Copyright and why it’s important

It happens all the time. Someone sees a photo or image they like online and they copy it. They may save it on their computer, and then use it later in a project. Or they may print it on a t-shirt or post it in a blog post or on their website. They think it’s all good because they’re not selling it, trying to make any profit from it. Perhaps they see a pattern they like but don’t want to pay for it . With some patience and know-how, they copy the pattern and start to make their own identical quilts (or other product) based on what they saw. It seems perfectly harmless right? After all, it’s on the internet. Actually, it’s theft because of something called copyright. 

Crediting the designer, photographer, or author isn’t good enough. Just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s ours for the taking. Someone produced that item, photo, pattern, recipe, poem, story, article, or whatever it is. Unless they expressly give permission for people to use their creation, it can’t be taken and used by anyone because of copyright law.

Your creation is yours, not mine

I write for a living. Copyright applies as soon as I write something, put words on paper or on the screen. It’s mine. Anyone who takes my words and uses them elsewhere, either stand alone or as part of their work, without my permission is stealing my work and my copyright. It’s stealing the years of knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years. It is stealing the work it took to research and craft those pieces. It’s stealing the potential of clients finding my work and thinking they may want to reach out and hire me to write for them. The same stands for quilt designers. If a quilt designer offers a pattern for a charge, copying that pattern without permission is, yup, theft.

I’ve gotten into debates/arguments with people who don’t see copyright as such a big thing. After all, isn’t art meant to be shared? Don’t artists do it for the love of creating? One person who was looking for a cheap writer told me I was asking way too much and I was in the business for the wrong reason. I shouldn’t be focused on getting paid for my work. I should be happy that I had the opportunity to write. 

Isn’t it flattering to have your work copied (stolen, really), people have asked. And surely, by crediting the creator, all is good, right? And how can it hurt the creator if you, just one person, copies the work?

Let’s break this down. 

Isn’t art meant to be shared? Absolutely. I love it when people share my stories on social media. But sharing my stories online and copying my words and putting them on your blog are two different things. If you share my stories, the readers go to the site where they’re posted or the magazine where they’re published. Statistics, view numbers, ratings, all make a difference to sites that are attracting advertisers or subscribers. Putting my words on your blog, even with credit to me, gives me nothing, gives the sites or magazines where they were published nothing.

Isn’t it flattering to have your work copied? That’s a tough one, because some people don’t mind. But, if you’re at work and someone gets the credit for what you do, is that flattering to you? If you propose a great idea to your boss but your boss takes credit, never mentioning it was yours, is that flattering?

How can it hurt the creator if just one person shares the work? Because it’s never just one person. You may think you’re the only one. But there are many people who copy and use without permission, and maybe they all think that they’re the only one.

So, what to do?

So, what do you do if you see a quilt, a photo, a pattern, an article that you really like, that you want to share? Well, it depends on the product. If you find a photograph online that you like, reach out to the photographer. Ask if you can use it. They will tell you if you can for free, with credit, or if you must pay a fee. The photographer should always be credited though, even if they don’t ask for a fee. In a future post, I’ll be using an internet meme to explain quilt costs. The name of the creator was on the meme, so I found him online. I asked for permission to use it, and he granted it. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have used it.

If you find a pattern you like online and the designer charges for it, the only correct action is to pay for it. Found an article you like that you want to share? Give the original URL so your friends can visit the site where it’s located, or tell them what magazine it’s in so they can get it or find it at the library. Don’t take readers away from the outlets that provided you with the articles.

Remember that someone made everything you see. Some people are happy to share their stuff for free. Others depend on the work for their livelihood. People who come to this site read my pieces for free – I don’t charge any subscription fee because this is a labor of love for me. But you can’t take my posts and post them on your blog – even with my name on them – without my permission. The readers who read them on your blog won’t see all the other stuff I have on my site, including the items they can purchase.

I know it seems like a harmless thing. But it’s not. Artists, writers, photographers, everyone in the arts in any way deserve to earn a living, just as do plumbers, doctors, and taxi drivers do.

You can learn more about copyright at the Stanford University Libraries website.

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