Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rip off or Classic? You Decide

My Feather and Fan Shawl

My other Feather and Fan Shawl

I think Ravelry is making us more aware of the fact that people can come up with similar designs independently. We are now able to see so many of the patterns out there that in the past we did not have access to.

Several times now I've had the experience of working on something that was already out there in a similar version so I moved on to a different idea. In some ways knitting will improve by forcing designers to be more creative. On the other hand those new to knitting are always going to want a feather and fan or sea foam scarf pattern written specifically for the yarn they just purchased. I've also noticed that sometimes when one person assumes that another ripped off an idea from a third party that it's merely because they don't realize that it's a knitting classic (that they just haven't been aware of), and I think those pieces have a place in the pattern publishing world.

I read a heated thread a while ago in Ravelry about a pattern that the original poster felt she had been ripped off for when a similar version was published after hers. To me it looked just like something my mother had knit many versions of and when I flipped through some of her old patterns there it was with a publishing date in the 60's. I had a similar experience when someone hinted that I had done the ripping off but named the wrong source of my inspiration for a silhouette that I had seen before in both hand and machine knitting patterns as well as in woven fabric in a book about a main stream fashion designer. In that case the person hinting simply thought that the first version she had seen was totally original while in fact there were many precedents. 

I just finished reading an article about the American remake of the Swedish movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The writer was furious that Hollywood could think they could make a better version but did admit that a non-subtitled version might be more palatable to American audiences. Which ultimately means that more people get to enjoy the original authors work. Movies and the theater have a long history of remakes, remounts and revivals of previously released work. Copyright is protected and the owners are paid for the use of their work. Unfortunately since I have no idea who originated the feather and fan stitch pattern there is no way to compensate that designer and really it would be like trying to compensate the originator of words or letters in the English language.

Last summer my husband and I toured the Vatican with a guide who is an art history graduate. She showed us many examples of how ideas were borrowed and reinterpreted from one era to another in the art world, often indicating what the improvements and changes were. She also spoke about how students were instructed to copy directly from the great masters as a way of improving their own skills. It's fascinating to see how attitudes to this have changed. I think there is nothing more valuable than original thinking but unless we study past work we have no way to recognize what is truly original and be inspired to a higher level of creativity.

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