Saturday, November 2, 2013

Let's Talk about Knock-offs

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.


  1. What's worse is that the copycat is still selling the pattern on etsy (where it is less likely to be recognized as a copy), even tho it is free on rav. Brutal.

    1. Lol, yeah I can't imagine the customer blowback that'll result in if anyone notices...

  2. I don't even understand her argument. I'm kind of at a loss. This stuff makes me sick.

  3. I thought the designer made a pretty compelling argument, and even showed swatches showing her design process. There's only so many ways to show a motif in stranded colorwork, and it's not like Knitpicks yarns are particularly unusual or hard to find. I don't have a dog in this fight, but it wouldn't kill you to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    1. The thing is, even if it was a CRAZY coincidence, the fact remains that the charts were identical. Every last stitch (though apparently she has altered it now...though not updated the photos, don't know how that works!) Out of respect for the person who made that *exact* item first, the right thing to do would be to take it down. Given that she ordered the yarn from a source that has prominently featured Spillyjane's products before, including those exact mitts, it's plenty likely that she could've *unintentionally* plagiarized- cryptomnesia - though she deleted the comment when I suggested to her that it could've been the case:

      But even if unintentional, Spilly's was the original (and moreover, it's quite foolish to keep a pattern up that makes you appear to be a copycat.)

  4. I agree with nirethak. This is just silly. Neither of them came up with those gnomes themselves. It's a pretty common motif.

    1. Spillyjane did create the original chart herself.

    2. I'm sure she created an original chart of a common motif. So did the other chick. I think they did so independently.

  5. This might have not been the designer's smartest move ever because people do tend to pile on when they suspect that a design has been ripped off, but in all fairness, her chart is not identical. I don't even need the pattern to see that. She doesn't have the motifs in between the hats that would have made the floats more manageable lengths on the wrong side. They are unfortunately similar, and it's hard to believe that she never saw the original and still came up with her version, but it looks like she's in the clear legally.

    I'm usually on the same page as you on these things, and I was really surprised by your comments and posts, but I might just be getting burnt out on these kinds of over reactions to similar designs. It's one of my least favorite things about the designing community right now. Public shaming seems to be everyone's first resort now, even when it's not a legal issue or their own problem, and I think it's really unfortunate that people feel the need to get their panties in a bunch when other people don't proscribe to their set of ethics. The ranting comments and posts are understandable when someone does something clearly illegal, but that's not the case here because the charts and the design are not identical. They're just similar.

    1. Andi, I promise you, 100%, I saw both charts and compared them stitch by stitch. They were identical. However, if you look closely at her photos, some of the gnomes are different- either an error she made, or she changed it for a few? I'm not sure. But the chart she was putting out was absolutely 100% identical. I'd share it with you if I could but it'd be a violation :-/ (Though, yes, it lacks the motifs between the heads. The gnomes themselves were identical, though.)

      She's since updated it somehow, though I haven't seen the update.

      I'm totally willing to believe it was an unintentional plagiarism, that she saw the pattern since she's a KP shopper, then forgot and thought it was her own idea. But that doesn't make it okay.

      And, yeah, I do have a weakness for the ranting. I just get so tired of this shit. It's happened to me and it is just the worst feeling in the world... I didn't even bother contacting the designer who did it to me, as someone told me she'd done the same to them and frankly in these cases, the folks who do it just don't *care.* You'd think I'd learn not to bother arguing with them, but honestly, I just DGAF anymore- I'd rather speak my mind than bottle it up inside and burn out on the industry. And if that makes some folks angry, well, that's fine. Not everyone has to like me or agree with me, it's more important that I feel like I've stuck up for my values.

  6. I think that this unnamed designer should have listed her gnome fingerless mitts not as a new pattern design but as a new project under SpillyJane's mitten pattern with helpful notes on how she modified SpillyJane's pattern into fingerless mitts. That way other knitters could make the same version (which is very cute) but there would be no controversy. Plus, the rightful designer could be compensated. I agree with Alex on doing a Ravelry search before publishing a design. It is just the right and smart thing to do.

  7. I know this "imposter" dearly, and she is a wonderful woman who would never steal anything from anyone. Gnomes are 99% of the time those colors. Google image search "gnomes". Your friend cannot say she invented or can copyright what gnomes look like. If someone wanted to, without using anyone else's patterns, make gnome gloves, uhhh, yeah, they will look similar to other gnome gloves already existing. Your friend needs to get off her high horse. She didn't invent gnomes.

    1. She did, however, invent the chart that was used (and yes, they were 100% identical before the designer tweaked her version. No, you can't copyright "what gnomes look like" but you can copyright a colorwork chart.) Seeing as the designer shops for yarn from a source that actively promotes Jane's patterns pretty often, I would guess that this was a case of unintentional plagiarism- something that can easily happen to ALL of us when we see an idea and forget where we saw it. I tried to suggest as much and sent her this link:

      ...but she deleted it and accused me of saying she had a mental illness. Which, it is not at all- it's just a memory phenomenon that happens to healthy people all the time.

      As a new designer she may not have known that she should search for her design ideas before publishing, however after it was made very clear that this exact chart had been used before, the respectful thing would have been to remove it and (like autumngeisha suggests) just publish her modifications.

  8. Replies
    1. Don't forget the pic!

    2. Yikes, thought I came up with that myself. I should have done my research. Hope no one threatens to sue me.


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