Monday, July 26, 2010

Lawyer Mom, Tailored to Fit

Sewing and selling clothes, accessories, and toys on Etsy can be mind-boggling. Patterns? Fabric? What's my idea? What's not? I'm using this Lawyer Mom post exclusively for all of you tailors and seamstresses out there!

Wrap Dress With Shawl Collar by Lirola

I have a pattern I bought that I really like. Can I sell what I make based on that pattern?

Yes. Unequivocally.

Many patterns—such as you get from your favorite fabric store, for example—have a warning on the cover to the effect of: "You can't use this commercially!" This statement holds no water in court. To sum up from an excellent write-up at from an interview with another IP lawyer:

Folks, a license is not a condition a copyright owner can place upon the sale of an item without the consent of the purchaser. The courts are adamant about this. A license...requires the approval of all parties, as well as many other conditions. Patterns are sold, not licensed. Anyone who says otherwise is badly misinformed.

Whatever you make from patterns you buy—at the craft store, on Etsy, wherever—you are legally allowed to sell.

Amigurumi Alien Tripod Pattern by rosieok

I'm selling a pattern on Etsy. What are my rights?

Your pattern—and only your pattern—is definitely subject to copyright. This means that you can take people to task for:

  • reselling it as their own

  • copying it and selling the copies

  • copying it and giving it away

  • otherwise using your words and images without your consent

If someone sells what they've made based off of your pattern, that's allowable. When you put up a pattern for sale, think of it as selling the idea of the pattern out into the world. The reality of the pattern is a separate thing entirely. (Though, I have heard many people who sell patterns say that oftentimes when they see the finished item being sold by someone else, it doesn't look quite as good as the first, original version!)

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of someone recreating your idea and selling it, then it's probably best you don't sell the pattern.

Q Bag 01 by FoksForm

Someone is selling a knock-off of my bag/shirt/plushie! What can I do?

Clothing does not qualify for copyright. Neither do purses, hats, scarves, or stuffed animals—unless there is some kind of mechanical improvement or innovation involved. A new kind of clasp, a mechanism inside a toy that makes it talk or walk: these things are certainly patentable. Don't get me wrong.

But otherwise, it's hard to really do anything.

(NOTE! If part of the knock-off includes a print or visual design of your creation, that is a different issue entirely. I'm referring only to the physical construction of the item.)

Most of these items do qualify for a design patent, however; if your bags have a distinct "look" to them, or if you have a signature flourish you add to all your pieces, for example, you can pursue that angle. Filing a patent can be an expensive, time-consuming process, so it's not always a feasible option for everyone.

Lawyer Mom also points out that once you sell an item, it becomes a lot more difficult to patent it. It's a decision you need to make beforehand. If you are banking on keeping a super-unique design, this may be an option for you. Consult with your own IP lawyer to see if a design patent is an avenue you should pursue.

But let's say you don't have a design patent, and people are putting up their own versions of your best-selling product. Clothing, accessories, and stuffed animals don't qualify for copyright and there's very little legal recourse you have. Contacting the seller, or talking to Etsy, would be a good place to start.

If the work involves another copyrightable element (an original illustration or character design, for example), you do have the same options available to you that I've mentioned in other Lawyer Mom posts. (Contacting the seller, sending a cease and desist letter, etc.) Original quilt designs, too, are copyrightable.

Luggage tag from repurposed Lay's Sour Cream & Onion bag by squigglechick

I use upcycled/repurposed trademarked material in my craft. Am I doing something wrong?

Generally speaking, you should be okay. With trademarked material, the clearer it is that you're not banking on the trademark to sell your product, or trying to recreate their product, the better. Product packaging, wrappers, labels, advertisements, etc are all fair game. The same goes for old t-shirts from concerts or other events. (Now, if you were screen-printing t-shirts with the Ramones logo on it and trying to sell it...obviously that's different!) All that's protected under Fair Use.

Amy Butler Twin Quilt by britters273

So then if I use fabric I bought at the fabric store, I'm fine.


My friend Rae wrote about this a while ago, after a fabric purchase she made sparked an investigation into IP and fabric:

...I’m 48 hours into this plan, and I’m already being surprised. Not by the process of quilting but by something I found as I quested into the rarely-explored (by me) section of quilting fabrics at the local JoAnn Fabrics: non-commercial, home use-only fabrics. What?

Now, something like a navy blue twill, or a cream-colored linen, is going to be impossible to copyright. If you find that language on the trim of your fabric and it's something solid-colored, that language holds about as much legal water as my earlier examples with patterns. But designs constitute artwork, and as such, some of the more intricate patterns you see on fabric may very well be copyrighted, such that you cannot legally sell items made from that fabric without first getting permission from the designer.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any good resources that deal specifically with fabric and fashion designers! Free Patents Online is really easy to navigate (a bit cleaner than, plus it includes pictures so you can see the design in question. If anyone has a comprehensive list of names or organizations who have designed fabrics for stores like Michael's, JoAnn's, A. C. Moore, etc., that'd be a big help!

If you can't find the designer for your fabric, you can always run the risk of selling what you make anyway. Just remember that you run the risk of being asked to remove those items from sale (and possibly to destroy them as well).

Jennifer Love Hewitt's dress from the 2009 Emmy Awards by CelebrityRecreations

I really love the $item_of_clothing that $someone wore in $something ! Can I make a copy? Is it okay if I sell it?

Yes, long as you're not trying to claim that it's that designer's dress (trademark violation!). Patents do exist on some clothes, but again, those have less to do with fashion design and more to do with actual construction (an innovation in maternity dresses, for example).

If the item includes a visual design or a print, however, then that's a big no-no.

I have another question you didn't answer! / I think you got something wrong.

In either case, feel free to email me; I use the handle "kokoba" on gmail. You can also leave a comment here. Convos on Etsy are possible, if you prefer, but emailing or comments here will guarantee a quicker turnaround time on responses.

Again, Lawyer Mom posts do not constitute legitimate legal advice. If you are in hot water, need to take legal action, or want to do anything else official with IP stuff, consult an IP attorney in person who can talk over your situation with you. All of this information is provided as a jumping-off point and a conversation starter, nothing more. All Lawyer Mom posts are written by me (after consulting with Lawyer Mom), and by submitting a question to me/us you signify that you understand those conditions and will hold neither me nor Lawyer Mom legally responsible for anything bad that may happen to you as a result of taking this or any Lawyer Mom post as serious advice in lieu of consulting another professional.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Geo-Shopping!: Striped Agate

Welcome to the first in what will hopefully be an on-going series (on-going as long as I have money, I suppose!): Geo-Shopping!

I prefer working with gemstone beads, in all honesty. I'm cool with glass, and I'll deal with plastic/synthetic/ceramic beads grudgingly. Gemstones were my first love and what I really get excited about. Plus, there's plenty of science behind them, too!

I have a lot to work through in my bead box, but I thought I'd start the series off with my latest purchase:

striped agate

Striped Agate

Agates of all kinds form when silica (silicon dioxide) deposits build up in hollow spaces, called vesicules, left behind in rocks. This usually occurs in volcanic rocks, as gases form bubbles and then sneak out, but sometimes vesicules occur in metamorphic rocks as well.

You can have all kinds of agates, depending on temperature, pressure, and what other mineral impurities were mixed in with the silica. Agates come in a variety of bright, clear colors and with different striping patterns. Striped or banded agate like this guy up here happens when there's the "magic balance" between the silica solution and the impurities it contains, resulting in alternating bands of color. Other times you get formations known as "eyes," where a small piece of silica hardens prematurely within the vesicule, around which other silica deposits later form.

eye agate

Agate can also be a replacement mineral in the fossilization process, leaving you with the aptly-named Fossil Agate:

But back to my beads! Their beautiful red/orange color comes from iron oxide impurities that mixed in with the silica solution that formed the original piece of agate oh so long ago. Today, we see iron oxide all the time: it's rust.

Just goes to show that in the right setting, even something as ugly and unattractive as rust can be beautiful and eye-catching. :)

You can read more about agates at Agate Lady.

And browse lots of neat pictures at the following Flickr photostreams (if you want a new desktop background or some inspiration!):


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Sexy" Scientists, Objectification, and Feminism in Science, Part 1: Why Sexism Doesn't Matter

16 Sexy Scientists (with pics of course!), aka The Blog Post Heard 'Round The World. Short story: a fairly well-known atheist/science blogger posts the entry, featuring headshots of various women scientists (as well as some risqué shots from the overlap between "scientist," "woman," and "cheerleader/model"). People proceed to get very, very upset. Naturally, I'm weighing in.

I'm pre-emptively splitting this into multiple entries because otherwise it will get far too long. A highly-concentrated summary of whatever I end up writing here will hopefully make it on to the MSoE! blog.

First and foremost, I'm touching on this issue because science is something near and dear to my heart. (Why else would I make necklaces featuring Avogadro's number?) Corny as it sounds, the favorite part of my crafting is being able to reach out to women in a medium they feel comfortable in and get them more involved and interested in science, math, or both. Every necklace, every bracelet, every (eventual) scarf or hat or purse or whatever else is like a little piece of math-and-science proselytism. (Do you know how many times I've explained to people exactly how we use Euler's number in economics? Or what an irrational number is?) I don't want the women I potentially reach to encounter a community where they feel uncomfortable, unwanted, or unappreciated. What kind of welcome would that be?

Because of that, I feel obligated to write about it here, in the same space as my jewelry and craft ruminations. Feminism and women in historically male-dominated academic fields is another topic that is also near and dear to my heart (for obvious reasons), so I will admit to a bit of soapboxing as well. But—it's important to soapbox once in a while. Hopefully my contribution to the discussion, along with some others, will help to create an environment where women feel welcome and men don't have to worry about inadvertently setting off a landmine.

There's a multitude of issues to tackle here. In no particular order, they are:

  • The ethics behind using people's publicly posted photos in contexts they didn't necessarily intend them for.
  • What constitutes sexism / whether or not the post is sexist.
  • The (false?) dichotomy drawn between feelings & intellect (what does this date to, the Enlightenment?).
  • Boundaries and where/when someone has the right to draw them.
  • Male privilege/male "normativity."
  • Objectification.
  • Value judgments and the right to make them.
  • The "if some, then all" fallacy.
  • What does and doesn't constitute a valid ethical framework.

I bet there's a lot more, too, but this is what jumps out at me. Lacking any better heuristic, I'm going to go with the point I feel the most like talking about first. I don't know if I'll get to all of them, because many of them depart from what my focus for this blog is: math, science, and how it relates to (my) crafts—with a dash of IP Q&A thrown in for good measure.

Why doesn't sexism matter?

Most of the shitstorm seems to focus around whether or not the post was sexist. Lots of people say yes, lots of people say no, and to be honest, I think that misses the point entirely.

Being able to label something as ____ist (or not ____ist) in some kind of mythological "objective" vacuum is simply not going to happen. Because as much as we like to think of ourselves as being rational creatures who are totally objective all the time, we're not. This means you. I think, especially among the science enthusiasts, there is a tendency to somehow think this doesn't apply to them. But it does! Objectivity is like a calculus limit: one person can approach it, but on their own, they can never entirely get there.

("But oh noes solipsism!" you cry, but I'm not getting into that here because this is the wrong setting for that discussion. I'll be glad to discuss that topic elsewhere, though. But rest assured that I'm not a solipsist/moral relativist/etc.)

I'm also going to avoid the word "sexism" and "sexist" for now. Not only is it a loaded term that has a tendency to shut people out (because who likes being called sexist?), but there are other issues at work here besides just sexism and gender equality. Instead, I'll just say "unfortunate."

While we can sit here all day and argue about why or why not the post was "really" unfortunate, we can much, much more easily determine that a lot of people certainly thought it was!

Here, I think, is where you start to see the divide, based on what people prioritize in life. People who prioritize truth-seeking, objectivity, and rationalism focus with a laser-like intensity on "proving" that the post was either unfortunate or not-unfortunate. To them (I think, extrapolating here based on what I'm inferring from other's people's posts and arguments), it's something much more like a logic puzzle or identifying an unknown species. The idea is something like, "If we can prove that the post wasn't really unfortunate, the people who are upset because they think it is won't think so anymore, and they won't be upset anymore!"

Which is well and good, and certainly important to deconstructing the incident after the fact, but right now it's still "OMG too soon!" for people like me. While I am definitely a big ol' science cheerleader, at the end of the day, my top priorities are harmony, respect, and understanding between people. From that perspective, the obsession on the post and not so much the people involved comes across as insensitive.

Constantly repeating, "I understand why you might feel so, but..." is not enough to demonstrate that you actually understand; instead, it invalidates the feelings and opinions of the other party that the speaker purports to understand. Whatever follows that "but" is always a reason that tries to explain away the other party's emotional reactions or an attempt to categorize them as somehow being "irrational." Naturally, when you're with science and critical thinking aficionados, being dismissed (either explicitly or implicitly) as irrational is NOT going to go over well. ;)

A better way to demonstrate that you understand is to say, "I understand why you feel that way. What could be changed so that you don't feel that way anymore?" Emotional reactions don't happen in a vacuum; there is always a stimulus and reason for them, and if it's not too ridiculous or time-consuming request, accommodating people's feelings is generally a Good Idea. It's not "watering things down," it's not "selling out," it's being considerate.

Sometimes, sure, people probably need to hear that they're being irrational. But if your goal is to reach out to the other party and keep them as a friend and ally, then immediately shutting out their emotional reactions will do you no good. Some will tough it out and bury the hatchet, sure; others will be too alienated to want to return to the discussion. Don't forget, as well, that on the Internet, things stay on there for a long, long time. What if someone's first introduction to the CSA blog is that "Sexy Scientists" entry? Is that a first impression that's going to maximize the introduction of new readership? Readership that you'd want?

"But Luke shouldn't have to apologize for something he didn't do," the argument goes. This is the argument that stems from focusing on the original post and objectively trying to label it as unfortunate or not-unfortunate. Whether or not the post is "really" unfortunate, we can fairly easily and relatively objectively observe that he did upset people. People who he presumably values and considers intelligent, worthwhile colleagues and teammates, no less, and people who feel (or felt, maybe) the same way about him. And he did not apologize for that.

Being presented with contrary evidence and opinions on the topic, the general reaction was not really conducive to a rational, mature discussion: Luke (and other posters) appeared to simply not take them seriously, or they tried to undermine them with silly strawmen arguments. There was very little attempt to engage "the other side" in a way that didn't seem condescending or patronizing. In short, it was hardly an open-minded response. By digging in their heels, the "it's objectively not-unfortunate" camp not only undermined the claim that the post was not-unfortunate, but everyone's general image as a rationalist. It's hardly rational to, when provided with a counterargument, get incredibly defensive and dogmatic about your own. (This swings both ways, of course, and people on the "other side" are also guilty of the same thing. I would suggest, however, that being the originator of the controversial content gives someone more of an obligation to be as accommodating and understanding as possible, since they're already proposing something unsavory to begin with.) Being open-minded means sometimes admitting you're wrong.

Fortunately, Luke has transcended the initial stage of "I did nothing wrong! Deal with it!" via a lot of thought, discussion legwork, and heavy reading. A shout out to you, Luke:

After many, many hours discussing this, my moral intuitions have changed and now tell me that my original post was wrong. But as you know, I don’t trust my moral intuitions! So I’m trying to figure what is wrong with my original Sexy Scientists post, if there is indeed something wrong with it. And the “something wrong with it” doesn’t appear to be objectification.

But if you come up with anything better than intuitions, let me know! I’m all ears. I’d very much like to figure out why I’m wrong so I can apologize and get this over with. :)

For that I commend you, wholeheartedly. Even if I disagree with you on some of the details (objectification is still totally a large part of the "something wrong" with the original post, I think; plus I don't think your moral intuitions always need rationalization, especially when you're dealing with people, their boundaries, and yes, even their feelings), it takes balls (or ovaries) of steel to openly admit, "You know what? I was wrong." Especially, I think, in a community where people pride themselves on fact-checking, spell-checking, and everything-checking their content before they put it out there, because they are Scientists and Researchers, and that is what Scientists and Researchers do. It can be seriously tough. You're a thorough guy, Luke. I'm sure you'll find some sound reasoning to back up your moral intuition. :) Hopefully we'll see a blog post about that in the near future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Funny How That Works

It's funny how one random link on the Internet can carry you so far. Like when I saw a link to Sheril Kirshenbaum's post on Intersection about an incident in the science blogland that's unfolding as we speak.

I am investing a lot of time and thought into responding, mostly to one in particular: Preliator pro Causa. Don't ask me why that one, I couldn't tell you. Maybe because it was the first opposing viewpoint I came across in a list of responses? Don't know. Anyway, my comments there are all attributed to "Kokoba" and I listed my website as this blog, so that's how you can know it's me.

Sooner or later I will post up a distillation of my thoughts on everything that's been going on. Until then, feel free to peruse the hullabaloo and leave your thoughts here.

What's your experience on sexism in math and science? Does the incident at CommonSenseAtheism qualify as sexism? What would you think about being included on a list of "Sexy Scientists/Mathematicians"?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Working on my day off.

Just finished and photographed an order a woman placed at the Tinicum Art Festival!

math jewelry Euler

It's Euler's Number in red aventurine, carnelian, mahogany obsidian, mookite, and freshwater pearls.

I'm mailing the photo off to the woman today, and if she likes it, off it goes in the mail! Otherwise, this could be yours. ;)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Art Show Roundup: Tinicum Art Festival

My time at the Tinicum Art Festival was truncated due to INCLEMENT WEATHER. I was blissfully unaware of Saturday's weather report for the week leading up to the show, convinced that if the weather had been beautiful for five days of the week, of course it would hold out for the weekend (the reverse gambler's fallacy).

It held out for my drive over to the park, though I could hear thunder booming and occasionally glimpse tongues of lightning in the distance. Only when I was getting ready to set up my tables and hope for the best did Mother Nature quash my dreams. But that's okay, because we needed the rain. I had no tent of my own, though, so I left a cheerful little note on the ad for my wares:

"Who has two thumbs and no tent? This guy. I'll be here tomorrow, and online, rain or shine!"

Today, fortunately, was much nicer. I set up my little table with my little cache of geeky jewelry (the much, much larger stash of it is currently periodically for sale up in New York state—which reminds me, I need to send out business cards!).

Sam Adams cufflinks

I was in between a woman who did beautiful work with sterling silver and gemstones, and Milkweed and Honey. The latter consisted of a super cool, super funny couple named Tom and Sara, who make neat, I-hesitate-to-call-them-novelty items like beer bottle cufflinks (see image), vinyl album bowls, and adorable stationery. They were both super friendly and funny, and you should give the Milkweed and Honey store a gander when you can.

That's all really overwhelming for someone like me, just starting out, not even sure if I can turn this into a full-time viable career option. (As it stands, I'm glad to have a hobby that pays for itself and, occasionally, turns a bit of a profit.) Talk about jumping in the deep end! I still enjoyed myself, though. I didn't get to walk around (no one could come visit me and babysit my table), but I got to people watch, ramble about math, and listen to really good music. I also got a lot of work done on my current Viking Knit project. (I felt bad for my neighbors, who got to hear me go on about numbers or Viking Knit over and over again.) Plus I handed out a lot of cards and got a couple of orders, so go me!

The truth is, I think what I need to do from here is to build up my stock. People really liked what I did and seemed to totally appreciate it, so the concept itself is pretty dead-on. The difference is inventory. I think I would have had a lot more sales that way—selling jewelry and accessories is totally about having someone's "gotta have it" item, and your chances for that increase the more stock you carry. Otherwise, all you get is a lot of, "Oh, isn't that clever? What a good idea!" without any financial follow-through. If I had a dollar for every time someone used the word "clever" to describe what I do and then not buy anything, I would have made out like a bandit.

Now that my schedule is a bit more open (work and art shows having both relented), I'll finally have time for another Lawyer Mom post. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spotted!: Karla Wheeler's Metal Etchings

Karla Wheeler's Copper Pi etched cuff is really super cool!

I love big chunky cuff bracelets and I think the world needs more of them. I also love geeky bracelets and I think the world needs more of them. So how could I not love this?! Plus I really admire anyone who works with metal. The detail on this bracelet is astounding. Just think about how much time went into etching all of those numbers.

Most of Ms. Wheeler's designs shy away from straight-up geeky, though they're all neat unique and chunky fun things. (Note to self: "Chunky Fun Things" would be a great band name.) I guess that's geeky in a way, right? Certainly a lot of geeks I know would qualify as "chunky fun things." ;) Like, I really dig this big bright ring:

She does have one other neat & explicitly geeky one, though. This neat binary code necklace.

It spells "life," for those of you unfamiliar with binary. Geeky, and inspirational too!

This Spotted! post brought to you by an impromptu visit from my (male) BFF, the number pi, and the letter p, for procrastinate. More questions with Lawyer Mom forthcoming, but this weekend all of my energy/time is going towards the 61st Annual Tinicum Arts Festival. If you're in the Philly/NYC metro, swing by and say hello!