Selling on ebay as a copyright infringement
November 29, 2002 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Selling a used item as a copyright infringement? Used knitting patterns are often resold by the original buyer when they've used them. "Alice Starmore(R)" is a company that makes patterns and yarns for knitters. Ebay is a big clearinghouse for knitters, and "Alice Starmore(R)" has repeatedly insisted that ANY auction of their yarns or patterns be pulled as the auctions violate their trademark and/or copyrights. So the knitters are getting a defense fund together to claim anti-trust and restraint of trade. Didn't we sort this all out over selling used books and cd's already? You really shouldn't mess with people who have a hobby that makes them adept with big metal needles. (BTW Alice Starmore is from the Hebrides, hence the whole "KnittingBeyond..." business.)
posted by Salmonberry (19 comments total)
What I found so curious about this is that ebay pulls the auction listings after someone from the Starmore teams sends them a letter, but continues to have loads of listings for used books, DVDs, etc.... You'd think they would realize that pulling listings might set a bad policy precedent.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2002

Indeed. Not to mention the utterly countless bootleg DVDs imported from Hong Kong and such places. Particularly a problem when you're shopping for anime, as the majority of what you will find will be a bootleg, even if it's listed as a "LEGAL IMPORT VERSION" when it, in fact, is not. Quite irritating to have to weed through them all.
posted by silvermask at 8:03 PM on November 29, 2002

I wonder if Alice Starmore is also a member of the dreaded quilting society.
posted by homunculus at 8:07 PM on November 29, 2002

Is she, you think?

When reached in her cell, all she said was:

"I'll never te-ell."

But, um.

I remember there being some P2P client geared specifically to the pattern-trading community, and it being a huge deal in that laugh-if-you-like-but-it's-a-big-deal kind of way. I guess if this is now a copyright concern then that's been shut down, but I have no info either way.
posted by chicobangs at 8:40 PM on November 29, 2002

All this is nothing new for Ebay (especially the hypocrisy)...

Ebay sold all manner of hacked satellite cards in Canada (while it was legal), and they probably still do. Obviously, if the card is pre-hacked, it's ready to pirate TV with. Even if it isn't, it's pretty hard to come up with a convincing argument as to why you need a card without a receiver.

But they still won't sell modchips, which have many legal uses (playing backups and imports). Beats me why, but it sure does mean I don't get to use their service much.
posted by shepd at 8:54 PM on November 29, 2002

I'm going to miss the principle of first sale. (waves goodbye) Yes, P2P has been a big problem in the crafts community/industry, but this is very different - this isn't reproduction, it's selling the original materials, part of the user's right to copyrighted material since its inception.
posted by whatzit at 8:56 PM on November 29, 2002

Is this actually a copyright violation by Ebay? Knowing nothing about previous Ebay problems, I would guess that Ebay as a distributer can't be wholly responsible for the products put on its site. They go up automatically, right? Unless someone objects and then they are pulled? Seems then the blame lies on the individual sellers, since they are the actual infringers of the copyright owner's right of distribution. Once Ebay learns of the infringement, however, then of course Ebay should promptly remove the infringing goods to avoid liability. More on Ebay's policy here...

Not to change topics, but this reminds me of copyright stuff over a fun interface...
posted by superfem at 10:41 PM on November 29, 2002

Time for everyone to read this again.

Don't think it can't happen. We're already many steps on the way.
posted by Cerebus at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2002

Note that this isn't the only case of trademark overkill from Alice Starmore. The company recently sent a cease and desist letter to a Yahoo Group which was formed specifically to discuss her products (Alice Starmore Open Forum). In this letter, it was claimed that even the name "Alice" by itself or the initials "AS" in the group name would be an infringement.

Does she even have a clue about the effect this sort of thing has on her market? If I were a knitter, I would never ever give her a penny. I'm half tempted to start an "Alice Starmore can go to hell" Yahoo Group, myself! At any rate, knitters should refuse to promote or support her products in any way, shape, or form. Period.

How long until mathowie gets a cease and desist letter from Ms. Starmore, claiming that the "immoderate postings" here caused "actionable damage to the trademark"?
posted by litlnemo at 3:16 AM on November 30, 2002

In Britain at least, all PlayStation games come with the instruction "No unauthorised lending or resale". This is of course ignored by everyone. Except for things which require non-transferable licences, is it ever legal to prevent people selling objects they have bought from you?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2002

Pretty_Generic: Scalping movie/play/sporting-event tickets is considered a no-no by many different governments. Or are tickets considered "non-transferable licences"?
posted by grum@work at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2002

I believe they are, mon frere.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 8:01 AM on November 30, 2002

Many kinds of physical embodiments intellectual property are not transferable -- disks containing software object code are an obvious example (read your click wrap, or, in the alternative, try to post a used copy of MS Office XP on eBay and see how long till it is taken down), but so are seeds for commercial agriculture (if you plant commercial seeds one season, it is ILLEGAL to replant next season with the seeds you harvested from the plants grown from the commercial seeeds). The British Commonwealth standard is that original books, CDs, and other embodiments of entertainment media are in fact subject to the ongoing control of the copyright owner -- but the American standard is that they are not -- hence the ability to freely resell original books, DVDs, DCs, etc., in the used secondary market.
posted by MattD at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2002

I'm confused. Whether eBay is hypocritcal, whether "Alice Starmore" is inept is not the question.

Re-using a complex copyrighted pattern seems more like plagiarizing a passage from a book than reading a book someone else paid for.

Let's use a Paint-By-Numbers set as an example now that they seem to be back in style. If I buy a set and don't use it, I should be allowed to sell the set on Ebay. But I don't think I should be allowed to make copies (on canvas) of the unpainted canvas and sell them on Ebay.
posted by Sixtieslibber at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2002

Sixties: these people aren't selling copies. Read the link I posted and you'll see why these knitters are going to fight Alice Starmore's claims. They are selling the original pattern books, or leftover yarn. It is exactly as if you were selling a set you hadn't used on Ebay. Or what if you had bought a "Paint-By-Numbers for Dummies" book, finished it and didn't need it anymore? If you follow Alice Starmore's example, then you have to trash it, you can't sell it to anyone else, or apparently go online and even offer to give it away to anyone, without infringing on the copyright.
posted by Salmonberry at 11:29 AM on November 30, 2002

Alice Starmore need to get their act together. Had they had a EULA on their knitting patterns they could have done this years ago...
Canceling concurrent licensing. Previously, if you had 20 knitters and only 10 using a particular patterns at one time, you needed only 10 licenses. Now you need a license for each and every person who could use the patterns.
Forbidding sowing needle manufacturers with a Alice Starmore license from shipping a Alice Starmore Knitting Patterns with their equipment. They can only ship a recovery disk locked to the exact model. If you upgrade your sewing machine, or your house burns down, you have to pay for another copy of Alice Starmore
Forbidding transfer of the Alice StarKnitting Patterns license when you sell or give away your sowing needle. If you give your sowing needle to a charity, they must wipe Knitting Patterns and all other Alice Starmore patterns off, even though you got a new Knitting Patterns with your new sowing needle and aren't using the old one any more. Any charity which sells used sowing needles with Knitting Patterns on them will be sued by Alice Starmore. The new owner must buy retail Knitting Patterns at $179, which is probably more than the sowing needle is worth.
Forbidding use of the Knitting Patterns you got with your old sowing needle on your new sowing needle, even if you have wiped it off the old one. OEM Knitting Patterns is licensed only for the sowing needle it was shipped with.
Forbidding resale of Knitting Patterns or other Alice Starmore patterns. Alice Starmore monitors on-line auction sites and requires them to remove any Alice Starmore products from auction even if those products are new and unopened."
posted by holloway at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2002

MattD: Amazon UK doesn't seem to have a problem with it.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:18 PM on November 30, 2002

Hey Sal, I know they aren't making copies. I was trying to draw an analogy to show the discomfort I get from the idea of selling these knitting patterns. It used to be that embroidery patterns were either printed directly on material or they were printed on paper in reverse using special heat-sensitive ink. One physically transferred the pattern from the paper to one's own material by ironing over the backside of the pattern. This neatly solved the re-use problem while providing the user with flexibility.

With knitting and even some kinds of embroidery and other needlework, this transfer method doesn't make sense.

I think we can reasonably consider the problem of knitting patterns as a unique case unrelated to music and books.

The knitters certainly have the option of creating their own Open Source knitting patterns and putting Ms. $tarMore out of business.
posted by Sixtieslibber at 10:03 AM on December 2, 2002

The generally assumed copyright rules amongst knitters are that you may make as many garments as you like off a single pattern, however you may not sell them commercially (there's some debate about whether you can sell an item if you buy one pattern for each item you sell, which is how small-business seamstresses tend to do things); you can make working copies of the pattern for personal use (ie, marking the charts, making notes) but they should be destroyed if you ever sell or give away the original pattern; you can sell or give away your originals without penalty providing you keep no copies and you can't ever sell or give away copies of any kind. Now, how those assumptions relate to actual copyright law, I couldn't say, I am not a lawyer, copyright varies from country to country, etc but they seem like pretty reasonable rules and most knitters of my acquaintance willingly abide by them. For the most part, we respect designers and what they do for us and want them to succeed and make a profit and continue to design.

Alice Starmore, on the other hand, seems to have a rather trumped up opinion of what people can do with her work. This is not the first I've heard of her people sending out cease and desist letters for various perceived infractions.

Also, an incredibly in-depth Canadian perspective on the actual rules surrounding copyright in knitting.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2002

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