I do my part to educate new rug hookers by incorporating the copyright chat to those I teach. Sometimes customers tell me right to my face they plan on making copies for family members or friends and I very diplomatically explain why they shouldn't and sometime I feel they appreciate being told while other times, I know it didn't make a difference. Over the years I've talked to other shop owners and they also tell tales of the struggle to keep in the black and many have had to close their doors due to customers copying their designs. I'm sure the average shopper doesn't realise how much copying patterns hurt when they can't see the bigger picture.
Another copyright quagmire was the service I offered of custom designing for customers. I've been blessed with the ability to draw so I thought it might be nice to offer rug hookers who weren't so fortunate, the opportunity to work on custom designs that really meant something to their lives. Probably 85% walked away thrilled with their designs, but there was that pesky 15%, not so much. After being threatened with lawyers and accused of stealing designs I’ve had to take the service off the table, it just isn't worth the angst I've had to go through. A quick comparison...a photographer can take your picture but you don't have any rights to the photograph even though it's an image of your own face, unless of course you’ve paid the high fee for exclusive rights. The same goes with my custom designing, I did not sell the rights to the design, only a burlap or linen copy, but for some reason people think I'm a thief if I make another copy and hang it on the rack in the shop.
All artwork comes with an automatic copyright. You can come into the shop with a photo of your beloved pooch and ask that I make it into a pattern and as soon as I’ve laid pencil to paper that sketch of your pooch is mine. I spend hours on every design I do and add that to the burlap or linen cost and Bonnie's wage to put the pattern on the backing and I'm the hole. That is why I try to design patterns that appeal to the masses to make the effort worthwhile. I’ve done the odd baby or two, (now I don’t mean the babies were odd…) and homes that can’t be sold as a general design because when I really like the person, the subject or if the work challengers me, I go the extra mile to give the customer a pattern they love and not worry about the hours that took me to do the work. Sadly, that service has been stripped from the table and I only help the women in my rug hooking group as I know there won't be any backlash down the road. My group is well versed in the dos and don't of copyright after hearing my rants!
These two stories are not meant to be negative, just two examples of copyright issues that got out of hand. No business is without problems but overall the good far outweighs the bad and these are just learning cuves of dealing with the public.
A woman who had asked me to design a pattern of her dog the year before, came into the shop to browse through my patterns. We were having a lovely conversation until she came across the pattern of her dog on the rack and went from one to one hundred in the pissed off lane. She turned black with rage, accusing me of stealing the design and then threatened to sic her lawyer on me. Nothing I could say convinced her I had the right to that drawing and she left in a royal huff, probably bad mouthing me to anyone and everyone who would listen that Christine Little was a thief. This was the straw that broke the camel's back; it was time to take that service off the table. Being represented as a thief is never good for business nor did I want to deal with that kind of abuse again. Several things had previously happened to prove it just wasn't worth the hassle. Words hurt; I’m made of flesh and bone, not deflecting armour, and whether you think you have a case or not, that is no way to a person.
Over the years, I’ve designed quite a few patterns for people that have gone on to win 1st prize ribbons and honourable mentions. I’ve proudly discovered my creations in Rug Hooking Magazine but was instantly deflated when the captions don't mention my name but listed the rug hooker as the designer. The local newspapers have featured articles of hooked rugs I’ve created but time and again the hooker took all the credit. Sometimes I think I can’t win, so much so that it is a running joke at the shop when we see one of my designs featured in some publication and my name is a no-show, we say, “typical, wouldn’t expect anything else”. The very first custom pattern I ever designed was featured in a local newspaper and the customer took full credit for
designing it. Hungry for any kind of advertising, this would have sent the locals to my door but no, I was passed over like a beggar in the street! Sometimes the lack of words can hurt just as much as a slew of them.
The worst story by far was a design I created for a woman who entered a prestigious, juried show. She came into the shop with a stickman drawing in front of a box that represented a piano. I listened to her concept of what she had in mind, took it further by adding elements I thought were relevant and produced a design of Beethoven sitting behind his piano, with candelabras hanging from the ceiling, velvet draped curtains framing the stage, a marble floor and an audience. White music notes were coming out of his ears representing his deafness while black notes carried the music out into the audience. I made sure those notes were the actual music for Ode To Joy which surprised the customer with great delight, so much so that she hugged me.
She left the shop all eager to get started while I floated around on a design high. At the end of the day the woman phoned me to ask why the copyright symbol and my name was on the bottom of the pattern. I told her it was my artwork so therefore I owned the rights to the design. I told her if she had wanted an exclusive design she would have paid far more than $50.00. I had worked on that pattern several days and well into the nights. She said “oh” and that was the last I heard of it. She came back to the shop a couple of times to show me the progress in her hooking and she ws doing a fantastic job. Ecstatic over the project and always thanked me for such a lovely pattern.
So you can imagine my surprise when I opened Rug hooking magazine and saw the rug featured as a winner in the show. It clearly stated that the woman designed the pattern. I was confused wrought with dissappointment. Once again, passed over for the credit that should have been mine and loosing a perfect opportunity to show all of North America what I could do. Only two years in business, that kind of press could have opened doors for me and at the bare minimum provided a plug for my shop. Now I know not all things are as they appear and there was a chance that this was an oversite of the magazine so I kept that in mind as I carefully worded an email to the woman. I congratulated her on the win and then simply asked why she hadn’t listed me as the designer.
This all happened quite a few years ago but I will never forget the response and I actually still have a copy of her email which I came across it the otherday. I have never been so screamed at with written words. Big black words, bold with large fonts mixed with regular fonts, exclamation marks all over the place, hit after hit on my person, word after word of insult, several paragraphs long. She came right out and called me a thief among other things. She told me that it was her design, not mine and how dare I say otherwise. Her closing words, "if I wanted to steal the credit to go ahead if it makes me feel better!” It was abundantly clear that she valued me somewhere lower than a snake in the grass. I read the email over and over, each time thinking I must be mistaken but each time I slumped lower in my seat, running a gammot of emotions that literally ended in tears. I was beaten down by words, crushed by the weight of them. They even caused me to question why I was in this business. It sucked all the joy from my world and I'm not proud of it, but I settled into a dark place for a bit. No one wants anyone to hate them, its against our nature, but back then I hadn't formed my thick retail skin so my shields were down and she got in.
Well, it took a few days to recover from the attack and then a few more to prepare a response.
I would have phoned her but anticipated more of the same, although this time in my ear instead of my eye. In the note, I carefully outlined what copyright was all about. She brought an idea to me, no one was taking credit for that, but once I produced that drawing; the artwork belonged to me. I told her that I sold her a “copy”of the original drawing…the reason why she didn’t get the signed and dated artwork, only a burlap copy. I also reminded her of our phone conversation all those many months before when I had explained what the copyright symbol had meant. I said I had emailed her to ask a simple question as to why she didn’t give me credit for the design and didn’t deserve the tirade that followed. Her words had wounded me. I thought I was doing her a favour to give her a design worthy of the show… a stick man and a box for a piano would not have cut it. After all these years I still have the design; I just never had the heart to put it out on the rack because every time I looked at it I felt ill, breathing life back into that distasteful memory unsettled my stomach. Maybe writing this will change that; give me some closure. Maybe tomorrow I’ll dig out the drawing and think about it......
A few days later the woman replied with normal type but not exactly an apology. She just said she wished it hadn’t come to this and that she had forgotten our phone conversation about copyright. Someone else must have enlightened her on the topic and you know what they say, if two people say it's a chicken the chances are good that it is. I’ve not heard from her since and up until then she had been a welcomed regular in my shop. Sticks and stones can break your bones but names will never hurt you is crapola. Words can hurt, in the heart and the pocket book. I’ve lost business and I’ve since heard someone comment that I steal designs so I can only wonder who else might be avoiding me because of my evil, pattern stealing warts. The rug hooking community is small so things get around faster than Purolator, and the negative comments seem to go priority overnight.