Thursday, January 19, 2006

What Belongs to Whom

I'm coming rather late to the party with this post, but better late than never.

There's a grassroots movement afoot to express opposition to the attempt by some company called Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc. (have you ever heard of these people?) to–get this–trademark the expression "Stitch and Bitch."

To this end, all Yahoo groups using the expression in their names have been told to cease and desist, and even the clever "Purl" mascot designed for the Chicago You-Know-What has been pulled off the market by Café Press.

And apparently now they're going after Debbie Stoller. Notice that they've waited until her books have made a great deal of money and become ubiquitous in the stores before saying something. She's fighting back. Give 'em hell, Debbie. You want me to send a group of sheep to picket them?

To quote loosely a favorite line from All About Eve, this breaks all records for running, jumping, or standing gall. The expression in question is a dates back apparently to the 1940s or earlier. You cannot, it would seem to me, legally justify ownership of a commonplace set of words just because you called dibs.

Ironically, if you visit their obnoxiously colored Web site, you'll find a set of tellingly underused forums which includes a section for men who knit, and refers to them as "Dicks with Sticks." Have they also trademarked this? And if so, has the group in San Francisco dutifully changed its name?

There's a grassroots effort afoot to fight the moneygrubbing idiots, and you can find out more about it over through this Web site, dedicated the boycott of Sew Fast/Sew Easy.

Whichever way this case goes, Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc. will never see a dime of my money.

On the Other Hand

Cryptic comments left on another blog have suggested that it's time for me to trot out my guidelines for proper use of cartoons and photographs posted on this blog.
  1. Whether marked "copyright" or not, and whether officially filed for copyright or not, a creator's works are held in copyright by him or her from the moment of creation.

  2. Publishing an image (or anything else) on the Web does not mean said image is no longer under copyright.

  3. I'm probably not going to call out the sheepdogs if a blogger posts a single one of my cartoons on his or her personal, non-profit blog provided that a credit and link are provided. I'd rather you did not, but as I can't actually stop you, that's what I'm asking for if you must insist.

  4. You absolutely do not have permission to use any of my drawings or photographs for publication in any other form whatsoever without my express, written permission. If you do, you're stealing. And if I catch you, I will object strenuously.
I'm not pretending that the doodles I draw are sketches by Picasso. But they mean a lot to me, and many of them do require a lot of time and thought and ink and pencil. I have extremely fair rates for commissioned work, and on more than one occasion have also done gratis work for deserving charitable causes.

The person who may or may not be considering purloining my sketch of Mary getting yarn for Christmas* should consider whether it would be nice of me to go into her yarn shop and steal a couple skeins of cashmere while her back is turned just because she might not notice.

Mind you, with a simple, businesslike request and a payment of about the price of those skeins, she could get a superlative copy of the sketch in question. Or for a little more, she could even get a custom design.

As it is, if she goes ahead she'll wind up with (at best) an extremely crappy looking card (Web files look awful on paper, dear lady) and some truly bad karma.

Sorry to sound so, ahem, bitchy. But I have a little while to go yet before knitting is permitted again. This must be what it's like to quit smoking.

*No, I don't know for certain it's my sketch that's being spoken of. But if there's another male knitblogger out there who posted artwork that might go on a Christmas card, I haven't had the pleasure of his acquaintance.


Anonymous said...

huh* i'd hate to think someone stole your sheeps, what a shame. i'd also hate to think someone would trademark stuff i iuse as part of my daily ranting. oh...i was going to list some of them but they aren't polite and i would hate to voilate someones' trademark. darn it
(can i say that?)

Fran / Blue Gal said...

My understanding is it's actually hard to copyright something that's "out there" like s&b. In Fox v. Franken the judge actually told Fox News they might have a problem with their trademark on "Fair and Balanced." Notice how quicky they changed to "news at the speed of live."

On a related note, there are two boys in my daughter's Montesorri School named "Fox." Which gags me. But mebbe they were conceived at the speed of...

Unknown said...

I'm glad you joined the noise about Stitch and Bitch. The more aggravation we cause, the more likely they are to realize that they've offended a lot of people.

Vis a vis your drawings. I do not know of any knitter, male or female, transsexual, transgender, translucent, who has the talent to do the drawings you create. So who else would it be?

Quitting smoking is MUCH harder than not knitting. Much.

Beth said...

You don't mind if I print out your cartoons and hang them in my cubicle, right? ;)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'd seen that graphic over at You Knit What, but hadn't had the time to look into it. How appalling that those louses are trying to trademark that expression! I hope they get laughed out of whichever court this goes to by a judge who knits. Honestly.

I don't think you sound bitchy at all with your remarks about the use of your drawings. I think you know that we as observers place a high value on them as well. They're Yours, and they're very distinctively Yours. They're part of what makes it so much fun to come and visit you here. Absolutely worth protecting strenuously.

Carol said...

The way I look at it is that you are sharing something valuable and personal with us by putting your words and drawings out there on your blog. The least we can do in return is make sure that your generosity is not abused.

If indeed it is your work that this woman is considering purloining, and she is located in a jurisdiction in which I can legally practice law, I will come out of retirement and sue her for you.

Patience said...

I would love to have a print of the knitting Kali, something I could have framed and put on the wall. Any chance of this happening, please (not knowing how difficult what I'm asking for is)? Unfortunately I have plenty enough bags and t-shirts that I really can't buy more, but I like the images you're doing. Thanks!

Yvonne said...

and if Carol needs a court reporter for the suit, just call me...I'll trade transcripts for Koigu and/or drawings. :-)

Anonymous said...

With all the postings on blogs and knitting forums about not copying knitting patterns and sharing with your friends or posting them on your blog, one would think that knitters would be more aware and respectful of copyright law.

Your drawings are yours. At the very least she could send you an e-mail asking if you would be willing to add cards with that drawing to your Cafe Press store.

Those Easy, Fast Sewing people are nuts. S&B is in the public domain and I thought that a copyright/trademark holder needs to be diligent about enforcing same. If they are just getting around to this now, then they clearly haven't been diligent.

Anonymous said...

SFSE is blowing smoke. They haven't a leg
to stand on, legally or factually. All anyone has
to do is find Anne MacDonald's book, look
up the reference to WWII Stitch and Bitch groups,
find the original source and BANG, prior use -
and since the groups are probably still around, consistant use, I'd bet. Unfortunately, just threatening legal action, even if you are blowing smoke, can get you what you want sometimes because it costs $ to defend.

And Blue Gal..console yourself with the thought that the parental units were XFiles fans.

Franklin, those sheepies are so you...if you want I'll loan you a virtual sheepdog to help protect them.

Anonymous said...

Spiff decided to quit quitting, unfortunately. That's how hard it is. (You can well imagine that I bitch about it. And yes, I stitch too. Hah!)

Dicks with Sticks? I am getting the absolute worst picture imaginable in my head right now...

I suppose "Get up, stand up" would be an inappropriate thing to say right now, but you do know I mean it in the most supportive of ways, right? :-)

Anonymous said...

Several points...I hope I make them all:

1. Yonkele -- tell me who the sheep thief is and I'll put on them the evil eye.

2. I do hope this stitch n bitch thing blows over. Knitting folk are supposed to get along.

3. "Sicks With Sticks" is sooooo vulgar. Like Prince Albert had to get a cane. Oh dear. Talk about vulgar.

4. I think if you made your drawings available in print form you could make more than yarn money, boychick. I myself would buy a print of the goddess Kali.

5. Would one be violating your copywrite if one had one of your sheep tatooed on his or her hiney? (There's no way to know if it's being used for profit or not...and if it is, would you expect royalties?)

Ta for now. See you Tuesday.

Cheryl:) said...

I agree you could sell LOTS of prints...
or is it FLOCKS of prints if they are of sheep??? I think the idea of that sheepie tattoo is great! What a cute tattoo that would be!! :)

Anonymous said...

Give em hell, FRANKLIN. (and Debbie, too) Um, so - it's not like this AT ALL while quitting smoking. Quitting can be torture. Reading this post was not. Very well spoken, and I had the overwhelming desire to stick my head out the window and scream "CAN'T EVERYONE JUST LEAVE EVERYONE ALONE!!??!?!?" Jesus H.

Anonymous said...

As a writer, as a designer and as someone who wants to make a living being creative, the subject of copyrights is near and dear to my heart. In our increasingly litigious society, understanding the rights surrounding your intellectual property and creative works is vital. However, as illustrated by lawsuits such as the one you mention here, things have gotten a little out of hand. A little too territorial. You would think that all we would need is a little perspective and common sense, but one person's perspective and common sense does not necessarily match another's. Plus, if there is money involved, you can bet that there are people out there itching to get a little legal action goin' on.

A little more than a year ago, I became aware of things like open source software and the free software movement. I started using Linux. Not, as I have stated, because I am super smart and great with my computer, but because I can really get behind the idea of software as a community based initiative. I like this, because that is how creativity is fostered -- in community. But what about copyright? What about protecting your work? Well, clearly, copyrights as we know them don't work. Does that mean they don't apply? No. Not exactly.

In some cases, copyrights are used improperly to impede art, to silence people and even to clamp down on creativity. Art begets art begets art begets art. What happens when art gets copyrighted and there is no more begetting? (Yes, I am being a little extreme, but bear with me). There was an artist who used images and imagery of Alfred Hitchcock in his work and was told to stop or he would be sued under copyright laws (google Freedom of Expression in the Copyright Era to see a short film about it). With that line of legal reasoning, Andy Warhol could be sued by Campbell's Soup for copyright infringement.

Anyway, the debate over Digital Rights Management, file sharing services and the general "lack of control" big corporate conglomerations are feeling, not to mention the volumes and volumes of information being put in the public domain on a daily basis, is putting a lot of strain on the traditional black and white world of copyrights. And it seems to be crumbling a little bit and not always serving the purpose it was intended to -- protecting the creators of content.

To deal with this issue, I use a Creative Commons license on all my creative endeavors -- writing, designing, etc. -- which allows me to set levels of protection on my work (e.g., you can use it for whatever you want as long as you give me credit for my work; you can use it as long as you don't make money off of it and you give me credit; you can use it and make money off of it as long as you compensate me for it; etc.). They refer to their copyright licenses as a "spectrum" of choices and "some rights reserved."

Thought you might be interested. Sorry I got so rambly!

City Wiccan said...

Right on Rachel. I'm a composer and a designer and I also feel very strongly about copyright. I really hope that no one is taking your drawing without permission.
By the way . . . I love those drawings. They make your website so much fun to visit.

Lanea said...

I agree all around. And now I really want to commission a sketch!

Anonymous said...

One day, I hope to be able to commission a sheep picture of my very own - one that I can frame for my wall. Love the little guys!!

My verification word was: byhangxo
Almost sounds like a real word.. with a kiss and hug at the end!!

boobookittyfug said...

If we have any money left after sending it to the SNB cause, perhaps we can help you sue the offending yarn store owner and image thief. That is if she goes ahead with her nefarious scheme.

Lots of people seem to think they can use images from the 'net as they wish. When I hear anyone talking about doing that, I try to correct them.

Meanwhile, why not photoshop in a digital watermark before uploading? Oops that's "Photoshop(R)".

birdfarm said...

Don't apologize for defending your right to your own work. It has nothing to do with flattering yourself or anything else that you seem to be apologizing for.

If someone will pay for your work, they should be paying you. Period. End of story. You don't even have to go into the fact that many someones will pay a lot for your work because it's utterly unique and thoroughly delightful.

So no apology, my friend. And I hope if any of your readers ever sees your work in a store, they make damn sure that you are getting paid for it.

On the subject of S&B... you think that's bad... have you heard about the US-based companies that go to far-flung corners of the world, find something (unique varieties of grain, fruit, natural medicine, pesticide etc.) that people there have developed over centuries of careful seed selection (or whatever), slap a patent on it and start charging royalties?

Anonymous said...

Good for you!

If you want to make it official, put your blog (and the images therein) under a Creative Commons license ( It's a slightly more "modern" version of copyright, designed for digital and online life. It also allows you to customize the extent to which you'll allow someone to use your creations. It was originally developed for the open source movement as an alternative to the GPL - which some people feel is too stringent - and it caught fire online. Flickr even allows you to choose a CC license and have it automatically applied to all your Flickr photos.

All you have to do is click through the forms to choose your specifics, then post the HTML code and license button on your website.

I have my blog, digital pictuers, and online images of my sketches protected by their "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0" license, which means that people can use my stuff as long as it's properly attributed, and in a non-commercial format, and not altered in any way.

nick said...

if so called yarn shop uses your pics? post up their name.. they'll be sorry.. to watch their revenues fall rapidly..

a knitting friend of mine had a great great great great aunt whose ladies church knitting group called themselves stitch 'n bitch.. radical.. wish i could have met her..

step aside sew fast sew easy bitches..

get back to knitting man..

whose verification word was moedk.. kinda cool..

Ann said...

Well, Franklin, since you brought it up, I was thinking about offering money (cash, coin of the realm) for one of your sheepy drawings, even a copy. I'd like to have something frameable.

I love the little guys.

Elaine said...

Notecards of the sheepies? Surely Cafepress can manage those? I'd LOVE it!

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that someone would presume to use your artwork without your permission. Even if you drew it with a ballpoint pen in no time flat, it is yours, confound it.

You go guy!

And SFSE's business decision on this one is on a par with New Coke.

Laura said...

I may be wrong (wouldn't be the first time), but I seem to recall a precedent being set a number of years back. There's this small company who made a machine that let you duplicate what was written on a piece of paper. I'm sure there were plenty of other companies who made similar machines, but whenever someone wanted to make a copy of something, they said they were going to Xerox it. Hm. After the term became commonplace, said company decided they wanted to enforce/privatize the use of their name. Took the issue to court. And lost.

I believe similar thing happened to a company that makes Kleenexes. Oh, I'm sorry. Was I supposed to say "soft paper tissue"?

I believe that in name/copyright issues, that the legal holder of that name needs to be johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to trying to enforce usage. If they allow the name to enter common usage before they go to court, it's too late.

Again, I could be all wet here, but it seems to me that this is the same issue just with a different company, a different phrase...

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine–who is a talented costumer–teaches sewing there. When this nonsense first started, he objected, considering we are old enough to remember when our respective GRANDMOTHERS used the phrase on their invites. You can surmise what happened to him.

What's wrong with everybody? Is our sense of esteem and ownership so low that we now have to trademark words and come after people?

I better hurry up and trademark my name. Desert? What desert?

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