I want to write about something serious which has been going around the crafty blogs lately. It's a difficult and delicate subject. I definitely don't want to insult anyone, but I do want to air my ideas about designer originality and copyrights.
I make a living by selling my knitting patterns and toys. It's not very much money, certainly not enough to use legal means to protect my copyrights if someone decides to use my designs without permission. I think most independent designers are in the same position, and we rely on the honesty of others to prevent them from copying our ideas.
Not long after I started designing my patterns, I discovered toys made by a lovely woman in the UK. She is the woman behind the much adored Little Cotton Rabbits. By some strange coincidence, our toys had a resemblance to each other. I immediately approached her about this, explaining that I hadn't seen her toys until that moment, and had never intentionally designed mine to be similar to hers. Fortunately she believed me, and was very gracious and understanding. Since that time I have tried very hard to design my toys in my own unique style, and avoided any ideas that would make my toys look similar to hers.
There are a small number of people whom I have given permission to sell toys made from my designs. I decided early on that I don't have nearly enough time to knit toys for everyone who asks, so having a few collaborators would take some pressure off me. These people have been making the toys in their own unique styles, and credit me as the original designer of the pattern, so I am quite happy with the situation.
Now comes the difficult part. Julie Williams contacted me recently because she was concerned that she had seen other people selling toys made from my patterns. I reassured her about my arrangements, and she was very understanding again. But she also mentioned something which I found quite bothersome. It seems that some people have been modifying my patterns so the toys look more like her designs than mine. We all know that imitation can be flattery. While there is nothing wrong with this if the toy is for your own personal enjoyment, selling copies of her toys is against her copyrights.
I don't want to take up arms against whoever those people might have been. Maybe they didn't realize what they had done. Hopefully there are enough honest people out there that we designers won't have to worry about this stuff too often.
If you want to start a little business selling toys (or anything crafty) there's no need to borrow someone else's ideas. Everyone is different, and sees the world in a unique way. We all have our own style. Plus, the world is full of inspiration and beauty, just waiting for you to stop and notice. If you need to learn new skills so you can someday create your own designs, then learn from the best designers you can find. Then take that inspiration, your new skills, and your own style, and make something unique. Children do this all the time! I guess some of us just forget how easy it can be when you do it with joy and energy and honesty.