I really enjoy a good podcast. I didn’t always, though. It wasn’t until after several really interesting stories my husband shared with me that he heard on various podcasts, that I started to develop an interest. I wanted in on the storytelling action–from the listener’s POV. Sometimes the earthy acoustic folk music that fills my airspace so much of the time just isn’t what I need at a given moment, and all I want to do is connect with a complete stranger (who starts to seem less so, with each listen) over a good story or some interesting discussion.
Some of my favorites have been Radiolab, This American Life, Fresh Air, tiny desk concerts, and WTF with Marc Maron. However, I finally tuned in to Ashley Yousling’s Woolful. Why has it taken me this long? I feel like I’ve been stumbling around in this fiber community blind to a an amazing source of inspiration, appreciation, and understanding of the fiber world. It’s just lovely. More on that in a bit.
The first thing I wanted to talk about (we’re talking, right? We can call this talking) is of something that was brought up in episode 47 of Woolful. Ashley has Anna Maria Horner, a textile designer and creative maker, who tells her story and comes to the topic of intellectual property and its security in this community of makers, designers, and enthusiasts and *her own experience with intellectual property infringement. They discussed the gray area in this regard and how frustrating it is for any artist when their designs are reproduced by another maker and claimed as original because small changes have been made to the design. I absolutely feel that this frustration is warranted and the source of it is a real issue, however, after listening and thinking on the subject, I began to think on the idea of intellectual property. I understand what it is and respect what it is, of course, but what I wonder about is its role in this online community of crafters, makers, designers, etc. With people sharing so many lovely ideas and inspiring others through images of their own craft on Pinterest, Instagram, and other media platforms, often with no copyright clause, so much of what we think to be original almost becomes common knowledge in some way. Right? Or am I way wrong.
Now, this isn’t to say that a knitwear designer’s pattern ought to be fair game for any maker to claim as their own original design because the internet makes it easy to feign ignorance. Absolutely not. No way. What I’m getting at though is the gray area. The space between a standard sock “formula” and a designer’s Fair Isle knee sock pattern inspired by their trip to Sweden (or some such thing).
I’ve browsed through a lot of knitwear on Etsy and there are some gorgeous things. Pretty hats, scarves, cowls, mittens, you name it. Of course, chunky knits are super popular right now, and hats top the list. I see a lot of classic ribbed beanies, pom pom beanies with ribbed bands, fingerless mitts, chunky seed stitch cowls, and so much more. Every one of them is appealing in their own way due to fiber, color, designer, knitter, what have you. Each has an inspiration and each is special. But the kicker….they’re not all that different, technically. This is the gray area. And frankly, I see nothing wrong with this gray area. I mean, I’m not a purveyor of knitted goods, nor am I knitwear designer by trade (or as a hobby—yet at least), but I have a healthy respect for the idea of intellectual property infringement and I’m just not sure that it’s happening in this gray area.
In the episode, Ashley mentions that makers may come to find that their designs are just not as unique as they thought they were, and (this next statement is my inference, not Ashley’s words) perhaps what they feel to be intellectual property infringement is simply an individual with the same idea. She says that people ought to begin, “embracing the community more than making a competition.” I agree. I mean, this isn’t a soap box for me; just an interesting topic, and I’m not sure the example I gave above is really the most relevant to the issues people are facing with IP infringement, but it’s something I’ve noticed and something that occurred to me while listening to this episode. In this creative community, where we love to inspire and be inspired, it’s good fodder for thought.
*Anna Marie Horner had a few very specific and legal issues with intellectual property infringement that she discusses briefly in the episode. None of her experiences are what I consider to be in the “gray area”. This post was inspired primarily by Ashley Yousling’s comments about uniqueness of (or lack thereof) ideas and my own thoughts on the idea of intellectual property.