Saturday, May 31, 2014

Copytatting - a Soapbox Post

First off, please read the whole thing. Second, do not quote from this out of context. OK?

"Copytatting" is a newly coined word for working tatting from a photo or finished piece without the pattern.  This is a valuable skill.  If you can do this, you have developed an understanding of how tatting is constructed.   This skill is sometimes invaluable for figuring out patterns with poorly written directions, or for adapting patterns to make them easier to work by employing new techniques.  For many, this is a step in learning how to design. But just because you have developed this skill does not mean you should always use it.  A locksmith may know how to open various locks without keys, but shouldn't be doing it in the wrong situation. Just as locksmithing should not be used for burglary, copytatting morally should not be used for copyright infringement.

When is copytatting NOT OK?

  • If there is a published pattern that you do not have a copy of.  Some people say it is OK to copytat for your own personal use, but this is rather like reading a magazine at the newsstand instead of buying a copy.  Even if you are not getting income from your tatting, you are depriving the author of the income of a sale.

  • If there is a picture available, but no pattern, and you have not received permission.  The original tatter who has published/posted a picture, but does not have a pattern available, may wish to produce and sell the pattern at a later date.  They may want to be the only one selling items made from their designs, so making your own deprives them of a sale.  They may wish to make or sell one-of-a-kind pieces, and unauthorized knockoffs could lessen the value of their work. 
  • You really, really want to work a pattern, but you can't afford to buy it.  I actually see this rationalization online.  Oh, come on.  If you wanted something in a store and you couldn't afford it, would you just take it? Well, some people would, but it's not right.  If you can't afford to buy patterns, that's too bad, but it's not a good excuse.  There are more free patterns and public domain patterns posted online than a person could work in a lifetime, so go find some of those.  Also, tatters tend to be very generous people. If you make friends, sometimes they will give you gifts you can't afford yourself.  
  • You can't find a copy of the pattern book. Just keep trying.  Between ebay and used book sellers, you may get a copy later.  Meanwhile, tat something else.

When  is copytatting OK?

  • If there is a piece of vintage tatting, and a thorough search has been made and failed to discover any evidence the pattern was ever published. Example, Georgia's Mystery Doily.
  • If there is no published pattern, and the designer is deceased, and the heir has given permission.  Example, Lucy Consistre's Rose Doily on Georgia's site.
  • I once copytatted Elgiva Nichol's Rococo Heart, with the rationalization that there was no published pattern, and as the designer was deceased, she would not be losing any revenue.  I did not ask anyone's permission.  Was this acceptable? I don't know. This is a very grey area.  Would I do it today? Probably not.
I admit that in my younger (pre- and very early internet) days I did copytatting without thinking much about it.  Tatting patterns were rare in those days, and I didn't know how to find books that weren't on the shelf at the bookstore.  I was ignorant about the concept of copyright. I don't do it anymore.  Nowadays, if you are online to read this, you have the ability to search and locate legitimate sources of patterns for purchase, and the ability to find countless free patterns.  I didn't know any better then, but I do now.  And if you have read this, or Jane's recent posts, so do you. 


  1. So well said and explained in a very understandable way. I agree with all you say and have so enjoyed working your patterns and of course my sisters and people should not 'copy tat' or steal patterns without permission unless they are freely given. Designing takes so much time and it is skill that needs to be acknowledged and certainly not copied. Pleased you got on your soapbox!

  2. Hello Martha, I have read your blog and Jane's. I am not a designer but I do agree with what you have said and try not to infringe copyright. But I think there are a lot of "grey areas" and everyone will set their own limits. I am not quite sure about your point of when a book cannot be found. I would always try to buy a book, but is copy tatting very different from borrowing a book from a friend and I think we all do that from time to time.

  3. Yes, there are many grey areas here. I think borrowing and using a book is fine since you are using a "legal" copy instead of making copies or creating your own out of thin air.

  4. I agree with you, Martha. You've stated it very well.

  5. Thank you Martha for stating it so clearly.

  6. I like your locksmith analogy-- just because you're capable of doing something doesn't mean you always should.

    I have to admit, I also copytatted Elgiva Nicholls' Rococo Heart once. I was a fairly new tatter at the time, and my situation was fairly similar to yours-- not much tatting stuff on the internet yet, and very few books in the stores, so I was hurting for patterns. As you say, Mrs. Nicholls was not injured by this particular infringement. And I learned a lot about tatting by doing it, so I like to think that would have pleased her. Still, I wouldn't do it again today. I now understand that if she didn't publish the pattern, it was because she wanted her piece to be unique. Sales issues aside, the bottom line is that artists deserve creative control over their work.

  7. A brilliant piece of writing, I totally agree with you.

  8. Thank you Martha for putting the issues so clearly.

  9. Thank you, very well written. I like your example of the locksmith, I felt like that when I enjoyed the yes-u-can doily! I wish to creative tatters they won't be discouraged, there's more in their heart to blossom than what could be stolen by poor minds.

  10. Nice explanation. It's one most of us should be able to understand and comply with. Thank you!

  11. Well said, Martha. There are so many free, or common use patterns available that people should be able to find lots of things to tat. I sometimes use other people's pictures for inspiration -- like a particular element in a doily that I really like, but I don't copy the whole piece. Maybe that's a bit gray, as well. Designing is difficult and frustrating, and making patterns of stuff once it's designed is worse! Kudos to the designers -- they deserve respect personally and in their copyrights.

  12. Well said, Martha. Thank you.

    When another's work has been my inspiration, I share that with any pictures of my work, giving details about the author/book or the webpage where the original design is located.