Ethics in Art

Some of you know I do bobbin lace. Recently, a member in a lace group I’m in posted this absolutely beautiful wall hanging. I realized it was the type of lace that I could do, and asked if the pattern was available. Matter of fact, lots of people asked about the pattern. We were all directed to the webpage of the woman who had created it.

Unfortunately, that page has been inactive for years. Direct messages and google searches got no responses. There doesn’t appear to be anyway to now get that pattern. Whether the person who created it has passed away or is simply no longer interested in lace, there’s no way to know.

That got me thinking about the ethics around things we create. In this particular case, it’s possible that some of the people who have made that pattern might be willing to pass a copy on. But would that be right?

I think about books. We spend so much time writing them and publishing them and they then exist out there in the world. Matter of fact, I can’t even get rid of old versions with awful covers. With the publishing world the way it is now, copies will never be exhausted and I presume my estate/heirs might continue making a few dollars a month without me.

Obviously it’s unethical to make copies of whatever a person creates, without the creator’s permission. Whether that’s books, music, paintings, or lace patterns. And equally obvious, at some point creativity passes to the public domain and then it’s okay to print, download, use, etc.

But what happens when it’s something like this lace pattern? When it’s not in public domain but the person who created it no longer is actively involved in allowing the pattern to be purchased or used? To my way of thinking the same ethics still hold. Until the creator releases their interest in whatever the item is, their wishes are still paramount. Thinking of books again, just because I quit writing doesn’t mean my books are then released for free out into the wild.

There are a lot of people who want that lace pattern. And there are a lot of people who have it. What would I say if someone offered me a copy? My overly-developed guilty conscious would have to turn it down because I know nothing about where the creator is now. If she’d passed away, even then I think I’d want to contact the family and see if they were okay with sharing her work.

Coming again from the background of writing, if someone offered to sell their copy of my book to another, it would bug me. If someone offered to give their copy to another, I would love the idea that my books were being shared and passed on. So maybe it’s money that makes such sharing unethical.

Honestly, if someone offered to give me a copy of that pattern, my guilt might be quiet. Maybe. I don’t know.

It was a beautiful work of art though.

6 thoughts on “Ethics in Art

  1. Those are tall weeds that you’re walking through. It would be interesting to know the legal aspect of it. As for books … well, I have often had books shared with me, or given to me, because the original purchaser was done with them. I have also purchased books in used bookstores, and have seen my books for sale in used bookstores. Someone — or a number of someones — decided to sell something that I created that I originally was paid for, and now received no financial benefit from. Come to think of it, I’ve never been asked if I was okay if they sold my book, either. This is a topic I’ve heard tossed around over the years. Everyone seems to have an opinion. I guess in the end you just have to do what feels right for you.

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    • Oh, you should see how this branched out into a great discussion in the lace group I’m in! I agree that eventually it comes down to doing what my conscious can live with, guilt-free. I think for me it comes down to money and making sure the original artist is compensated the way they should be. Your point about used book stores is a good example. When I buy from a used bookstore, I know I’m supporting the bookstore and the author isn’t getting anything. But the book isn’t promoted as brand new, or as being sold by the author. Since bringing this topic up I’ve heard from several people who have had their works of art posted incorrectly for sale in places like Etsy, etc., as being the original work of the seller. That, obviously, is unethical. And then there’s the whole side-topic of when someone asks you for a copy of your book and assumes you’re happy to just give it to them. Ah…we could talk for days about this.

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  2. I agree with that even if the original artist of the lace has passed or simply doesn’t engage in selling it anymore, she still retains the intellectual property. I also know that ethics are so few and far between now in the online world, it’s very disheartening.

    As a painter, I continuously run across illegal selling of my paintings where I get not a dime. Recently, I ran across a site that even claimed to be me selling my own work (prints). Plus, they’re asking more for it than I do which was an eye opener. All it takes is to have Google Alerts emailed to you and they start popping up… if you really want to know. Sigh… a double edged sword.

    Work is often bought as blue chip commodities and then turned around and sold for huge margins. It’s sickening. Sickening because the artist rarely if never sees any of that. It gets passed around (sold) from one wealthy person to the next.

    I think in the case of the lace, that it should be treated as a house that you desire that’s not for sale. No matter how bad you want it, no matter how much you plead or offer… if the owner doesn’t want to sell well then, there you go. You’ll just have to live without it.

    I’ll bet you can come up with something even better with your own creativity.

    p.s. I love seeing your lace art photos.

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    • This topic opened up a lot of discussion in the bobbin lace group about public domain, preparing for your creative estate, protecting yourself, the dangers of the internet world, etc. But I did receive a message from the artist. While she doesn’t maintain her site anymore, I was able to order from her directly. I love that I am able to support the artist. I’m also intimidated to try her patterns as they are way above anything I (as a lace beginner) have done so far. It’s so weird to think people can take your paintings and sell them without you seeing any of it or being part of the process. How disheartening.

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      • I’m so glad you were able to purchase the template from her! How exciting. I can’t wait to see the process and end result.

        As far as people being able to take my paintings and selling them, it’s a widespread problem. My artist friends and I are on constant lookout. A lot of the times, it’s a scam site just waiting for you to buy something so they can steal your credit card info. But they also exist to just steal from the artist simply because they can. Etsy has a lot of fraudulent copy cats out there, Amazon is notorious and rarely do anything about it. It’s such big business for the crooks, IF they get caught and have their account taken down, they just open a new account and carry on. Yes, very disheartening. I’m so glad for people like you that take buying from the artist so seriously. Of course, when you’re an artist, it hits you too.

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