Photo, and mitts, and gnome, by the unparalleled Spillyjane
Today, I am disturbed. And a bit sad.
I am disturbed because a good designer friend of mine, Spillyjane, discovered yesterday that someone had used her gnome charts on a mitt pattern of their own. (I won't link to the imposter as I don't wish to give them traffic, but it's not hard to find, for the curious.)
I am more disturbed that when confronted, the designer claimed she "didn't ever buy a pattern from anyone by that name," has never seen it, came up with the motif on her own. That it's totally different because her mitts are fingerless, use cotton rather than wool, and has a crochet edging. And that when asked by Spillyjane not to sell her pattern, she chose instead to make it free.
Which is even worse, because now, she's essentially giving Jane's work away for free.
However, it did give me an opportunity to compare the two charts and confirm that, yes, indeed, they are identical. Right down to the color of the gnome's hat and shirt. And not only is the yarn used from Knitpicks, where Spillyjane's pattern has been featured prominently (making the "I never saw it" claim a little weak), but the designer actually recommends the exact yarn Jane uses as an alternative to the cotton. There goes that non-argument. (Also it's 19 pages long and "gauge" is spelled wrong so I'm going to go ahead and say it wasn't tech edited. Knitter beware.)
I am sad because this happens all the time, and for some reason, people think that it's okay.In general, in the US, if your design gets knocked off there's not much you can do about it, legally. Because Jane's knock-off involves a graphic image, she may have more protection, but it's still a huge financial undertaking to pursue such a thing (also, Spilly's in Canada, so that might change things.) Essentially, when someone's design is knocked off, they pretty much have to sit there and take it.
Even when it's one of their more recognizable, iconic designs. Even when the designer is the hands-down-undeniable-original-gnomester. (Seriously, I've never heard anyone babble about gnomes as much as Jane does. I'm not sure I've ever actually heard anyone else babble about gnomes at all.)
Legal ≠ Ethical or Smart. Think before you publish!
In So You Want to be a Knitting Designer I have a chapter called "Imitation is the Sincerest Form of *&^# You". Because let's face it, that old flattery line did not make you feel better when your little sister was aping your 12 year old fashion sense and it doesn't make anyone feel better now. And while a little kid may not understand how shitty it is to rip off someone else's thang, an adult should.
It's fine to be inspired by someone else's work, and even to borrow an interesting design element from it. But you need to put your own spin on it. Find lots of inspiration, not just one piece, and mix and match the things you like. Experiment, and find a new way of doing something. Invent a stitch pattern. Draw your own charts. Seriously, draw your own charts, because that's an area where copying is VERY obvious, as the gnomes will tell you.
On the other hand, none of us is designing in a vacuum. Accidentally-similar patterns occur all the time- situations where both designers truly came up with the same idea independently, often around the same time. We're often working from the same pools of inspiration.
But even if the similarities truly are accidental? Consider public perception. Even if this designer really did somehow miss Spilly's pattern plastered all over her Knitpicks catalog while she was picking out yarn, and then really did coincidentally create a stitch-for-stitch-exact-twin chart... is everyone going to truly believe that? Spillyjane's gnomes are well known- appearing to copy them, even if you didn't, is going to hurt your reputation among customers, among other designers, and even among publishers and other industry professionals. It broadcasts the message that you don't have the talent or creativity to come up with your own designs, nor the sense of respect or propriety that would stop you from copying. Even if it's truly an accident.
(Obviously there are situations where a pattern is too simple to suspect copying- examples abound of socks or scarves that use the same Barbara Walker stitch pattern, and therefore look a lot alike, but were almost certainly designed independently. But if you're talking about a unique design feature or especially a SET of unique design features, you're going to start looking pretty suspicious.)
Also, pro tip for avoiding these situations: Try doing a Ravelry search as if you were trying to find your own pattern that you're about to publish. For example, searching "gnomes" and "mittens" would've told this gal right away that there "happened to be" a pattern existing that used the exact same chart. It's not a foolproof method, but its better than nothing.
Finding out your design has been aped is really a heartbreaking and discouraging experience. The fact that there's so little you can do about it just leaves you feeling hopeless and angry. Please, don't be part of the problem. And don't undermine your own creativity- you have original designs inside of you, you just have to dig them out!
As for me, there's not a lot I can do to help, but I'm going to go nab myself a Spillyjane pattern to show some support.
(... if I can ever decide on a favorite. Snails? Hedgehogs? Maybe the Persnickety Mitts... or does Travis need some Socks with Pints On for Christmas? AHH SO MANY CHOICES!)
5PM update: The designer, evidentally a bit spooked by the idea of legal troubles, has apparently "changed the motif"...and made the pattern non-free again. Of course, the photos are the same. Which I guess means they don't match the pattern. Caveat Emptor, y'allz. Lulz.