Readers, in these busy times my sewing hours seem to be relegated to the block of time from 11:00PM until midnight (err, or sometimes a wee bit later at the expense of sleep), and you can imagine that this is just enough time for me to pull out my materials and equipment, do a tiny bit a of sewing, make some show-stopping screwup that I wouldn’t have made had I not been so tired, and then give up in disgust. Naturally this has made your typically-grumpy Selfish Seamstress even grumpier than typical. So although I have no new sewing worth showing here, I will engage you with a funny anecdote followed by a rant regarding some recent Etsy explorations.
First the anecdote. It was brought to my attention that an Etsy seller was offering up dresses that look remarkably similar to the Coffee Date Dress, the pattern for which I make available for free download. Upon inspection, the similarity was indeed quite uncanny. The Coffee Date Dress, being quite simple, is by no means an innovation of design, and plenty of other designs also have a neck ruffle without being similar enough to make me wonder. But this dress was really *really* similar in those details that you notice when you’ve made or designed something- similar in the not-quite-scooped-but-not-quite-jewel neckline which is fairly unique, in the particular amount of flair of the a-line skirt, in the exact placement, proportion, and folding of the ruffle. The dress was rendered in a knit with no back darts and no zipper, unlike the Coffee Date Dress, and topstitched around the arm openings, but otherwise looked in shape and line pretty much like my own design and quite different from the store’s other drapier, ruched offerings. Realizing this could have been a coincidence but finding the similarity of the design to my own really startling, I sent an neutrally worded message to the store inquiring whether they had perhaps used my design, and if so I did not mind and do not charge, but would they be so kind as to credit me for it?
Anyway, a couple of days later, I received an email back from the store that was, let’s say… humorously defensive :) I mean, I can completely understand if the similarity was a coincidence. Free pattern production and Etsy clothing shops aren’t exactly high stakes games anyway so it’s not like I was getting my lawyer on the phone. The store basically pointed out that their dress is made of a knit and that their ruffle is hemmed rather than cut on the fold so it they clearly didn’t use my pattern or design, but their own. I don’t know if I follow that logic, but if they say it’s their own pattern and design, I can take them at their word for that. So what’s the funny part? The funny part was the last line of their message:
“I also removed the dress from my shop as nobody liked it and nobody wanted to purchase it.”
I love it! The Selfish Seamstress is a huuuuuge fan of passive-aggression (if you can’t tell, check out THIS VERY POST), and feels it is a tremendously underrated behavioral pattern. It’s fun to listen to, and it’s fun to do! Anyway, too bad for the Etsy store that nobody liked their dress; more than 100,000 people have downloaded mine. (Yes! I just totally out-passive-aggressived them!)
Okay, but after that little humorous incident, onto the actual rant. A couple of days ago I was poking around Etsy, and I found a listing for this blue taffeta dress on a different store:
Whoa. Hold up there a sec. Does that look familiar? Surely none of you have ever run into this pattern before, or perhaps even made it up yourselves? UNCANNY. The dress is available in size medium, but the seller says she’ll also make it for you custom in the size and color of your choice.*
I realize that some people may not realize that manufacturing garments from copyrighted patterns for sale is
illegal**, and I have no objections when someone who doesn’t sew pays someone who does to make a garment for them from a pattern, nor do I fail to realize that we take inspiration from other people’s work as part of the creative process. But this is ballsy. Here’s a snippet from the Etsy seller’s description of the garment:
“I gave it a beautiful cut with gathered bodice and gathered skirt. There is a hand gathered ruffle around the low scoop neckline that gradually grows bigger around the back of the neck. It frames the face perfectly.”
No. NO. No. YOU did not give it a beautiful cut with a gathered bodice and gathered skirt. A nice lady named CYNTHIA ROWLEY gave it a beautiful cut with a gathered bodice and gathered skirt, and then a nice little company called Simplicity made that cut available to you so you could make a dress for yourself, NOT so you could take credit for it and resell it as your own.
I’m not interested in policing Etsy or playing Big 4 anonymous tipster, and I realize that Simplicity probably isn’t losing any business from this person. But it peeves me as I see more and more Etsy stores hawking renditions of commercial patterns (and it happens A LOT) and claiming them as their own designs because I just don’t understand what they get out of it. Unless you’re the next Vivienne Westwood-type innovator who can command big bucks for gorgeous, unique pieces, or you’re selling basic tubes of stretchy fabric that can be whipped up in 10 minutes, there’s probably not much money to be made in one-person operations sewing dresses to sell on Etsy. We know how much time it takes to make a dress and how much money you’d have to charge for it to make it a decent source of income as an Etsy store. So why else would you do it unless you want to scratch that creative itch and share YOUR OWN ideas and creations? And if you just love sewing that much but don’t want to design your own stuff, then why wouldn’t you say it was “inspired by” or an “homage to” the design you’re knocking off? Why would you claim creative credit for Cynthia Rowley’s ideas and put yourself at risk for a lawsuit from a pattern giant for what probably ends up being pocket change after you factor in labor and materials costs? You’re not even making a quick buck off contraband design.
Maybe it’s just me who gets annoyed at such things. Maybe it’s because I’m a science professor at a research university and in my line of work we call that “plagiarism” and people lose their jobs and get kicked out of school for claiming credit for others’ work. Or maybe I just need to find more sewing time to calm my nerves, stop me from writing pointless, bitchtastic posts, and keep me from wanting to punch everyone I encounter. I guess I could lose my job for that last one too.
*Haha! I didn’t ask permission to use your image on my blog, nor did I give you credit for it! See how that feels? You wanna sue me over it? Do you??
** Ok, it seems that experts who know more than I are suggesting that this practice is not technically illegal (though I suspect there’d still be a lawsuit if a big clothing manufacturer started producing from copyrighted patterns en masse). I appreciate that informed people have taken time to share their expertise – thanks! And I apologize for putting potentially inaccurate information on the internet and acknowledge my potential misinterpretation of pattern copyright. But the whole issue of legal vs. illegal was not the point of this post, and people who feel the need to write incredibly rudely worded comments (now deleted) complaining that I dedicated a “whole post” to the illegality of someone else’s actions should read before they write “whole comments” making inaccurate accusations themselves. The point of this post was not law (though I appreciate the constructive comments on that topic), but creativity and claiming credit for the work of others. And for the record, I make no claims in this post about my own pattern having actually been used by Etsy sellers, being under copyright, or legally requiring credit or compensation. I put my work out there so others can use it and benefit from it, and I request acknowledgment as a matter of courtesy and ego, not law.