It's August, 2000 and there has been something of a debate among crafters and pattern designers about the practice of selling on E-Bay! Here are some of the thoughts that are being expressed on the subject.
E-Bay is the most commonly mentioned auction site. It is the most visible. But the name "e-bay" is used almost generically to talk about ALL of the large, highly publicized auction sites.
Valid or not, some artists are expressing concern about finding their patterns and the finished pieces being offered for sale on E-bay, or any auction site on the internet.
Here are some of the arguments being expressed:
- The sentiment is that these sites are very large forums attracting large number of visitors. This potentially dilutes sales through traditional channels.
- Folkart crafts reflect a regional and unique artform. Even when a pattern is sold nationally, they are not widely publicized. At regional art and craft shows, and in local shops, the finished pieces are perceived as very unique. Shop owners are aware of this regional uniqueness. With the exception of the nationally known artists, shops tend to not purchase things that "everyone has seen".
- Shop owners tend to avoid buying patterns that they've seen or heard about being offered on E-bay.
- Patterns and finished pieces have a definite lifetime. When they are new and unique, people want them. Once they've been around for a while, people recognize the pieces and pass them by. The huge audience of the auction sites has the potential to accelerate the aging process for new pieces.
- There's a gut feeling that E-Bay is pulling pattern sales from traditional shops. As a result, some shops are cutting back on their pattern orders and blaming it on E-Bay sales. E-Bay is not considered fair competition.
- Patterns are low cost, low profit items. Most artists sell wholesale only to shops which buy in quantity, but only a few copies of each pattern. It's unclear how or why a pattern would be sold on E-Bay or any other auction site.
- Some end-users feel that they should be able to sell their old, used patterns. Their argument is that the pattern is like a used book which can be sold at a rummage sale or a used book store, etc.
Patterns are, in fact, different from books. They are used to create a finished item. Once the package has been opened, it should not be shared.
To relate a pattern to a book, one would have to change the analogy to photocopying the book and selling the original. That would clearly be a violation of copyright.
SALE OF FINISHED PIECES
- Most craft patterns state in their copyright that the finished piece can be made in small quantity for sale in local shops or at shows. Mass production or manufacturer is specifically prohibited.
There is a feeling, valid or not, that craft pieces sold on E-Bay will be sold in large quantity. Even if they are not, the public may get the impression that the piece is widely available and thus, not unique.
- It is important to a pattern artist that their work be shown in the best light. Some crafters do a better job than others. On a local basis, at craft shows and in shops, poor quality is seen by a relatively small audience. Because E-Bay is a huge forum, a poorly presented piece has the potential of reflecting badly on the artist.
- The most significant concern we hear is that people on E-bay are ripping the artist off. That may not be the literal truth. But it cannot be denied that the feeling exist.
- A clear copyright infringement occurs when someone makes a piece based only on the picture of the item. This is a flagrant violation of the artist's rights. and should not be tolerated.
- Some artists have refused to allow legitimate retailers show pictures of their work on the internet. They fear that the piece will be made up based only on the photo.
SUGGESTIONS TO ARTISTS
- Our suggestion to artists is to expand their copyright notice to read something like:
- You may sell limited quantities of the finished item in local craft shops and craft shows.
- You may not sell on e-bay, or on a wholesale basis, or via mail order without permission.
- You may sell your UN-OPENED personal copy of the pattern, to another person. If sold, you may NOT retain a copy of the pattern. You may NOT sell your copy if you have opened it.
- Artist should recognize that there are exceptions. (Mass production in the Far East may not be bad if you get a nice royalty!) Artist may be asked for permission to sell in certain ways. How they respond to those request is up to them.
- Artists should specifically allow sale of the finished pieces in LIMITED quantity. It's important to recognize the the best pattern customers are the "pro" crafters who sell finished items in shows and shops. These folks buy lots of patterns for their "library". They buy based on the potential for selling the pieces.
- Shop owners must understand the same restrictions. If they wish to sell patterns or finished pieces over the internet, or by catalog, or by mail-order, they should ask and receive specific permission from the artist.
On page one of its August 8, 2000 edition, The Saginaw Michigan NEWS printed an article by P.J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times.
In his article, Huffstutter tells about clubs which have appeared on the internet where members share needlepoint patterns. The patterns are copied, scanned and e-mailed between members.
The article says "For years, fans photocopied the patterns and sent them to each other. Just one or two tucked inside with a note or a recipe". The internet changed this by dramatically increasing the numbers and spreading the practice nationwide. One publisher is quoted as saying that pattern sales have dropped $200,000 (40%) since 1997.
The article goes on to say that shop owners and publishers fear that the loss in sales may drive many artists, who can make as little as 10¢ per sale, out of the pattern business.
The artist and publishers are not taking it lightly. They have joined together to form a legal defense fund and have instructed their attorney's to begin gathering evidence. They have also organized to gather and record what they find happening on the internet. "Designers have recruited friends and family, sometimes offering free patterns in exchange for their snooping."
It was not made clear when legal action may be taken, but the pattern publishing industry is taking the swapping of their intellectual property just as seriously as the recording industry is taking Napster and its like.
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