Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Ethical Issue

Well, good evening, everyone!

I was all set to post Skirt #4 tonight but thought I'd interrupt the series to throw something out to you. Two reasons for this. One, it's cathartic for me because it's been at the back of my mind the last couple of days and I'd like to exorcise it. Two, I have a feeling this (in some form) has probably happened to some of you and I'd love to hear/read what you think about it. Touchy issue. Therefore lots to discuss!

Well, here's the story - recently one of my projects was featured in someone else's blog. This is usually a compliment and although the person didn't write beforehand to ask if she could use the photo, she did link back to my blog and she was nice enough to leave me a comment to say so. So off I went to check it out (because I am narcissistic).

A short paragraph of kind words in her post, and then wham! this sentence: I'll bet these would sell like hotcakes if you were to make up a few and put them into your customer waiting area*.

Hmm. I almost missed it, actually. But that word "sell", you know, it jumped out at me and I went back to re-read it. And then the wheels in my head began turning and I spent the next hour or so mulling it over while changing diapers and performing my other Mother tasks around the house.

Eventually I sorted my thoughts out and decided I was uncomfortable with it for several reasons. I'm going to tell you all what I think first (since you are my poor captive audience anyway) and then open the floor to you.

First, this particular project that got featured is not one of my original creations. I don't even know where it originated because I first discovered it more than 10 years ago. But I know that it still exists in various forms, manufactured by several different organizations today. All that said, the tutorial is all mine. I don't know of any other tutorials online for it but that is probably because I have shockingly poor skills at googling, to be honest. Therefore I feel bad for me and for the original creators of this product, that this person should be encouraging her readers to sell them.

Second, I am well aware that the copyright notices we all uncomfortably put in our sidebars are sadly ignored by more readers than we'd like to think about. I knew that when I started this blog. I knew that when I was first sewing for business 15 years ago. So I am not surprised that, thanks to the internet, people all over the known universe are reading online tutorials, making things with the instructions, and selling them at craft fairs, shops and to anyone who will buy them. These are hard economic times - I don't want to judge anyone. And even if these things weren't made from other people's tutorial instructions, there is a finite number of saleable craft items in the world, and chances are, if you genuinely originally thought of a reversible-skirt-cum-parachute-cum-fabric-flower-cum-earth-friendly-grocery-tote, someone else in a different longitude probably did too, just as genuinely originally. I can't tell you the number of times I've read a post on some creative wonder's blog and said, "Darn it, that idea was at the tip of my brain and now here it is, all conceptualized by someone else and I can't now claim to have it be completely, originally, all mine! Oh I wish I hadn't read this post! But by gum, she did such a fantastic job with it, I am glad I did." Ever had that happen to you? There is so much amazing talent out there.

So back to the issue at hand - I feel bad that people might be making stuff from my instructions to sell, even though I begged them in my copyright notice not to. But I can live with that. That's why I continue to post my tutorials, silly! I also know that I can't stop them selling - and I'm OK with that. The thing that was really making me uncomfortable was this person blatantly encouraging her readers to make stuff from other people's tutorials to sell. I have to be honest - the more I mulled over it, the more I knew that for my own sanity, I had to speak up. So I wrote an email to this person to thank her for linking to me but that I preferred if she didn't encourage her readers to make this item to sell. No reply. Not unexpected, so I left a comment on that post in her blog to say I left her an email (just in case she doesn't check her email). It's been more than two days and she's put up two new posts but I haven't heard from her yet. And that sentence in her post is still there. Sigh.

Here's my stand: Life is too important to grind to a halt for something like this. It's not trivial and yet it is. It's annoying and I'm a little sad that it happened but a part of me feels very proud that I tried to be assertive and say my peace. I've lived here in the US almost 4 years now but I'm still trying to learn the cultural ropes - and folks here are waaaaaay more outspoken than we are in Singapore! It's more crucial to me that I did something about it than that the problem actually got solved, you know? Solve this one, and tomorrow, four hundred and nineteen other bloggers might spring some new form of plagiarism on me. C'est la vie.

So there you are, lovely readers and loyal fans. I'd love to hear what you think. Doesn't have to be about this particular blogger's daftness (and no, I will not be revealing her identity) - it could be about copyright in general, or selling, or craft fairs or just the general ethics of protecting ideas. Way back when I was in business, I struggled with this idea-protection issue and I'm still not quite sure what to do with it, short of patents. Which is why none of the bags that I sewed to sell have appeared on this blog yet, although you've seen some of the wallets. Hideous selection of 1990s fabric is one reason (I am so ashamed), but mostly am not quite ready to have the bags scrutinized and copied.

Am sleepy again! How midnight does creep up on a person. Thank you all for letting me air some innards here tonight. Summer skirt posting will resume tomorrow, small children permitting.

*Yes, I used this sentence from her post without her permission. I must now be nailed to a cross.


  1. Not very nice of her! I think your blog is awesome, your tutorials inspiring, and your ideas are beautiful! There are some yucky people in the world, all the more reason to craft happiness!

  2. I'm sorry that she has put you in this postion.

    First off I'm truly impressed with your talent! And I'm glad that she did link you. but because you said... very clearly on your blog... not to sell your things, she is wrong.

    I don't think there are any blogger police, so I'm not sure what else you can do.

    I'll sleep on it and then give you my two cents.

  3. Wow! I JUST had to send someone an e-mail about not linking back to my blog and not giving me credit for my idea (my "Be" blocks). Hopefully, I got my request through without making her feel like I was angry (just a little sad since I worked really hard on that craft and tutorial). I know that sometimes people have their own interpretations of things and most of the time all you have to do is send a nice e-mail. Hopefully, this is one of those times :) Good luck!

  4. I'm sorry. It sounds like you've dealt with it really well, but it's such a shame that you (or any other artists/crafters) have to deal with this issue at all.

  5. Most people don't "get" copyrights and intellectual property. I have been told countless times to people that "Hey, you could sell that". To which I respond. "No, I made it from someone's pattern/tutorial so I can't without permission." Then they look at me funny.

    I am blessed by a husband in the graphic arts (a videographer/editor) who is also a poet. He is very conscious of copyright law and out of love for him I have learned to respect others rights to their own art.

    I think most people are ignorant about this, and don't understand it is "stealing" until something is stolen from them.

  6. I'm going through something similiar on my blog. Many years, I wrote the faqs for my bookclub(bookcrossing.com). Many of those have since (with permission) been incorporated into the main site.

    Last year, I found a site that stole the whole concept from bookcrossing, including, word for word, my faqs. The only thing she changed was the word "books" to "chairs". We have written, sent a cease and desist letter, and nothing has happened.

    There isn't any money involved at my end, although she's trying to sell a product--using my words. If I wanted someone to make money from my words, I would have majored in marketing instead of home ec.

    I guess the next step is to get our lawyer to send something. It's become a matter of principle now, and it grates on me like cheese.

    I'm new to the craft blog thing, but I'm trying to be really careful to follow all of the rules. I hope that if I mess up, someone corrects me.

    I think you did right to speak up.

  7. I think as a fellow blogger, he/she should know better. I think she should take down the post, and I think she owes you an apology. It's wrong, and it's not nice. I love your tutorials, and I hope this issue gets resolved!

  8. If it bothers you then you have to speak up. You did and now there's really nothing else you can do short of legal action which really isn't worth it. She was most definitely wrong to encourage others to sell it but at the same time I'm willing to bet she meant it as a compliment. People should really be more careful on this subject.

  9. I have not had that happened to me with the selling part of it it, but I have had someone cut and paste my ENTIRE tutorial into their blog (pictures and all)... she asked if she could feature me in an e-mail, I said I would be honored. But when I went and checked it out (I too am narcissistic) it was the WHOLE thing, not just a picture and a few words like most people do. I was a little peeved since I have taken a lot of time to come up with the tute on my own. She did link back to me, but why would people click it if the whole thing is there for the taking?

    I did not speak up and I wish I had. Now, when people ask to feature me (Which, is not that often.) I just tell them that they can take one picture and little bit of text and not the whole thing. I am proud of you for standing up for yourself. I have a feeling her silence is probably because she knows that she is wrong and doesn't want to change. Which, is sad!

    I too, LOVE your blog and LOVE your tutes and I have a deep respect for your talent! I wouldn't go as far to say "#1 fan" but I am close! : )

  10. I would understand if she made a mistake and didn't realize she was stepping on any toes, but once you emailed her, I think that's where the true problem began. You told her what you expected of your items, and she did not respect that. Bad carma. Unfortunately, there are many people like her.

  11. I don't really have anything to add, but I agree with your post.

  12. Oh... I dont know what can I say to you... I'm one of your newest followers, I think that your blog is awesome... I just can´t wait to do to my girls all the things that you do... you inspire so many people!!!... and you inspire me to be a better woman... love, Adriana

  13. Ok. I have to fess up and say how sorry I am. I am not the blogger in question, but I saw your cute tent from another site (can't remember...maybe it was the other blog?) and posted on my site. I like to look up good ideas and put them on there and me and my friends share between each other. Usually it is just the handful of my friends. Actually, I saw the tent and thought another friend of mine would love to make it, so I put it there for her as well (with a link and did not post the tutorial). So, I am sorry. Lesson learned. I will ask in the future. I actually posted a link to your site because I really liked your blog and the ideas you put out there. Hopefully I did not offend.

    I agree that selling crosses the line. I recently bought a really cute pattern off of etsy. She specifically asks people not to sell them through etsy as she does this for her business at craft fairs. I totally understand that and would not go there. I also don't like to sell my crafts since I find it not as enjoyable once I make things for money as opposed to just a gift or for fun.

    I also have a husband who is an illustrator, so I should have known better. It is kind of the culture of the blog world. You want to share ideas, but then just posting a link usually doesn't get the traffic going.....It just comes down to asking, manners. I will use more discression next time.

  14. I'm new to the whole sewing/craft blog world and have a few general questions.

    First let me say how much I enjoy your blog, you are very creative and inspiring!

    1. I understand you have a copyright note in your sidebar, so anything anyone "takes" or "uses" from your site for their blog, you would like to be informed about. That means one would need to leave a message asking you in advance for permission to post on their blog- even if they're not selling the item?

    2. I showed a finished project (not a tutorial) on my blog that I used someone else's tutorial to make. In my post on my blog, I made it clear that it was not my idea, and linked to the person's tutorial on their blog. But I did not ask her for permission to post the link to her blog- should I have done that? Or is that only necessary if they have requested users to do this? I would think that posting the link to the original blog tutorial would be sufficient, am I wrong?

    Thanks in advance for helping "set me straight" in this new blogging world!

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  16. First of all, I'm sorry it happened to you :( Someone recently copied and pasted my entire tutorial on his (yes, HIS) blog, and although the post title linked back to me, but like the commentor above said, if the entire tute was there, why on earth would anyone click the link? It was a violation of my privacy and it certainly felt 'soiled' like it too! So, no, L, it is not trivial.

    But that's the nature of the internet, isn't it, and the risk you consciously take each time you post anything on such a public platform?..sigh...

    I do hope she removes the sentence though.

    Love, J

  17. I found the blog and the thing is if it were a mommy blog I would be more forgiving. But it's a blog that is trying to help people with sewing businesses...I would hope she would give a few tips on ethical issues as well.

    I love your blog and I've used your tutorials (not posted on my blog) but I always direct people here before I would take credit.

  18. WOW! I can't believe the nerve of some people. As a new follower of your blog, I haven't yet tried any of your tutorials. Although, my dad asked me to print off your round tent tutorial so he could make my kids a round table for the tent. And as soon as I made the tent, was totally planning on given you full credit for everything. That's just sort of the "duh" rule in blog land. Selling stuff, yikes. I feel guilty about even thinking about selling an idea that wasn't mine. I'm not creative enough to do anything like you do on my own, and very much am grateful for those that are so willing to share their ideas with the world. So uncreative people, like me, can make them for their own family or friends. But, never, in a million years, would I think about selling those items as my own. She should totally take down the blog and apologize.

  19. Sorry your tute was taken for a joyride. Sharing is a common thread for bloggers but the courtesy to respect someone's wishes with regards to their material is common courtesy.

  20. Good for you for standing up and doing something about it! If this had happened to me I would feel the same way. I hope that it gets resolved and she at least takes that sentance off her post and sends you a sorry letter. Even if she doesn't at least you did what you could.
    Thanks for sharing your talents with us.
    Come drop me a line some time. http://whiteplumsews.blogspot.com

  21. Oh, I think this is a big issue and I am very sorry this happened to you! When I was thinking of starting to blog I actually thought about this alot. Well, not so much stealing ideas - at that time I was not sure where the whole blog thing would lead me - but rather stealing pictures. But I think in the end it comes to the same - somebody taking something from you which is not theirs. I know that with pictures there is something like a policy - you are simply not allowed to take them! I am not sure how that is with ideas, tutorials and stuff. But in the end - how are you going to control it. I guess if you really want to make sure that noone uses your stuff in a way you don't want to you probably don't have much choice but not to post it! (So I completely understand that you say you did not show your bags and stuff.) But even if you do that - as soon as you open like an etsy store or something similar people might still steal the ideas! I really don't know what possibilities one has to protect themselves against it. (In the end you could also go to a store and steal the idea of something you see there ... but the internet makes it just so much easier I suppose.)
    I also had it happen alot that I had an idea - and either after making it or sometimes even before I find a post exactly about it. Just like you wrote! :-) (And I always thought that just happens to me ... am very glad that I'm not the only one) Now luckily I don't sell any stuff ... so it does not really matter to me. But I was sometimes thinking what if I would? What if I would think up something I want to make to sell ... and then google and find, that many people already had the same idea before me?! Could I still sell that stuff?
    I have not looked into all of this because it is just a hobby for me and therefore I am simply not too bothered. But I find it sad and scary that there are other people that don't seem to think very much before they take pictures/ideas/whatever off the net ...
    I think if I would start selling things I would probably try to figure out if there are ways how to protect your ideas (like copyright law and stuff)! Even if it is bothering and probably complicated ... You have so many nice ideas and you put so much effort and work into them. So it is only fair that your ideas are only used in a way that you allow!

  22. ACK! So sorry to hear that happened to you but YAY for sticking up for yourself!! Feels good...eh!? I just wanted to stop by and tell you how much I love your blog. Thanks for all the wonderful information.


  23. Ouch. Most surprising to me was that she used your picture. I'd be very displeased if someone posted a picture of my child on their blog - or on a billboard somewhere: blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2009/06/08/stolen-family-pic-ends-up-on-billboard/

  24. I have to agree with you when you say two people can have the same idea. If one person comes across the other person's blog and then send and email chastising the person for stealing their idea, I would have to say many people need to think twice about how creative someone else might be. However, she is in the wrong. She did give you credit, but to use it without permission and then prompt others to sell it or sell it herself is completely wrong. On the other hand, how many people have downloaded a copyrighted picture onto their blog without giving credit to the photographer. I am very impressed with the way you handled this and the fact that you let it go. A lot of people can't do that. Your stuff is great by the way.

  25. First, you are a very talented person, thank you for all your fun ideas. I am one of those people who needs to look at lots of different ideas to get rolling and them I can usually come up with my own idea, but somethings are perfect just the way they are(yah for cottage license). My heart jumps when I read on someones site that that I can use there pattern to make things for sale as long as I give credit were credit is due. (which means I usually end up with a modified version or end up with something completely differnt for sale because I don't follow instructions well but I still give credit for original idea), it makes those crafty wheels move. I also respect those who want to keep their patterns to be used for personal use only, but I find myself not visiting as often, that statement kind of takes the wind out of my sails. That said, it is hard work to come up with ideas and making patterns,I haven't got any of my patterns up on my blog yet, just getting them done with four kids around was a miracle in itself, so I thank all out there in blogger land for sharing your ideas. The only real fix to this problem is to make people pay for patterns and tuts, which is sad, when you are trying to be nice and share. thank you again for all your wonderful ideas that I will do for my kids and my kids only.

  26. I am new to your blog and love the tent! If I ever complete one, I'll send you a picture. I am impressed that you have addressed the ethics of "sharing" ideas; it's an issue that is found not just in the blogging world but in most fields. I am a teacher and we are encouraged to share our materials with one another, which is fine, especially for the newer teachers. However, I can't tell you how many times my work has been taken wholesale - with neither modifications made nor credit given in any way to me - and it makes me angry (especially when they have just taken it without asking). People say that one should feel complimented but I feel taken advantage of instead. Professionals in all fields put a lot of time and energy into what they create and, if a person wants to use another's work, he or she should first obtain permission and then give credit where credit is due. Sadly, many people are either insensitive or ignorant (most likely, I think, because they don't create much of anything on their own). OK - I've vented too. Thank you!