Online Design Swap a Napster-Like Concern

The online copyright debate that has centered on software piracy and digital music has found a new arena: needlepoint.

Sewing enthusiasts have found they can swap doily-and-swan patterns on the Internet instead of paying pattern publishers.

The pattern swapping, which is similar to the sharing of digital music on services such as Napster, has pattern designers considering lawsuits against homemakers.

“Where will it end?” complained Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum, 54, a needlepoint pattern designer. “I just don’t understand how these [people] can stitch a stolen angel and still live with themselves.”

Pattern Piggies Unite!

The Los Angeles Times reported today that the little-known controversy started about a year ago, when a group of computer-savvy women decided to exchange needlepoint designs over the Internet.

The online swapping made sense for Carlene Davis, a 52-year-old grandmother in Idaho, who said quality patterns are hard to find in her rural community.

“There aren’t very many stores that carry needlepoint patterns anymore,” Davis told the Times. “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.”

The quest for quality patterns inspired Carla Conry, a mother of six, to create PatternPiggiesUnite!, a 350-member online community that is dedicated to pattern swappers.

“I”m only sharing [the patterns] with my friends, and their friends,” said Conry. “Why shouldn’t friends help each other out and save a little bit of money?”

The neighborly fun is costing Pegasus Originals, a South Carolina pattern design shop.

Hacking Housewives?

Sales have dropped as much as $200,000 a year, or about 40 percent, since 1997, partly due to such swapping, said Pegasus founder Jim Hedgepath. Pattern books typically cost about $6 each.

“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.”

Making matters more complicated, the practice may also be spreading to knitting and crocheting.

Lawyers for the pattern publishers and designers caution that it’ll be difficult, and expensive, to go after grandmothers in court.

PatternPiggies itself has responded to the debate by changing its name to OinkersDelight and making it harder to find. Joining the club now requires a personal endorsement and a password is needed for entry.

Designers claim the online swapping will destroy needlepoint for everyone.

“Without the designers, we can close our doors,” said Sharon Wainwright, president of the International Needleart Retailers Guild. “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.”