Why it's not OK to share patterns - even free ones

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One of the most common misconceptions that I come up against in my daily online chat is the enduring myth that it is OK to share patterns as long as they are free. Most people understand and accept the copyright issues around paid patterns but for free ones it seems that it is still very much fair game.

As a designer who makes a significant chunk of her income from online pattern sales I do still make a few of my patterns available for free and I choose to do this for a number of reasons.

I have a baby cardigan pattern which I use for class teachings - the Fuss Free Baby cardigan - and I also make it available free via my Ravelry store. On there I ask that if people use and enjoy the pattern that they consider making a donation to Bliss (a UK charity for newborn and premature babies) which is a subject very dear to my heart.

For every copy of this pattern that is given to a friend, or photocopied or shared (or photocopied and sold on Ebay - yes, that really does happen), that is a lost opportunity for a hard working charity to receive a donation.

Sometimes I will make a pattern available free for a limited time in order to achieve a specific marketing goal. Apologies if that sounds cold and calculating but at the end of the day we designers are trying to earn some form of living from this. As an example the Fuss Free Festival Shawls was available as a free download for a time in order to encourage people to sign up to my newsletter. I was very clear that this was for a limited time and that after the promotion had ended it would revert back to being a paid pattern.

Once the shawl was for sale though I still had a bit of battle with folks who thought it was fine to email copies of it to their friends on the grounds that they “got it for free and so it was only fair to give it to others”.

Sometimes a pattern is free, just because I want to offer it for free. But I would still like people to download it from Ravelry, favourite it, talk about it and generally help to spread the work to other people who haven't come across my designs yet. All of these things help to boost a designers visibility online and can really help to make a difference to the success or not of future pattern sales. A photocopied sheet or emailed screenshot really doesn’t achieve the same results and in the crowded online space of pattern sales all those little bits of exposure really do add up.

Nothing boosts a designers profile more than lots of happy knitters chatting online or in person about your latest fun pattern.

And to those knitters who already do go above and beyond to support and promote the work of indie designers - a heartfelt and very woolly thank you. Your enthusiasm makes everything we do worthwhile.

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