When I say reverse engineering, I'm talking about the practice of drafting a pattern in order to duplicate a quilt for personal use without purchasing a pattern from the original designer. And when I say ethical, I am not talking about what is legal, so we're not even going to go there. The goal of this post is to start a dialogue on what seems like a common, but private practice, not point fingers.
I've have had several informal discussions with friends (some of whom are pattern designers) about reverse engineering patterns since I first started asking myself this question. In an effort to cast a wider net, I conducted a small survey through Survey Monkey.
Of the 25 respondents, 22 had reverse engineered a pattern, which wasn't a big surprise to me. I've heard people casually comment that they could "figure out" a pattern enough times to guess that the practice is widespread. The reasons people cited for reverse engineering patterns did surprise me though. I expected the #1 reason would be to save money, but more people seemed to approach it like I had, out of sheer desire to solve a puzzle.
In response to the question, "If I wanted to make a quilt pattern that is readily available for purchase, but think I could reverse-engineer it, I would...", only 3 respondents (12%) said they would only purchase the pattern if they were unable to reverse engineer it. However, that's not to say that money doesn't play a part. The results clearly indicated that customers are happy to buy patterns...if they believe the design merits the price. The survey echoed the dozens of comments I've heard and read that many people feel little guilt over reverse engineering simplistic designs like HST quilts or quilts based on traditional blocks.
The overall impression I get from the survey is that quilters value originality and want to support designers who bring something new to the table.
I emailed Cheryl Arkinson for some input in this post after reading an interview in which she stated that she reverse engineered patterns as a quilt newbie, but later realized that designers deserve to be compensated for their creativity. I asked her what prompted her change of heart. Her response:
"One day in a local quilt shop the owner was telling me about the designer whose pattern I had in my hand. In some ways it was a sob story, but not really. This particular designer - whose name I couldn't remember if I tried - got out of an abusive relationship and raised her kids on her own. She made a living from pattern design! It made me see that there are people and a lot of work behind that $8 piece of paper and plastic in my hand."Cheryl firmly believes that reverse engineering patterns without financially supporting the designer is unethical, and I'm inclined to agree with her. I don't think anyone is going to stop reverse engineering because of this post, but I hope readers will take a moment to consider its implications. We want our favorite pattern designers to keep creating new projects to inspire us and without financial compensation for their work, some may throw in the towel. You can still play your puzzle games, but show your appreciation and buy the pattern too. To quote Beyonce, "If you liked it, then you should've put a ring on it."
What do you think?