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Stolen stitches online rock needlepoint world

graphic

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- A stitch in time used to save nine. But bands of underground grannies have started stealing stitches online, rocking the genteel world of needlepoint and threatening to tie the industry in knots.

Their numbers are probably in the hundreds rather than the millions that make up the Napster song-sharing community on the Web.

Yet the pattern publishing and needlepoint industry is so alarmed at the mostly elderly cross-stitch pirates who swap copyright patterns for free via the Internet that they are threatening to take legal action.

"This strikes at the heart of the needlepoint industry. The people who are doing this seem to have a hacker's mentality," said Jo Weiss, executive secretary of the International Needleart Retailers Guild.

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"When we found out about it in July, we couldn't help but compare it to the music industry and what is happening there ... If necessary, we will show them that we mean business," Weiss said.

Using just a PC, a digital scanner and an Internet chat room, a group of ladies discovered they could reproduce the charts filled with hundreds of tiny squares that serve as patterns for cross-stitch designs and pass on the grid to the computer of a friend.

The technology was not only quick but inexpensive, saving hobbyists anything from $3 to $12 a time for patterns ranging from intricate floral designs to dogs and angels.

The women call it sharing, comparing it to swapping recipes taken from cookbooks or passing around novels. But when they advertised their skills on various Web sites, needlework shops started to see sales fall.

"I found there are about 11 groups, some of them with several hundred members. I signed up to one such group and within a few days I got sent so many charts that I couldn't download my e-mail," said Jim Hedgepath, president of South Carolina pattern designers Pegasus Originals who is spearheading the crackdown.

"It is hurting the designers and it is hurting the store owners. It has gotten to be a big enough problem that we are having to take action because the industry has gotten smaller every year and we are at a point where we could be knocked off by something like this," he said.

The industry, which has seen some 75 percent of its mom and pop stores go out of business since the 1980s, launched a legal fighting fund after its annual trade show last month.

Hedgepath has also written to several of the Web servers that host the offending e-mail groups pointing out the copyright infringement and succeeding in getting some of them closed down. Other have simply changed names and gone underground, admitting new members only through personal recommendation.

"Some of the groups are shutting down for fear of getting caught and I think lots of the ladies didn't realize they were doing anything wrong. But there are a few bad eggs out there," said Hedgepath.

He dismisses as "baloney" justification by the pirates that they have to travel long distances to buy the patterns at needlework shops.

"There are plenty of places you can go to on the Internet and legitimately download free stuff," he said, citing the proliferation of sites run by craft magazines and official needlepoint organizations.

Hedgepath and Weiss say they will take legal action only as a last resort. But some lawyers question the wisdom of taking expensive legal action against a group of mostly elderly, not very rich women.

"Just filing an initial complaint and getting an injunction can cost tens of thousands of dollars," said Los Angeles business and copyright lawyer Robert Enders.

"Every time there is a new technology, it opens up fears of people losing out, and then it settles in and people find they can usually make more money doing something else," he said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
E-commerce juggles technology, legislation
August 1, 2000
Appeals court grants Napster reprieve
July 28, 2000
Analysis: Napsterization: Music was just the beginning
July 19, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Cross Stitch and Needlepoint from Pegasus Originals, Inc.
International Needlework Retailers Guild

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