The Truth About "Sharing" Patterns and Copyright Infringement
Copyright infringement has been quite the topic over the past few months within the plastic canvas crafts community.
That's why, in the following article, I'm going to let an anonymous plastic canvas crafter who was sued for copyright infringement by one of the major plastic canvas publishing companies, tell her very compelling story in her own words.
Perhaps in this way, those who think they're innocently "sharing" the copyrighted patterns of others will wake up to the fact that in reality, they're committing a punishable criminal offense that can cost them a significant sum of money should they, too, be sued.
Hey there, fellow plastic canvas crafter!
Many plastic canvas crafters feel that "sharing" the copyrighted patterns owned by designers is an innocent activity.
But by law, what you think of as "sharing" is actually stealing!
More importantly, it's a criminal offense that can get you sued in court, and can cost you a significant sum of money, as you're going to learn in this article from a young lady who was sued by a major plastic canvas crafts company for copyright infringement.
Indeed, when you "share" copyrighted patterns, your actions are infringements of copyright under Title 17 of the United States Code.
And there are a number of severe legal penalties under this code for violating the copyright of others.
Could This Happen To You?
In the following interview, you'll learnthe details of an actual court case in which a young lady, who for the purposes of this article will remain anonymous, was sued for copyright Infringement by a major plastic canvas crafts company.
This young lady has agreed to briefly discuss - in question and answer format -- what happened when she was sued.
She's doing so for the benefit of those who might still think "sharing" copyrighted patterns is an innocent activity that can't have any negative effects.
I think she's absolutely awesome for agreeing to share her story with all of us!
Questions & Answer Interview with Anonymous Plastic Canvas Crafter
Question: What kind of online forum were you sharing crafts patterns on? Was it on Facebook, or was it something else?
Answer: It was a plastic canvas group on Yahoo.
Question: How long had you been on this group posting patterns, before you received the legal notice that you were being sued?
Answer: I'm not sure how long I had been a part of the group, probably just a few months.
Question: What kind of thoughts went through your mind when you received the notice of a lawsuit against you?
Answer: I was scared to death when I got the notice. I immediately deleted any patterns I had, and removed myself from the group. I begged and pleaded with them to reconsider, and explained that I would never do it again, but to no avail.
Question: Could you estimate how many other people on the Yahoo forum were also freely sharing patterns in potential violation of copyright?
Answer: There were several hundred people in the group but only a handful that actually shared patterns. Most were there to 'receive.'
Question: Were other people who were sharing patterns on the board also sued?
Answer: I don't know if anyone else was sued because I immediately severed contact with the group, and with anyone sharing patterns. I even went so far as to change my email address so I wouldn't receive any more patterns by email.
Question: What happened to the Yahoo group? Was it closed down, or is it still functioning?
Answer: I believe the group was shut down not long after I was sued.
Question: What types of patterns were being shared?
Answer: They were mostly plastic canvas patterns, and they were mostly scanned from books and magazines.
Question: Did you personally scan and post patterns from plastic canvas books and magazines?
Answer: I personally didn't post any patterns; I only downloaded some of the patterns that others posted.
Question: So you were a just receiver of the copyrighted material. In essence, you were receiving stolen goods. And somehow, they caught you doing this?
Answer: Yes, I was only the receiver.
Question: Had it ever previously dawned on you that "receiving" copyrighted plastic canvas patterns you hadn't paid for was a criminal offense? Or did it just seem like an innocent activity to you?
Answer: I wasn't convinced sharing patterns was illegal so I was sure I was ok just to receive them. I grew up in the days where recipes were copied and given to all your friends, and your best friend who had that awesome new Bon Jovi cassette tape could make a recording for me. I thought no one really cared if we copied patterns. I thought it didn't make any difference. Boy was I wrong.
Question: Did you have to hire an attorney to defend yourself? If so, how costly was the attorney, roughly?
Answer: I did get an attorney. But luckily he felt sorry for me and agreed to represent me pro bono. Otherwise I would not have been able to afford a lawyer.
Question: How did the process work? Did you have to make court appearances?
Answer: I did not make any court appearances.
Question: Did your attorney bargain back-and-forth with the opposing attorney?
Answer: My lawyer handled everything by phone or mail. I don't know if he had to bargain back and forth. I believe he must have because the settlement amount they came up with was an astronomical amount. My house didn't even cost that much. He was able to get them to come down, but it was still a large amount of money. As part of the agreement, I'm not allowed to discuss the actual figures.
Question: Can you share in your own words what it was like being dragged into the legal system like this over such a seemingly innocuous activity?
Answer: People need to know this isn't just a matter of money; it was a huge emotional rollercoaster for me. At one point I actually asked my husband for a divorce so that he wouldn't have to pay for my mistake. Luckily he refused.
I don't remember a lot from that time because my brain has blocked out most of it. I started having panic attacks and shaking uncontrollably whenever the phone rang, which meant the lawyer was calling to give me news about the case.
It was SO not worth it, and I wish people could understand that. Just go out and spend a few bucks and buy the pattern. You'll be doing it legally and also supporting the designer so they can make more wonderful patterns.
Question: So this case was ultimately settled out of court? Can you tell me without giving any specific amount, did you have to pay for the others party's court cost and attorney fees?
Answer: It was settled out of court and I can't remember what portion went to lawyer's fees. Again, as part of the agreement I'm not allowed to discuss actual figures.
Question: What about the ancillary costs to you in lost time, emotional turmoil, effect on your family, etc.?
Answer: It was a horrible, scary experience and I never, ever, ever want to go through it again. It strained my marriage and my spiritual life. BUT that being said, I've come out of it a better person.
Question: From the time the original notice of the lawsuit was delivered to you, to the end of the whole ordeal, what was the time frame?
Answer: I believe it took a year from start to finish.
Question: Do you have any words of advice for other crafters who might innocently or unwittingly be "sharing" patterns on the internet in violation of their copyright?
Answer: I would urge them to weigh the value of getting a 'free' pattern and possibly going through what I went through, compared to just shelling out a few bucks to obtain the pattern legally and support the designers. It's a no-brainer to me.
Question: There are some crafters on the internet who are well aware that "sharing" copyrighted patterns is a criminal violation, but who do it anyway. Some of them apparently think they'll never get caught, or that the potential legal damage if they're caught will be minimal. I've even seen some crafters sharing copyrighted patterns who have arrogantly posted comments like "Let them come get me!" when they've been warned that they're breaking the law. Do you have any insights or words of wisdom for these people?
Answer: I do know from being in their shoes that they look at it like a minor offense, like jaywalking. OR they think the designers won't waste the money on lawyers, court, etc. to sue, so they aren't in danger. I am living proof that that is not true.
Question: How has this affected your crafting life? Do you still craft? Is the sense of enjoyment still there?
Answer: I do still craft and I love it more than anything. I love it even more now because I know I'm doing it legally and have nothing to be ashamed of.
Question: Is there anything else you'd like to say to fellow crafters on this topic?
Answer: I don't know what else to say, I've tried warning people in the past but I'm always accused of being a liar or a 'troll'. I'd gotten tired of trying to warn people until just recently when I just couldn't take it anymore. I feel bad for those who don't know any better but I have no concern for those who know it is wrong but choose to do it anyway. I wash my hands of them and pray for the best.
A Plea to Your Sense of Fairness...
I certainly appreciate this young lady very much for sharing her ordeal with us. She's clearly a decent person who got caught up in an activity that seemed innocuous enough at the time, but turned out to be very serious business.
I can't stress this enough, so please try to understand:
Professional plastic canvas craft designers work very hard to get their original patterns published.
It may take dozens of hours to create a single pattern. And as general rule of thumb, for every 10 or even 20 patterns a designer creates, perhaps only one gets chosen for publication by a major plastic canvas crafts publisher.
So every pattern you see for sale through the major plastic canvas crafts publishers like Annie's Attic or the Needlecraft Shop, Mary Maxim, Herrschners or Leisure Arts represents the fruit of literally hundreds of hours of work by a designer.
That's what it takes to make these patterns available to you relatively inexpensively through the major plastic canvas crafts publishers.
Generally, a designer is compensated for their hard work by being given a small upfront payment, and then a much smaller percentage of every sale of their pattern.
A pattern costing, for example, $4.95, might net the designer of that pattern .30 or .40 cents on each sale. So you can see that many hundreds of these patterns must be sold in order for the designer to make any real money at it.
When you copy and "share" a pattern you didn't create yourself by posting it on an internet forum, you're in all reality stealing from the designer who created it, as well as from the publisher who has purchased the rights to distribute it (i.e., purchased the copyright).
You're stealing their rights to the product they own.
You're acting as if you're the owner of the rights to distribute that product, when in reality none of your labor or talent or creativity was involved in the creation or publication of the pattern.
To simplify it so that anyone can understand it:
To "share" a pattern legally, it has to be yours to share. That is, you must be the original creator of that pattern, or have purchased the copyright to it, which gives you the right to do with it as you please.
If you're not the original creator of the pattern, and you have not purchased the rights to distribute the pattern from the owner, then it's not yours to share.
It's this simple: When you're wondering whether or not it's okay to "share" a pattern, ask yourself the following question, "Did I create this pattern out of my own imagination?"
If the answer is yes, then you own the rights to distribute it any way you want. But if the answer is no, then you have no business copying and distributing the pattern. Period.
Indeed, doing so could land you in some very hot legal water, and cost you a lot of money in the end, as it did the young lady featured in the interview above.
Closed and Secret Plastic Canvas Groups on Facebook
In closing, let me briefly address the issue of so-called "Closed" and "Secret" groups on Facebook and other internet forums, as well as the plastic canvas crafters who have formed these groups for the specific purpose of "sharing" (i.e., stealing) copyrighted patterns.
It is clear from your own comments on those groups that you think you can't be touched because you're hiding behind a wall of secrecy.
Well, guess what?
Don't be too sure...
Don't be too sure...
Don't be too sure...
For months every single word you've posted about "sharing" copyrighted patterns has been recorded, along with your names and other pertinent information.
Screen shots of your posts and comments have been taken, and filed for legal review.
And to the best of my understanding of the law, your very words - particularly those bragging about stealing and "sharing" copyrighted patterns -- make your actions "willful" under Title 17 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
According to my copyright attorney, this "willful" behavior may enable the court to justify maximum financial damages against you, and to award attorney's fees as additional damages against you.
That means the designers you've been ripping off ultimately won't have to pay one red cent to sue you. You'll pay your attorney costs, plus their attorney costs, plus whatever the court decides to fine you for all of the counts of online piracy and copyright infringement filed against you.
You can count on the fact that the damages awarded by the court will far exceed the relative pittances you and your friends have "saved" by illegally "sharing" the copyrighted works of others.
Remember the young lady's case above: All she did was download copyrighted patterns. She didn't even post any patterns. But she was caught, and sued for a sum she describes as "astronomical." It was more than the cost of her own house.
She also said she "begged and pleaded with them to reconsider." But they wouldn't.
She even explained she would "never do it again." But it was to no avail.
They wouldn't drop the lawsuit against her, and she finally had to settle, and pay the price. (Not to mention the emotional costs to her marriage and family life, and to her own personal life.)
The Time Is Coming...
This message is to those who have openly advocated violating the copyrights of plastic canvas crafts designers, and who have formed and/or joined "closed" and "secret" groups on Facebook, or who "share" copyrighted patterns on other internet forums:
There comes a time when the plastic canvas crafts designers have had enough.
And when that time is reached, there won't be any compromise. No matter how many crocodile tears you shed...no matter how many promises you make...no matter how many "poor me baby" sob stories you tell...
...the fact of the matter is that you've already had numerous chances and an untold number of warnings to quit stealing and "sharing" the copyrighted works of others, and you've arrogantly refused to do so.
Some of you have even bragged "Come and get me!" as you've continued to share patterns, and bad-mouth the designers online.
Yes, we have the screen shots of your online comments...the foul language used against designers ...the name-calling...the taunts and curses...the false accusations and character assassinations...and your calls to continue violating the copyrights of designers.
We even have the posts in which you've targeted specific designers and urged other plastic canvas crafters to help share their patterns.
But more importantly, folks, every word you've ever posted...every pattern you've ever illegally posted or downloaded...every boast you've ever made about "sharing" patterns...is retrievable through a simple subpoena to Facebook.
They have the entire string of evidence showing every move you've made. And frankly, enough evidence has already been gathered against many of you to make that subpoena pretty much a sure thing.
There won't be any bargaining or negotiating. The evidence will be presented - some of it your own words straight from comments you've made on the little "secret" and "closed" groups you belong to.
And the legal process will commence. And believe me at that point your life will never be the same again.
Just a word to the wise.
You may have noticed that Facebook has been cracking down a lot lately on people posting copyrighted patterns. Why do you think that's happening?
Some of you have even arrogantly challenged the "take down" notices Facebook has sent you, and filed counter-claims. I hope you realize that when you file a counter-claim, you are swearing under penalty of perjury that you actually own the copyrights to the patterns you've illegally posted.
Rest assured, when a judge sees that kind of arrogance, he's going to throw the book at you. There will be no bargaining and negotiating. I hope you enjoy paying my lawyer's fees of $450 an hour, plus your own lawyer's fees, plus other court costs, plus the fines for each act of copyright infringement.
A lot of you may have also noticed that online groups and forums that routinely allow pattern "sharing" have been disappearing lately. They're rumored to have been busted, and forced to shut down completely.
Wise up, folks. The hammer is getting ready to drop on some of you. I don't believe anyone likes to be sued and taken to court for criminal charges. It will indeed turn your life inside out like nothing else.
Think about it. And do what's right while you still have a small window of opportunity.
I strongly suggest you remove all the designers' patterns from your various Facebook groups and other online sites and forums, and keep them off. If you're smart, you'll shut down your "secret" and "closed" groups that have been erected for the specific purpose of "sharing" the copyrighted works of others.
Designers are simply no longer willing to put up with the theft of their copyrighted work. They're ready to fight back. Question is: Are you up for the fight?
Catch a clue. Once it starts, it isn't going to be pretty. Take wise action while you still can. Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.