationed in the Newcastle base in NH. She had devoted 100's of hours charting the different submarine insignias to cross stitch or needlepoint, as well as the dolphin insignia and some clever military wife charts. Someone bought her $2 dollar chart and published it in the base newsletter. She struggled on for several more years before she gave up. Her company was called Nautical Notions. I see people with no shame bring in Xerox copies of charts. Sometimes I comment on it and sometimes I save my breath. Part of my pleasure stitching is in the journey - working from a lovely clear pattern with a nice full-color photo with yummy colors on fine fabric and seeing it come to life. Starting with a stolen chart would never be a great start to a pleasurable tactile experience like stitching for me. I think that most true stitchers feel the same way that I and my staff feel at Yankee Cross Stitch."

Shop owner Maria De Simone of Fireside Stitchery: "As a shop owner, one of my best defenses against pattern piracy (and other copyright violations), is to have an informed staff and informed customers. I have taken the time to discuss the piracy issues with all my employees. I want them to be armed with polite, but firm ways to discourage any type of copyright violations, should they come across them. We also look for opportunities to share information about copyrights with our customers and with needlework students. The more they understand, the less likely they will be to inadvertently violate a copyright."

Shop owners James (Bud) Henry and Marcel (Marc) Bloch of Hook 'n Needle: "For years we have fought the copying process that was started by shops in order to sell yarn. Almost daily we get a request, 'If I purchase the yarn, you will copy the pattern for me, won't you?' Of course our response for over 30 years has been, 'Absolutely Not. The pattern is copyrighted and not only that, we would be taking food from the mouth of the person who created it.' For instance, we do not take a pattern back from a customer since the Xerox days when some shops would allow customers to purchase the pattern, copy it, and return it for cash or credit. The policy of copying charts and patterns was established by shops, that for some bloody reason, wanted to make a few shekels from selling the yarn. It is unfortunate, but the salespeople went along with the practice. I assume that they were looking for the commission on the yarn. It's about time that there was a great halt put to this practice. The designer should make his or her royalty as well as the publisher for their efforts. I think it is highway robbery and there is no other term for it. To share a pattern is not like sharing a product. The pattern has to be purchased once, whereas food or material things have to be purchased for every sharing. To be benevolent, it must cost one something, or else one has not given. Until you educate the shops, and I guess the people using the Internet now, you will never stop what we have always considered STEALING."

Feedback from those who are doing the swapping: Shawna Dooley was part of a 300+ person underground Net community of pattern swappers that has since shut down. Carla Conry, who ran the group, called PatternPiggiesUnite! shut it down after an article in which she was featured came out. Dooley says that since then, she has been harassed by E-mail from furious cross-stitchers who denounce her pattern-swapping ways. "Everybody is just running scared," Dooley says. She now searches the Net "looking for my friends," and adds, "They're vanishing." Dooley insists what the group was doing was harmless. They shared cross-stitch, crochet, knitting and bead-working patterns - "you name it, it was on there," she says. But if she saw a pattern she liked, she would save it, but then buy it. She thinks that's what most people did, because the quality of patterns printed out from home computers is so poor. "I can't see how they're losing money," Dooley insists.

But Jim Hedgepath disagrees. He explains that with the quality of the new scanners on the market, the pattern instructions printed off a home computer can look exactly like store-bought originals. "They spend a lot of time teaching each other better scanning techniques," he says. "It only takes a few seconds to scan and give it to the Internet, and then there can be thousands of copies out there." As for the excuse of swapping cross-stitchers who say they can't find the designs they want in their local stories, Hedgepath replies: "Well, they're killing off the (designers) that are left by doing this."

As the dispute rages on, stitchers on both sides of the pattern piracy issue are tuned in to how the Napster case unfolds, as the outcome will undoubtedly have an impact on cases involving the needlework industry. Time Magazine recently researched the Internet piracy issue as it relates to needlework, music and other industries. Their feature entitled, "A Crisis of Content" by Adam Cohen, ran in the magazine's October 2, 2000 issue, which can be accessed on the web at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,55700,00.html

For members of the industry who want to get involved, check out the special website set up by the STP committee at http://www.stitching.com/copyright If you wish to donate to the legal fund set up at the INRG show in Charlotte, contributions can be mailed to:
Needlework Markets, Inc, P.O. Box 533, Pine Mountain, GA 31811.

Consumers can get further information by logging onto http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/ or http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

The Caron Collection would like to extend sincere thanks to all the members of the needlework community who took the time to share their reactions with us. Special appreciation goes to all those in the industry who are actively engaged in finding ways to counteract the Pattern Piracy problem.

Bibliography and Credits:
L.A.Times, Tuesday, August 1, 2000, Home Edition, Section: Part A - "Is a Stitch Online a Crime?" by Times Staff Writer, P.J. Huffstutter

Time Magazine, October 2, 2000 - "A Crisis of Content" by Adam Cohen
montrealgazette.com, Tuesday, August 8, 2000 ­ "Needlepoint Pirates Pillage on the Net" by Kelly Cryderman, Southam News

Needlecraft Showcase Newsletter and Shop Talk

© 1999 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

CARON email: mail@caron-net.com