EDIT: This post has generated what is, for my tiny blog, an enormous amount of traffic. I have no idea where you’re all coming from, but welcome! Feel free to take a look around, and also maybe take a minute and give me YOUR thoughts on this flap. Are you supportive of the MQG’s position? Do you think good will yet come from the discussion or are we headed for a little bit of a “break-up,” if you will?
I have some fun things to show you a bit later. Pictures of fabrics for a blog hop, more Farmer’s Wife blocks, and a little “what I did on my Summer Vacation.” But the current dust-up created when the Modern Quilt Guild put forth a post on copyright and derivative works, especially as applies to entrants to the QuiltCon show, are pre-empting our regularly scheduled fluff and eye candy for a bit of serious talk about creativity, ethics, and power politics. Sorry, guys.
Depending on how much attention you pay to the world of modern quilting (or that which bills itself as such) you may or may not have been aware of the post that was the opening shot in an ongoing verbal battle at the moment. The staff at the Modern Quilt Guild published a piece that discussed copyright, inspiration, and derivative works. You can find it here. It should, however, be noted that the resulting firestorm has prompted numerous and ongoing changes to the text in this post. If you’d like to see a copy of the original post (because you can’t “delete” the internet!), check here.
The long and short of it is that the original post (and, to a lesser extent, the modified version) expressed a rigid view of copyright law that is in many places flat incorrect. The error was then further compounded by conflating copyright law with the MQG’s own desires regarding entries to QuiltCon. It seems that certain unnamed designers resent any entry that seems to be “inspired” or “derived” from their own work. Now, copying is bad. We’ve all known that since grade school. However, the MQG goes on to create an extremely restrictive definition of what makes a work “derivative” – and further bans those works from prizes or judges’ comments at QuiltCon.
This is dirty pool for a number of reasons. First – the designers with their noses out of joint are asserting rights that they do not possess. Copyright law is actually pretty clear on this point. For a long discussion of copyright as it applies to sewing, this site is great. I’ll quote you one of the more germaine bits:
“in legal-ese. Patterns for clothing and other useful items generally are not copyrightable. See Supreme Court – Baker v Selden, 101 U.S. 99, (1878). Even if patterns were copyrightable, the product made from the pattern would not be covered by the copyright. see Baker v Selden, (1878). Copyright owners only have the rights defined under copyright law and cannot make statements that restrict the subsequent use of their product once they have sold it. see Supreme Court – Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339, (1908)”
By conceding to their unreasonable demands, MQG is compounding a problem of excessive restrictiveness that seems to be invading a lot of the craft world, lately. Note: the above fact means that no one can prevent you from selling a product made from their pattern. They can’t force you to buy a cottage license. They can’t forbid it outright. BUT – if they claim that you may not, you may end up being forced to defend yourself in court. Basically, they know most people aren’t going to bother and so will refrain, rather than take the risk. This is the same factor that prevents the use of licensed print fabrics in quilt competitions. Does Disney have the right to prevent a quilt made with licensed Mickey Mouse fabric from winning money at a quilt contest? No. Will they happily act is if they do and sue both the maker and the organizers of the competition into the poor house asserting that they DO? Yep. Those rules exist not because that’s the law – but because it’s more practical to simply forbid it than to defend the rule of law. (Being a stickler for principles, this sticks in my craw more than a little, but I do understand it).
To my mind, this is especially egregious given the nature of quilting. What quilt pattern is NOT a derivation of another pattern? All of the lovely handmade treasures we have today are the result of constantly building on what went before. This is not to say that it is OK to buy a pattern, make copies, and share them with everybody in your quilt guild. You know better than that. But to turn your nose up at anything that “someone can recognize who or what influenced your work,” as “derivative” and therefore of unequal value seems to be the worst type of snobbery.
Which brings me to my final point. A little full disclosure: I am not an MQG member. My local modern quilt group is not affiliated with the MQG. They’d made that decision before I joined, as a way to keep things from becoming too expensive for a fledgeling group. I wonder now if some of them had some of the same reservations that I do. Also, I don’t define myself as a “modern” quilter. I don’t really like improv. I use negative space, but I’m not addicted to it. I don’t turn my nose up at traditional quilts, although Civil War and primitives are just not my bag.
However, I find the MQG definition of what makes a modern quilt to be excessively restrictive, although it’s better than it was. I do believe the current version is the third iteration – the first I agreed with, the second I took issue with, and this one…. meh. Possibly they are beginning to discover that even things they view as the height of “modern” become dated as creativity and quilters move on.
I suppose this is my big complaint. Everything that MQG has done with this post and the way they choose to run the show at QuiltCon smacks of a sort of unpleasant elitism and presumes the existence of an all-knowing Modern Quilt Police whose job it is to define for the rest of us something that is, by its nature, resistant to any such hemming in. Modern quilting is certainly more than bright colors, negative space, off-grid settings – or the color grey and plus signs.
Moreover, the MQG seems to wish to be the gatekeeper for modern quilting. However, what they are presenting is merely their own vision, not necessarily shared by the community at large. Coupled with their aggressive policing of the use of the phrase “modern quilt guild” – threatening legal action against local groups that use this phrase – it gives an impression of a small coastal coterie attempting to force their vision by strong arm tactics on anybody else who wants to play in the same sandbox.
No, thank you, MQG. Admittedly, I am something of an introvert. I enjoy my little local group, and a small shop-sponsored “bee.” I’d been contemplating membership in a larger organisation, though hadn’t yet stumbled across one that fits my personal needs, as yet. It won’t be you. I’ll be over here in my corner, sometimes being vintage, sometimes being modern. Always according to my own definitions.
Now, if you’ve made it this far with me, I have a bit more reading for you. Amy Garro, of 13 Spools, was cited in the MQG article. I think, somewhat to her dismay. Read the cited page, as well as Amy’s new comments at the top of it here.
Amy has also added to the discussion, talking about creativity, copyright, and abundance – rather than the niggardly direction from whence came the MQG post. Read it, here.
Where do you stand? Does every “modern” quilt need to be so original in design that no other influence on it is readily apparent in order for it to have value? Is that even possible?
And I promise, back to eye candy and quilts and thread and fabric with the next post.