Ruminations on the other “C” word…

Copyright.  You know that little C in a circle that appears on just about everything and protects creative work from being copied or reproduced?  I wrote an article for the May/June 2003 issue of Handwoven Magazine titled “More on Ethics in Handweaving” on just this subject.  Seven years later, I think we have made great strides in teaching those in the fiber community that you can’t just xerox a project in a magazine and pass it around to all your friends.  And ethically you can’t make a bunch of that same project and sell it at your local guild sale.  That would be sort of unethical.  We have come a long way, but the discussion doesn’t end there.

One of the great things for a teacher is attending conferences, and spending quality time with other teachers.  All jobs have their good points, and their bad points, but being able to commiserate with others in the same boat is very reassuring, and often the collective mind can problem solve and head off potential directions that may hurt us all down the road.  It was during the conference last weekend that I spent some time talking with other teachers, and saw a trend that makes all of us uncomfortable.

First, let me backtrack a couple of years, to a now infamous conference that occurred in Denver sponsored by the HGA, I believe it was 2004.  Previously, conference attendees would happily photograph all of the items in the exhibits, along with instructors work and samples during seminars, and would take the photos home and show them to their fellow guild members or keep them for a remembrance, much like vacation photos.  They usually were very mediocre quality photos, poor lighting, less than adequate display especially for garments, but we all did it, and probably after the first viewing, put them away in a drawer somewhere, and forgot about them.  Fast forward just a couple of years.  After the Vancouver Convergence held two years before the Denver conference, someone took those photos of all the exhibits and posted them across the internet, so all the world could see what others paid a lot of money to view.  And the artists whose work was photographed and posted across the internet, never gave their permission, actually never saw or had any control over the images that were taken, often a poor reflection of their actual work.  I know I encourage people to go to my website and look at and share any of the photos of my work that I post, but the photos are professionally shot, and represent the work as I want it represented.

Anyway, in Denver, at Convergence 2004, a new policy was instituted which caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth; the HGA banned all cameras and photographing of any of the work in any of the exhibits.  The furor of that policy is still being felt today.  Instead, Convergence now provides every conference attendee a CD, at the time of registration, that has all of the works in the exhibits, using the photographs submitted by the artists themselves, and containing the artists’ names and other important information.  OK, so that special little detail that you wanted to remember isn’t shown on that slide, that’s what a sketch book is for, but the overall exhibit and the pieces in them are there on one disk for you to remember.

At the conference last weekend, there were a couple of issues that came up, and I wanted to talk a little bit about them, feel free to comment as the spirit moves, but this whole area is still a sensitive one, and there are plenty of opinions floating around.  First, I overheard many of the organizers tell attendees who inquired (thank you for asking) that photos were allowed in the exhibit areas.  Furthermore, it was explained that every person who entered signed a waiver that allowed the taking of photographs of their piece.  I was actually a bit surprised by that, usually when I sign that waiver, I am under the impression it is for the event to photograph for publicity for the event and not for the general public to have a field day with their cameras.  Obviously I was quite mistaken.  But no matter.  My work is posted on the internet, for everyone to see, and though I would prefer the work be posted in the most professional way, using the images I’ve made available, most who enter the exhibits don’t have professional slides and the images taken at the show are sometimes their only recording of the actual work.

This is largely why I don’t have photos on my post conference blog post from the fashion show this past weekend, I never felt it was right to actually photograph the fashion show, or others work, and post it on my site without the permission of each of the artists, and frankly there wasn’t time to track anyone down.  I was too busy teaching.  I’m hoping CNCH posts the photos, and I’ll provide a link, but I didn’t feel right about doing that on my own.  I’m always careful to ask permission of class attendees, students, peers, other instructors, anyone who appears in my blog in photographic form, I get permission.  Occasionally someone asks that I don’t post a photo, and I respect that.  It is their right.

There is another more troubling trend I am starting to see, which a number of faculty members noticed that has us all a bit worried.  Video taping seminars.  More than one of us noticed that as we were teaching, there were small video cameras or cell phones pointing at us and we realized too late, that our seminars were being recorded.  I’m going to assume that because the equipment is so available, just point a cell phone and press start, that no one actually thinks about the long term ramifications of these actions.  I’m also going to assume, at least I hope this is the case, that those who are recording the seminars, are just trying to remember everything that was said, fine points the teacher made that weren’t in the handout, and that that recording will eventually go by the wayside and never be looked at again.  Trouble is, those recordings will now be downloaded to a computer, and will be available for viewing by anyone anywhere for the rest of all time.  I have no control over the content, how I looked, how I sounded, what I said, and what the total context was.  Those videos could be posted to YouTube, they could be shown in a guild meeting, they could be transcribed and information could be printed in a handout, they could be duplicated and passed around, they could be duplicated and sold.  I know the handweaving community is largely not out there to make money off a teacher’s seminars, but that’s not really the point.

First, understand that as a teacher, this is how I make my living.  I spend months working on a lecture or seminar, and more months polishing it and fine tuning it.  I get paid nothing for this effort.  Once a seminar/lecture/workshop is ready for prime time, so to speak, it is then presented, and as teachers we are paid a modest stipend to present it, certainly not adequate to reimburse the months and months, thousands of hours we have put into the seminar to make it happen.  So for me, I don’t earn a cent unless I get on a plane.  I know a number of conference attendees who have received scholarships from their guilds, so they could attend the conference, with the stipulation that the attendee/scholarship recipient come back to the guild and present a program on what they learned at the conference.  I’ve had a number of these attendees call and ask if they can copy my handout.  It depends on the situation, and I appreciate the call, but the answer is usually no, since I spent months developing it, and then get no further monetary reward for all that work.  And, once a guild has passed around the handout, seen the photos of all the samples, and listened to the video of my seminar, where is the incentive to actually hire me to come out and teach.  This is no different than making twenty copies of the latest sock pattern in Knits magazine, and passing them all around the knitters’ guild.  This is all about protecting those of us who spend our lives providing projects, creating inspiration, and pushing the envelope of what we do all the while trying to eek out a living.  It is about having control of your work, and what happens to it, and videotaping lectures and seminars, even if it is for you to remember techniques, falls into this category.  I will eventually make a video, and then sell it, and I have already invested in the equipment, but it will take time, professional editing, and I will have watched it numerous times looking for mistakes, information that isn’t clear, and I’ll make sure I have a manicure and pedicure before we start shooting!  🙂

I suppose I could just announce before I start each seminar, the same string of words we hear every time we go to a live performance or theatre production.  This isn’t any different.  “The use of  video recording devices  during this performance is strictly prohibited.”  That said, when asked if a student can take photos of my garments during a class, I am usually fine with that, and appreciate the courtesy of asking permission first.  I also let them know, that all of the work is professionally photographed and available on my website.  It is with the assumption that any images they are taking would be for their own use.  A good rule of thumb is to ask first.  Always ask first.  And if the answer is no, don’t hold it against the teacher, and don’t take it personally.  I’d love to have feedback here, what do you think about this whole issue, and hopefully there won’t be any Fatal Error messages.  I’ve gotten two while writing this post, which means all the tweaking we have done in WordPress in the last 24 hours still hasn’t worked.  🙁

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Peg in South Carolina
April 15, 2010 7:33 pm

After I submitted the message, the comment form appeared……………..sigh………………

Restless Knitter
Restless Knitter
April 15, 2010 8:47 pm

I was in one of the classes where this type of thing happened. I can see both sides here. On one hand, if she (the instructor) had included the photos in her handout that she showed on the slide, that person may not have been inclined to try to record. On the other, her handout was only two dollars and this is what she does for a living. Honestly, I was tempted to take a photo or two myself. When I go back through that handout in a month or two, will I remember what that particular thing looked like?… Read more »

Restless Knitter
Restless Knitter
April 15, 2010 9:24 pm

I hope I didn’t give the wrong impression. I agree that people need to stop and think about all that you’ve written here. Heck, it was a good reminder for me. I didn’t think to actually ask permission to take a photo, I just didn’t take one because it didn’t seem right. I did take pictures during the fashion show and of some of the things being judged but have no plans to publish them anywhere. In the future, I will think to ask. I haven’t gotten the fatal error message at all. I’m using the latest version of Firefox… Read more »

Restless Knitter
Restless Knitter
April 15, 2010 9:26 pm

I hope I didn’t give the wrong impression. I agree that people need to stop and think about all that you’ve written here. Heck, it was a good reminder for me. I didn’t think to actually ask permission to take a photo, I just didn’t take one because it didn’t seem right. I did take pictures during the fashion show and of some of the things being judged but have no plans to publish them anywhere. In the future, I will think to ask.

April 16, 2010 3:32 am

This is an issue that is cropping up everywhere and there are no easy answers. The department where I am a doctoral student organises lots of research seminars with external speakers, and these speakers are always asked if it would be OK to video their presentation. The videos are uploaded to a password-protected area of the dept’s website so that part-time or distance-learning students also have the opportunity to “attend”. Even with this very specific audience in mind, some speakers do not want to be recorded because they don’t want their material pinned down in a format which is not… Read more »

April 16, 2010 8:08 am

Daryl, I couldn’t agree more. I am in a different professional field, but after we spent months and months developing a parenting curriculum, only to have former students graduate and the next year pop up “selling their new curriculum” I was burned up! There is a lot of hidden work in all that you do, and people need to respect that. I felt “small” asking students to sign a promise that they would not resell or copy my work. Why did I feel guilty about protecting myself??!? Its even worse nowadays with YouTube and all the blogs out there. You… Read more »

Karen Gwilym
Karen Gwilym
April 16, 2010 12:55 pm

Thank you Daryl, You have really helped a fairly new weaver really understand and have better words to tell someone no you can not copy my pattern you can buy the pattern at such and such.

April 16, 2010 3:30 pm

Thanks Daryl for your very thoughtful post on this subject; however, I don’t think anything will ever stop people from “stealing” our work. I was shocked to walk into a booth at a local craft and art show to see a sashiko wall hanging that was identical in every respect to a sample for a class I taught. Sure enough, the “artist” had been in one of my workshops. I’ve even had professional craftspersons take my designs or ideas and with very little tweaking, pass them off as their own. It’s frustrating but I don’t think there is anything that… Read more »

An Old Weaver
An Old Weaver
April 17, 2010 1:20 pm

Talk about a tough and volatile subject. Unfortunately as someone who attends classes, this subject is very real. The teachers that provide substantive notes including pictures for the class provide a real learning experience. The teachers that don’t provide substantive notes or pictures have taught? Unfortunately the pictures in a visual medium help explain, much as a chemical formula, or a mathematical equation explains. A math book without equations teaches? I don’t think it is the medium, photos or video, it is the trend at issue. I’ve noticed that people procur other peoples work in many different mediums, laying claim… Read more »

Gail Gondek
April 17, 2010 3:56 pm

Hi Daryl! After preparing my first talk EVER for a conference last October, I confirm your statements about the lengthy preparation and practice required to create a presentation. I agree with Leilani that the overwhelming majority of people wish to protect the work of our instructors and artists. With permission, I take many photos at workshops and at Complex Weavers, and i love looking at them later as treasured souvenirs of my learning experiences. Taking photos and tape recording a lecture frees me to pay close attention to a presentation and not have my attention divided between the presenter and… Read more »

April 18, 2010 4:07 am

I’m not much of a commenter, but I do love reading the blogs of creative and dedicated people such as Daryl. Can I point you to Argoknot’s blog (, where she posted, on the same day as this blog, a poem by the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi, which was read at the meeting she was attending. The gist of it can be applied to the topic being discussed here. “… Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may… Read more »

April 18, 2010 4:12 am

I always ask permission if I wish to take photos. In one class a teacher specified that some items were class samples we were free to photograph while other items were work in progress towards an exhibition and not to be photographed, which seems more than reasonable. In another class a teacher was surprised to be asked – she has worked for many years in Japan and it is taken for granted that people will photograph and record. I never copy class notes, but I will tell people in my own words what was covered. I also think it is… Read more »

April 19, 2010 11:58 am

This is an interesting discussion. I have been selling my weaving (on and off) for about 11 years. Often I am asked at shows by other weavers how I make something and I tell them. So the way I look at someone interested in reproducing my work: Anything published – book, magazine, blog, website, electronic media, seen at a show, gallery,photo, store, museum, or an art/craft show etc probably has a copyright and reproducing it is off limits. But weaving drafts have been around a long time and most likely the person who created the piece did not invent the… Read more »

April 26, 2010 5:46 pm

Teachers everywhere are getting very nervous about this. I was holding my camera while watching a demo going on – poised to take a photo and the teacher stopped and asked me if I was video taping her. I said no, I was waiting for her to smile pretty – so with obvious relief, she gave me a big smile and I got my perfect shot.

Phew! It’s all about thinking about how it would be if the tables were turned. What I want if I was walking in her shoes….

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