Some of my crochet designer friends have been going through a rough patch lately because their patterns have been stolen and sold by others. Obviously, taking someone else's pattern, changing the name on it, and putting out there for sale is morally and legally wrong. But, where is the line drawn? The other end involves the stitches and techniques themselves -- no one can copyright the single crochet stitch or the front post double crochet. But that leaves a very large murky middle. And where's the line between drawing inspiration from other designers' creations and copying them? I know I struggle with that -- it feels like it's very hard to come up with new and different things to crochet. Often, the only real difference between certain designs is the color combinations used -- is that enough to not be treading on someone else's pattern?
I certainly don't have any definitive answers to these questions, but I'd like to suggest some ideas for the designers out there who are trying to do the right thing (and hopefully give those who are trying to make a quick buck something to think about!)
1) Creating and designing crochet items is such a fun and satisfying endeavor. That good feeling comes from the creation process, and you've got it in you! It's ok to look at pictures of other designers' work to learn about color theory and combinations, about different looks and to identify the different techniques used, but stop there. Don't look at the actual pattern! You're much less likely to "copy" anything, whether on purpose or by accident, if you minimize your exposure other people's patterns. Focus on buying or finding books and magazines that teach you all the different crochet stitches and techniques, but not actual patterns.
2) Once you've gotten inspiration from other designs out there, then it's got to come from you, in your own voice. Identify the item you want to make, the color(s) you want to use, and the stitches/technique that will provide the structure. Then, once you actually start making the item and writing down the instructions, don't worry yet about standardization of the language, just get your thoughts down, as though you were trying to explain to a friend how she/he could also make the item.
3) If you decide that you do want to sell your pattern, then you do need to go back and standardize the stitch and technique abbreviations, but keep some of your own uniqueness in there. If you've got a better way to explain how to make a crocheted cable for example, then use that as a way to set yourself apart and to ensure that you are bringing something new and different to the world of crochet. Now, isn't that better than worrying about treading on someone else's turf?! (Though it seems only the people who are trying to do the right thing are the worriers :-)
I've been thinking a lot about the design process lately, not just because of the recent events, but because I think that's where we really get to experience the beautiful side of being human. Designing and creating are in each of us -- bringing it out in ways that make us and others happy is what it's all about. On the eve of Thanksgiving, it's what I'm grateful for, and no pattern stealer can take that away!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone.