Piracy Follow Up – Two

I don’t like producing very long posts, so when I realised how much was going to be involved in a synthesis of the conversations about digital piracy that I had a few weeks ago, I decided to split the follow-up into two. This post is the second of those follow-ups, so there are now three posts, the original, the first follow-up, and this one.

Before describing the various business models that have been suggested, I thought I should give some idea of what is involved in producing a design chart, for those who haven’t thought of it before.

In producing a design for hand-embroidery, the designer spends hours thinking about the design, planning and re-drafting it, then working it and developing instructions for her customers to follow. If you’ve never written instructions – try it. Then give them to someone who doesn’t know anything about what you have written about and see how well they do.

It isn’t easy. In fact, just preparing instructions can take hours.

Furthermore, if a design is to be issued only as a chart, and not as a kit of materials, there are (in the UK, at least) three main thread manufacturers whose colour numbers need to be included. There are conversion charts, but I’ve often found that the results are unsatisfactory and need to be checked and corrected by hand.

Unless the designer is supported by a spouse or family, or has another job that pays the bills, all that time needs to be paid for somehow, or they will run out of money and need to do something else in order to eat.

The current business model – in essence – is that the hobbyist stitcher purchases a kit or a chart from which to work, perhaps because they lack confidence in their design abilities, effectively “outsourcing” the design work. The pricing for a kit or chart doesn’t include all the design costs because the designer or manufacturer hopes to sell a large enough number that those costs can be amortised over the print/manufacturing run. A full kit includes all necessary materials, and while they can be illicitly produced, that’s not common. A chart, however, is just a piece of paper showing the design, colour key and instructions, and is therefore very easily replicated. Indeed, a design that was never issued electronically can be scanned and saved as a PDF and suddenly that, too is online – possibly even lacking one of the crucial elements (such as the key).

The sale of charts in the form of PDFs is really a simple translation of this basic process to the web-enabled world. It has the merit of providing instant gratification (insofar as the chart is immediately available for the customer to print out and use), but there is the risk of abuse, in that others may offer the same item without paying the designer.

I was reminded, by one of the comments, that there is no copyright in the fashion industry, which nonetheless seems to be flourishing. I confess that I can’t quite see a way for the needlework world to make the same model work, since it relies on the fact that the people who buy high street copies of designer garments wouldn’t be able to afford the original pieces, but it’s a point to bear in mind. I’m not even sure what analogy one can make between sales of high street fashion and embroidery charts that would be illuminating, although I feel there should be one. Charts perhaps equate to dressmaking patterns, but certainly not to high street fashion.

In addition, as we are all aware by now, the open source movement in software has entire businesses working within it, even though the product (such as a browser) may be free. In fact, however, these businesses are selling, not software, but support. Perhaps the needlework equivalent would be workshops and courses. There are even courses being delivered online now, although the necessary precautions against illicit use of copyright material must put a significant technical overhead on them.

There were other business models suggested to me, too:

  • Building a community around free designs. The suggestion is that this might even increase the size of the market by making access easier to new customers (again, there is a technical overhead here).
  • Custom design – that is, individually personalised designs for individual customers (only for those with the hide of a rhinoceros – or those who can pick their customers carefully!).
  • Cataloguing – the sale of temporary access to a catalogue of existing designs. This could be used to build up in effect a curated assembly of charts which would be of guaranteed quality – not something that can be said of informal file-sharers’ offerings. I think this would involve a technical overhead as well, although there may be an existing system based on those used by eBook providers.
  • An honesty-based system for payment, such as flattr
  • Escrowed prepayment, y similar to the way in which Mozart and Beethoven arranged their subscription concerts (which suggests that it would be most suitable for creators of art for public display)
  • Creators funded by the state based on the popularity of their work (this perhaps would work for textile artists, but not for designers of kits for hobbyists to stitch at home)
  • Distribute hardcopy via shops rather than via internet (this is still done, but is increasingly difficult as shops close)

If I seem to be picking holes in many of these ideas, it isn’t because I don’t believe they are good ideas or because I want them to fail. It is simply because I want to make it clear that this is going to be a really difficult problem to solve, and there are going to be artists and craftsmen and women who will suffer until a new model is created, a new market is created, or until the existing market is educated enough to realise how much work goes into the things they take for granted.

Thanks to: Davide ‘Folletto’ Casali, Robert Bronsdon, Mace Moneta, Harleqin, Alex, Eric Larson, Ed Marshall, Philip Hunt, Posy, and Janice.


  1. karen says:

    phew! lot of work in that post!! A little light relief for you…….you won some pins! try and contain yourself and check out my blog!!!

  2. Lady Fi says:

    I’m going to have to come back and really think about this post. Thanks for all the info.

  3. Janice says:

    Very thoughtful and very interesting, Rachel. Lots of ideas for possible solutions to the problem. As was clear from the responses to your original post this is not just an issue for embroidery designers but for many creative people, and although you’ve focussed specifically on the challenge from the persepctive of embroidery chart designers the problem is in fact ‘big’ enough (affects so many people / businesses) that sooner or later legislation / technology / etc will have to be put in place to safeguard intellectual copyright. I hope your ideas will be recognised and included in the way forward.