I am often asked “Why don’t you sell your knitting?” There are many factors that complicate the sale of hand-knitted items, but my biggest obstacle to date has been copyright. At the bottom of most knitting patterns there is a copyright notice. The language of these notices range from the generic “for non-commercial use only, all rights reserved” to the more specific inclusion of “this pattern may not be used to produce items for commercial purposes.” There has been much debate in the knitting community about copyright, namely surrounding the selling of items made from patterns. It’s hard to misunderstand the intentions of the patterns that specifically forbid the practice in their copyright notice, but for the more generic notices it can be argued that the copyright only applies to the sale of the pattern. Some even argue that patterns which explicitly prohibit selling items don’t have any legal standing to do so.
Let me be clear, I really, really do not want to get into yet another copyright debate here. I don’t know whether or not I could actually be sued for selling things knitted from a pattern that I did not design myself. What I do know is that the legality of it is questionable at best. What’s even more important to know is that the practice is generally not accepted in the knitting community. Sure, you might be able to get away with it, but if you do and word gets out, people will not like you. Publishers will not like you. Editors will not like you. Designers will NOT like you. If you want to succeed in this business you NEED people to like you.
When I was a brand new knitter I did not understand these concepts. I saw the copyright notices, but I couldn’t quite comprehend their meaning. Back then I don’t think I ever came across the more specific language prohibiting the sale of items, so I was left to guess at the scope intended with the more generic copyright language. I had some vague idea that selling things that I did not design might be slightly illegal, but at the time I thought it shouldn’t be illegal. The patterns I was used to seeing were very simple and typically offered for free. How could anyone have the gall to prevent me from selling a garter stitch poncho made under the direction of a free pattern? I also don’t think I had a concept of “designers” back then – also due to the simple and free patterns I had access to, I’m sure. There wasn’t much personality to be seen in a stockinette capelet, so I think I assumed most patterns were not the work of a single designer’s artistic vision, but were the product of faceless yarn “corporations” just looking to sell you more yarn. Maybe that is how some of those early patterns were designed, I don’t know. It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Vogue Knitting that I started to see individual voices in the knitting designs. When the first copy of Twist Collective came out I finally got it. Those knitting patterns are designed by people. Selling things made from their designs wouldn’t be “sticking it to the man” it would be hurting people. From then on I resolved to never even consider selling something I did not design myself.
Enter Carina Spencer. One day I was poking around on her site, downloading a free copy of Regina and looking at all of her other beautiful patterns (including Catkin, pictured above), when I noticed the words “Licensing Info” in the sidebar. Intrigued, I clicked on it, and within seconds my mind was blown. For a fee she will allow knitters to sell items made from her patterns! She gets paid for her designs, the knitter gets paid for their work, non-knitters get access to quality knitting, no one gets sued, and everyone is happy! THIS IS GENIUS!!
Carina Spencer is clearly a fantastically creative person, but somehow I doubt she is the first designer to come up with this idea. There are probably other designers who offer licenses to knitters, I just haven’t found them yet. I wonder how many designers are even aware of this option? While the practice of selling items made from others’ designs is generally unaccepted, some designers are fine with it as long as you ask them for permission first. I just thought it was a bit tacky to email a designer and ask to use their creative vision so I could turn a profit without offering them anything in return. Maybe that tackiness could be reduced by offering to negotiate a licensing agreement of a sort.
Now when someone asks me, “Why don’t you sell your knitting?” I can tell them, “Maybe I will, but I need to get licensed first.”