By Hook or by crook

KNIT ONE, PURL ONE: That's the mantra of knitters everywhere. With a PC and a color scanner in every knitting basket, industry insiders say that mantra should be recast as "Knit one, purloin one."

Online copyright infringement is rampant within the crafts and hobby industry, says Susan Brandt, spokeswoman for the Hobby Industry Association in Elmwood, N.J. Crafters scan copyrighted material -- from cross-stitch to crochet and beading to basketry -- and publish the digitized images on the Web. They share patterns for free in online discussion groups and chat rooms. "Some of the inappropriate usage has more to do with ignorance than with malice," Brandt says. "But there are people who know perfectly well what they're doing."

Whether swapping or swiping, insiders say the practice is nickel-and-diming the industry to death. The industry has not tracked statistics on losses due to piracy, but industry insiders believe file swapping has cut into the annual $10.8 million spent on crafts and hobbies. Mom-and-pop shops, particularly, are feeling the pinch. Jim Hedgepath, president of Pegasus Originals, a cross-stitch needlepoint and crafts shop in Lexington, S.C., says his sales are down 40 percent over the last five years. Hedgepath blames the file swapping for hastening the demise of 75 percent to 80 percent of independent needlework stores during the last decade and for putting pattern designers out of work.

A Napster-like clash between craft companies and swappers is heating up, complete with underground file-trading groups, private detectives, cease-and-desist letters and "trolls" (whistle-blowers) lurking in chat rooms. A coalition of industry associations, publishers, companies and designers is preparing for a possible court battle against the swappers, backed by a legal defense fund. "I hope it will not come to litigation but it certainly could," Brandt says. "Someone may need to be an example at some point." In the crafts crowd, however, many are refusing to bow to that pressure. As one group moderator said in an e-mail to her list members, "It is war time, ladies."

This story, "By Hook or by crook " was originally published by CIO.

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