The Price of Expertise: Part 2

This is the second post in my several-post series The Price of Expertise exploring the topic of money in relation to 10,000 Hours. (Click here for Part 1: The Etsy Equation.) I’m finding more and more that ideas about money are inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 2: Pirates & Trolls, a Contemporary Tale

As I mentioned in Part 1, I have written some knitting patterns which I sell. One of these patterns in particular has become quite popular. So popular that it’s been pirated multiple times. It’s inspired by the iconic creatures known as Daleks from the British Television series Doctor Who. Sensitive to copyright issues and wanting to creatively branch out from simply knitting a Dalek, as well as make something I’d actually wear, I opted to make an abstracted pattern for fingerless gloves inspired by their geometric shapes. I did my due diligence at the time and internet searches turned up no similar results. In fact Daleks and gloves didn’t really appear in the same sentence together. That was in June of 2011.

Now pop “Dalek fingerless gloves” into Google. There are 15,700 results and a quick scan of the image results shows that a vast majority look a lot like mine. Now a lot of those actually ARE versions of mine that people created from my pattern after purchasing it legally. But a fair number are, well, rip offs. In fact a year ago I came across at least two other people selling knock-off versions of my pattern (for more than I was charging). I felt somewhat disheartened. But knew it was probably inevitable when dealing with something millions of people are fanatical about.

I took to the forums on Ravelry (the knit & crochet social media site) for some solace from fellow designers who must have experienced the same thing. There are several discussion threads there specific to designers. I came across one that posed the question, “Is it legal to reproduce a hat I saw in a shop window and sell it?” This was kind of similar to my issue, people were recreating my abstracted-pattern and passing it off as their own to sell (again, abstracted, these are not literal Dalek-image gloves and it’s obvious when it’s a rip-off of my design).

I was further discouraged to see that people had responded to this question with overwhelming support for the pirating of designs. They absolutely felt that if you could reverse-engineer a design then it was yours to sell. Without speaking to legal issues at all I suggested that “it wouldn’t necessarily be the ‘right’ thing to do as it undermines the work of the original designer who took the time and skill to create the original and might possibly rely on the income from these creations to continue their work in creating innovative designs.” This is what I said and nothing more. I was immediately pounced on by no fewer than ten trolls; by the end there were nineteen.

I don’t know if other forums have the same buttons that Ravelry does, but on every post in a discussion thread anyone has the ability to anonymously click “educational,” “interesting,” “funny,” “agree,” disagree,” and “love.” Up until now I had only seen people click “funny” on actual jokes people had posted. Now my comment was racking up the “funny” and “disagree” clicks at a record speed. When I defended myself from the verbal attacks that were coming in, I just got more “funny” and “disagree” numbers. I tried to stay non-emotional and non-inflammatory in all of my responses. One person sheepishly stepped-up in my defense but quickly got taken down by the trolls as well. Within 45 minutes I was in tears and had deleted everything I had posted to the discussion thread not wanting to get anymore notices of comments.

I’ve withdrawn from Ravelry and have not really been back on a regular basis since. For one thing, I am not anonymous on the internet. Every site I’m a part of has my actual name as my username, my own face as my avatar, and my profile links back to my website which has my email and business cell. I am not anonymous nor do I want to be. Every single person on that forum had a random username filled with numbers, an avatar of a kitten, rabbit, or Ryan Gosling, and their profiles only listed their celebrity crushes. Despite what you might think given the avatars and crushes, the ages ranged from 30-65. Rarely you might find out a city. It could be the city they live in. Who knows.

I also haven’t posted any new patterns for sale, though I have a stack ready to go should I feel like flinging them out into the ether. I know this was a very mild troll attack as I wasn’t physically threatened, all of the trolls were needless-to-say NOT designers, and that piracy by a few shouldn’t completely cloud the large number of people willing to pay designers for their work. But this really exposed some of the craft-culture-mentality to me and I hadn’t entirely been prepared for this quirky “it only counts as yours if the yarn passed through your hands” theory.

There are entire websites devoted to illegally posting patterns by living designers, fellow designers have also shared their tales of coming across their designs in magazines they had never been contacted by, and on and on. But if I can distance myself a bit from this, it’s fascinating to see that crafts (particularly those predominantly associated with women) have been so devalued in our culture that crafters themselves actually devalue it as well.

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