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[freehaven-dev] (FWD) Needlepoint Outlaws
Wow. I would have been proud to have written this for the Onion,
given all the napster hoopla these days.
And apparently it's for real.
This is the sort of thing that Freenet would help a lot (not quite
dangerous enough to merit what we're working toward for Free Haven,
I should hope).
Pattern publishers say many needlepoint fans, Napster-like, are cheating
them by swapping designs on the Internet for free. But members of the sewing
set say it's just friendly sharing.
By P.J. HUFFSTUTTER, Times Staff Writer
If the $40-billion global music business thought it had problems with the
emergence of a revolutionary Internet tool called Napster, consider the
now-terrified needlepoint industry.
For years, grandmotherly hobbyists, hungry for doily-and-swan patterns, have
forked over $6 and $7 for them. Without a peep of complaint, they have
provided a steady stream of revenue to pattern publishers such as Cross My
Heart and Pegasus Originals.
In a good year, Pegasus can pull in about $500,000 from selling the
copyrighted patterns to its aging customers.
No more. Taking a cue from music-bootlegging teenagers, sewing enthusiasts
have discovered that they too can steal copyrighted material over the
Internet, thanks to anonymous file-sharing techniques. "I'm only sharing
[the patterns] with my friends, and their friends," said Carla Conry, a
mother of six who runs PatternPiggiesUnite!, a 350-person underground Net
community of stitchers who swap the patterns. "Why shouldn't friends help
each other out and save a little bit of money?"
What is neighborly fun for Conry is outright theft to needlepoint companies
and the artists who create the patterns. Sales at the South Carolina design
shop Pegasus have dropped as much as $200,000 a year--or 40%--since 1997, in
part because of such swapping, said founder Jim Hedgepath. He and a handful
of companies and pattern designers are gathering evidence to wage a legal
battle against the homemakers.
"They're housewives and they're hackers," Hedgepath said. "I don't care if
they have kids. I don't care that they are grandmothers. They're bootlegging
us out of business."
Like the record industry, the sewing world has been unable to come up with
any practical alternative to innovative file-swapping communities that
Some of the same entertainment conglomerates whose music divisions are
fighting Napster--such as Time Warner--are also feeling the pinch from the
pattern-swapping. Legal experts are just starting to wrestle with the
implications of new technologies that will permit the instant distribution
of information. Business people are trembling at the prospect that
file-swapping won't stop at music, videos and needlepoint. There are already
rumblings that it has spread to knitting and crocheting.
"Where will it end?" wailed Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum, 54, who designs
needlepoint patterns. "I just don't understand how these [people] can stitch
a stolen angel and still live with themselves."
The little-known debate highlights the legal clash over copyrights in
cyberspace, where many consumers now believe that all information--whether
it's architectural designs or an Aerosmith record--should be freely shared.
If you can digitize it, you can steal it. And chances are someone has.
"People don't see it as stealing," said Jonathan Gaw, an e-commerce analyst
who tracks Internet trends for the research firm IDC. "Things will only
change when publishers of all kinds make it easier to buy and pay for it
online than to get it for free somewhere else."
What's remarkable about the stitching debate is how a group of computer
novices used basic technological tools to reproduce an anonymous
file-sharing system that, like Napster, draws its strength from a community
that shares a singular passion.
Easy to Use, Easy to Copy
It all started about a year ago, when a group of ladies--who also happened
to have PCs and digital scanners--decided to exchange needlepoint designs.
The paper patterns, each essentially a large grid filled with thousands of
tiny squares, are the how-to instructions for a needlepoint practitioner.
Like a paint-by-numbers canvas, the needlepoint pattern tells you what to
do: Each square carries an instruction for what color thread to use and what
type of stitch to sew.
Easy to use, the designs also are simple to copy. For years, fans
photocopied the patterns and sent them to each other. Not by the dozens,
mind you. Just one or two, tucked inside "with a recipe and a note," said
Carlene Davis, a 52-year-old grandmother who lives in southwest Idaho. "Just
After all, needlepoint designs are hard to come by, especially for women
like Davis who live in rural areas. A trip to the nearest hobby shop can
mean a three-hour drive. "There aren't very many stores that carry
needlepoint patterns anymore," Davis said. "What they have is usually tacky.
Who wants to [cross-stitch] a woman with a pineapple on her head and then
frame it? I don't want that hanging on my walls."
To find alternatives, Davis went online and scoured various Internet message
boards devoted to arts and crafts. She stumbled onto one board, called
rec.crafts.textiles.needlework, and discovered hundreds of other frustrated
stitchers. Here was ground zero of a vast network of needlepoint designers
and, much to their chagrin, pirates hungry for freebies. Messages directed
board readers to Web sites and computer servers filled with hundreds of
pattern books--all saved in an electronic format.
Digitizing a pattern is as simple as making a photocopy. Hobbyists take the
paper design and, using a computer scanner, make a digital version of the
original. Then, as with an MP3 file, a person can download the electronic
pattern to her PC from the Net. Hit the print button and out comes a
needlepoint design that's as perfect as any found in a craft book.
"There have been entire instructions for a crochet afghan posted on the Net.
They didn't even bother to type up the information. They just took the pages
straight out [of a book] and scanned them," said Sandra Case, executive
director of publications for Leisure Arts, one of the hobby industry's
largest publishers. The parent company of Leisure Arts, which is based in
Little Rock, Ark., is owned by Time Warner. "It's outrageous," she said.
Indeed, there are scores of easy-to-find pattern treasure troves, thanks to
pointers from the Internet message board. Many posts list links to Web sites
that hobbyists have built using free homepage services like Xoom Inc. On one
Xoom page, several dozen patterns featuring Disney characters can be had for
a very low price. "Each time you want to download a pattern, please click
the banner once!" the poster wrote. "I am sorry having to force you to click
it, but it seems that a lot of people just get the patterns, not thinking
about the running costs of this site." But after clicking on the ads, the
site failed to produce the promised patterns. Angry octogenarians railed
against the site's owner in rec.crafts.textiles.needlework, clucking over
the deception. The nerve of that stitcher!
"This is exactly the reason why I started PatternPiggies," Conry said. "You
don't know who you can trust." PatternPiggies is a digital clubhouse on
eGroups, a free Web-based service that lets people create e-mail groups and
electronic bulletin boards for sharing digital files. Conry launched the
group late last year, and quickly attracted hundreds of women who jumped at
the chance to download dozens of bootlegged patterns for free.
Needlepoint designers learned about such file-sharing clubs and began
posting pleas to online newsgroups for people to stop the practice. The
patterns were copyrighted works, the designers noted. When a stitcher buys a
pattern, she's buying the right to use it--not to allow several hundred
other people to use it for free.
Vicious debates over pattern-sharing exploded on the Net, and continue to
rage. Interestingly, the hobbyists who swap patterns take the same ethical
stance as music-loving teenagers who have used programs like Napster to
exchange copyrighted tunes.
"I'm promoting the designers," said Shawna Dooley, a 25-year-old housewife
from Alberta, Canada. "We're just sampling the patterns. If you like one
pattern, you're going to be more likely to go out and buy a pattern by that
artist next time. . . . I really think this whole debate has gotten totally
blown out of proportion."
Besides, paying $6 for an entire pattern book is outrageous, said Carole
Nutter, particularly if a person wants just one or two of the dozen designs
listed. Especially if a stitcher, like Nutter, is so strapped that she had
to sell some of her precious books on EBay last Christmas to pay for gifts.
"It's like the CD. There's one song you want, but you still have to buy the
whole thing," said Nutter, 54, who lives in Bellgrave, Mont., a town of
3,000. "Why can't [the industry] let us pay for what we want, not what they
want to sell us?"
The needlepoint industry, however, has refused to take the situation lying
down. Shop owners fear that the practice will put designers--who can make
as little as 10 cents per pattern sold--out of business. Some needlepoint
designers make a healthy salary off their art: Leavitt-Imblum said she has
grossed $8 million in sales over the past 14 years. But most designers must
have a second job to make a living.
"Without the designers, we can close our doors," said Sharon Wainwright,
president of the International Needleart Retailers Guild, a leading trade
association. "Everything in our industry, from thread to needle to fabric
sales, hinges on the designers. We need to deal with this in order to
maintain the health and integrity of our industry."
As in the music world, some publishers and artists are gathering evidence to
fire back with legal action. Attorneys at Time Warner's Southern Progress
Corp., the parent company of Leisure Arts, have sent cease-and-desist
letters to Internet service providers that host Web sites laden with pirated
designs. Hedgepath, of Pegasus Originals, is organizing artists and pushing
them to build a legal fund to go after the pattern-swappers. And designer
Leavitt-Imblum has ordered her attorney to start collecting evidence so she
can sue those who exchange copies of her patterns, people whom she describes
as the "scourge of all that is decent and right."
While her attorney acknowledges that his client's rights are being violated,
he has tried to cool her enthusiasm for taking the pattern-swappers to
court. "There is so much of this stuff happening, I could keep five people
busy at my firm devoted just to this," said John Carpenter, an
intellectual-property attorney with Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson in
Portland, Maine. "I told her that it's not a cost-effective way for a small
business to work."
Suing Grandmothers Just Isn't Practical
Indeed, outside this cottage business, the public outcry over bootlegging
Leavitt-Imblum's World Peace Angel has been nonexistent. After all, suing a
needle-happy homemaker makes even less sense than filing a lawsuit against a
teenager exchanging copies of the latest Metallica record with millions of
Internet users, lawyers say.
"This is a homey industry," said Sabrina Simon, corporate counsel for
Southern Progress Corp. "What kind of [damages] could we possibly get from a
grandmother?" For now, the cross-stitch war must be waged on the
grass-roots level. In hopes of gathering evidence and quashing the problem,
publishers and designers say they are mobilizing small groups of spies to
infiltrate the pattern-swapping clubs and nail the ringleaders.
Designers say they have recruited friends and fans, sometimes offering free
patterns in exchange for their snooping. Fellow artists like Linn Skinner of
Hollywood, a 57-year-old needlepoint designer, spies on the clubs "for the
greater good. I have friends who have been hit badly by this."
So, how many spies are there? "I can't tell you," said Leavitt-Imblum. "Do
you know what would happen to these women if I told you their names?" At
worst, these cyberspace Mata Haris are exiled from the cross-stitch
underground. That happened on PatternPiggies, which recently renamed the
group OinkersDelight and yanked its listing off eGroups' search engine. To
find the club, you have to know someone who knows someone, and can vouch for
your worthiness. Getting in now requires a password and a pledge of faith:
New subscribers are encouraged to post at least one cross-stitch pattern to
The club has two important rules, according to its home page. First off,
have fun. "The second thing is there will be NO TALK OF COPYRIGHT,"
according to the posted rules. "We are a share group. [W]e are not selling
anything." As the clash continues, people on both sides of the pattern
debate say they are closely watching the Napster case unfold in San
Francisco. Their future, they say, is ultimately tied to the fate of a
technology start-up that has wrestled control over distribution from major
"I started watching the case because I have a 13-year-old who got an MP3
player for his birthday," said Simon. "Now, I'm watching it for the
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