Recently I've begun to gather information about designing patterns to go with my quilt fabric collections. It's definitely more complicated than I first assumed. Again, I turned to my dear friend, Cheryl Weiderspahn, who owns Homestead Speciaties Pattern Company. She is one of the most amazing people that I know AND she has mentored me through the crazy world of publishers and pattern-making. THANK YOU, CHERYL!
Anyway, we had a discussion the other day about the ins and outs of creating original patterns. Cheryl referred me to her website where she had a page devoted to "Copyrights and Copywrongs." It made so much sense to me and really helped me to understand how copywright laws apply to quilters. I asked her permission to post her article on my blog, and she agreed.
I hope you get as much out of it as I did!
By Cheryl Weiderspahn
Pattern Designer, Homestead Specialties Pattern Co.
“If you didn’t write it or create it, you do not own the right to copy it or distribute it!” - Susan Levin
Our schoolteachers warned us all about plagiarism. We were refused when we took a professional studio photo to Staples to make color copies. We all know we shouldn’t buy a movie video and make copies for our friends. We all have heard about the piracy controversy over illegal music downloads from the Internet. Yet quilters and sewers are incurable sharers and we think nothing of laying a magazine or pattern in the copy machine and distributing copies to all our buddies. It all seems innocent enough at first.
Copyrights protect “Visual Art” such as drawings, sketches, paintings, blueprints, maps, labels, photos, charts, stationery, music, movies, architecture, sculpture, cartoons, patterns, how-to instructions, books, fabrics, quilt designs and other two- and three-dimensional works. (Patents only apply to inventions.)
Copyright Law was established in 1710 to protect the creator’s “intellectual property” and has been updated many times to reflect current society and technology. Since a law change in 1978, any “Visual Art” is protected under Copyright Law automatically upon it taking on a tangible form. In other words, a thought, concept, idea or intention is not copyright protected. But the minute it takes on a physical and visible form (a created design or writing that others can see, and therefore copy) the work is protected under copyright law, even if no fees are paid and no papers are ever filed with the Copyright Office. The symbol “©” followed by the year and the artist’s name is not required, but constitutes a “Public Notification” warning and simply expresses the artist’s intent to claim her “rights to copy.” So, if in doubt, anything in tangible form (if you can hold it and read it) is protected. Ask permission!
This copyright grants the creator five inherent rights: the right to reproduce or copy their work; the right to distribute their work; the right to publicly display their work; the right to perform their work; and the right to create derivative works of the original work.
How long does a copyright last? In 1998, Congress fine-tuned the law to allow works to be copyrighted for the life of the creator plus 70 years. This means that 70 years after the creator dies, the copyright expires if no family heir files for an extension to renew it. After that it is in “Public Domain,” allowing anyone to use the work. So the fact that a magazine, book or pattern is out of print, or the author is dead, does not mean you can copy it.
But many Public Domain works are available for legal copy. Also, there are copyright-free sources such as some of the EQ5 designs. I got over 20,000 results when I did a Goggle search for the topic “public domain quilt patterns!” Take the time to look and ask for necessary permission and grant credit where due.
Let’s dispel a few myths. First of all, forget any nonsense you ever heard about “If I change it 10%” (or 20% or 30%, the myth varies) or “If I change three things” then it is my own design. That is a myth. What will a judge look at? If the work is in any way recognizable as the work of another artist, and you use it without permission, you have created a derivative work of art, which is an infringement on the original artist’s work and a violation of Copyright Laws.
Another myth is that if you don’t sell the work, or if you create it for charity, you aren’t infringing on the artist’s copyright because you aren’t making any money. That is a myth. The law is not based on how much money YOU make, but on how much money the artist might lose had she been able to charge you for your use from licensing, royalties and other fees. An artist denied this income has no money to invest in future designs for you. Artists are in the business of selling their designs. If they don’t sell very many, they can’t keep designing new ones, and the entire creative community suffers in the process.
A quilter called me one day to ask if she could make one of my vests to donate it to a charity auction to benefit Breast Cancer Research. Of course I thanked her for calling and granted permission. It was my choice to enable her to raise money for a worthy cause. Any artist with a heart would grant permission. She was not claiming it as her own design and I did provide her with a sew-in label stating “Created with a Homestead Specialties Pattern” and a catalog flyer to include with the vest. Can she also make one of them for her niece for a Christmas gift? Of course, I see that as being for her own personal use. Would I have grated permission if she had asked to make four vests from my pattern and sell them for profit at her local gift shop? No way! Would I ever find out that she sold four vests at her local gift shop? Would the Copyright Cops arrest her and haul her off to jail? Probably not, but she still broke the law and ripped me off. If I were she, I would not want that guilt hanging over my head.
In a shop class situation, that is why each student is required to purchase the pattern/book being taught. Otherwise, the artist is being denied her income from the sale of her pattern/book. Does paying for that class entitle the student to make and sell those items? No, not without the designer’s expressed permission.
This is also why shop owners must buy the patterns from the designer herself (or one of her distributors, like Checker Distributors), rather than laying the pattern on a Xerox machine or scanning it and making copies for sale. This is clearly denying the artist of her deserved income and the shop owner’s professionalism and integrity is in question to all who see this activity. Legal action could easily follow, especially since the shop owner is bold enough to expose the counterfeit patterns to the public eye.
If you copy a quilt or garment, even making changes, and enter it in a national competition as your own design, you are not only guilty of infringing on the rights of the original artist, you could be forced to forfeit all prizes, as well as any commission work that came as a result of that show. By all means, you should give credit to the original artist and say so when filling out the entry forms!
When I do retail shows with my original garment designs all over the country, I do not allow photography (which amounts to “copying”) in my booth unless the person taking the photo has already bought the pattern. Many people take photos with the intent of making their own garment from the photo rather than buying the pattern, and this denies me my earned income. This photography policy is printed in the show program and most show attendees have the courtesy to ask my permission to take photos.
Have artists actually stood up and won? You bet! For example, Connie Spurlock, owner and designer of Sew Wonderful Dreams Patterns told me how she was looking at patterns at her local fabric chain store one day and was shocked to see that a “major pattern company” had a pattern very similar to one of hers. She opened it up and saw that it was her design; even the instructions had been copied word for word! It was just a crafty little doll pattern, but they settled out of court for a tidy sum of money! True stories abound where the artist prevails over copyright infringement.
If in doubt, ask permission and give credit where credit is due.
For more information:
U.S. Copyright Office: 202-707-3000 Copyright Information Office: 202-479-0700 To request a publication: 202-707-9100 www.copyright.gov/
Permission is granted by the author to reproduce this article in its entirety.