Thursday, January 27, 2005

Question from Reader: (Copyright) When is it Stealing?

After this morning's earlier post addressing a question on copyright, I recieved another one. This one comes from Robin:
I have been crocheting for over 30 years. Many times I see a "new" pattern in a magazine and if I dig thru my old magazines, there's the "new" pattern from 1972. It's not the same author and there are some variations. What makes a pattern "new"?

If I look at a granny square poncho in a photo & figure out the math for it, is that "stealing" or just knowing how things are put together? If I fool around with the yarn & make something similiar to something already existing, is that stealing?

I'm just curious because the issue of copyright comes up constantly and these matters are not addressed.

Before I share my thoughts on this, Robin, let me reiterate that I am not an expert on copyright, and nor do I play one on TV.  In fact, I've only appeared on broadcast television twice -- once as a child when a TV reporter asked me to "walk into school" to be the backdrop for his report, and once as an interviewee (in 2002) when we were promoting crochet and goodwill here in Connecticut. That all aside, take my words as they are, based upon what I've read & what I've heard, then visit all the copyright links I've provided in past entries: January 12 and January 17, or visit my Copyright webpage for them. Then, if you really need legal information on this topic, then please consider contacting a lawyer that specializes in it.

In getting to your questions, Robin, I think it parallels the question, "how many times can a wheel be reinvented?" But first, lets look at it in a music perspective: In the late 1980s -- early 1990s, local radio disc jockys debated on the air about how it's possible that musicians could come up with what's considered "new music." After all, in the news there was a lot of "licks" being reported as "lifted" (stolen) and inserted into "new" music. Some may recall that Michael Jackson was hauled to court to prove that his music was his -- not lifted off of someone else's work. (we're not going to touch on the subject of his recent legal issues as this is not the time nor place for that; I'm just using this scenario as an example.) He proved to the court that he came up with his own tunes which happened to be similar to someone else's. The key here is that he PROVED it was his. The case was dismissed. (By the way, a "lick" in music [regardless if I spelled it correctly or not] is a few seconds of music that you hear at the start of a song.)

With the zillions of people that live on this planet, and that has lived on this planet, it is entirely possible for two or more people to come up with the same idea. The the two key questions are: did they write it down, and did they get the idea copyrighted?    Is this why we see those commercials on late night TV requesting people call them and have their ideas patented? Absolutely.

Getting back to the reinvention of the wheel, there's going to be a lot of new "tread designs" for tire companies to offer -- and often times they'll be based on what has performed well on the past. But if the tire designers are directly lifting the work of someone else and passing it along as their own, that's just plain wrong. And if it can be proven that it was lifted, then it's legally wrong! --And yes, it has happened in the crochet world -- even recently! ... and yes, both designers are aware of it, as well as hundreds of others who know from being on various online groups where it's being discussed. (Sorry, I'm not going to give that "dirt" here. It's up to the designer in the wrong to make amends with the designer they lifted the work from; and/or for the designer that was stolen from to pursue major monitory damages.)

So, if you're walking around your local mall and see something you like and take out your notebook and start counting the stitches and writing the pattern down, that's pattern stealing. But if you go home, and the item nags at you and you sit down and pick up your hook & yarn and start tooling around with the concept -- that's a bit different. Your stitch count might be different, your actual stitches you use may be different, your fiber may be different, your gauge may be different ... and so on. This is called "work by inspiration." If you saw something and was inspired to try it on your own, and claim it as your own, is it legal? I believe so, as long as you can prove that your "lick" is your own. But then again, I'm not an expert on copyright so you might want to look into it further.

On the bright side of things, Robin, there's a Copyright Committee that's in the early stages of forming. Their goal is to educate us on this topic. Once I hear more, I can post about it.

I hope this helps somewhat.

No comments: