Copyright and Quilting

The Copyright Question for Quilters

Hello Quilty Friends!

Happy Thursday to you!

I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to interrupt my VRD Panel series to address a situation that popped up last night at my monthly guild meeting. Next week, we’ll jump back into Panels.

I am apologizing right up front — this is a text-heavy post. Sorry….

Do you belong to a quilt guild?

Last night at my November guild meeting, after much planning, work, and anticipation, we drew the winner for our annual raffle quilt. The money raised by the raffle is partly donated to the church where we meet and used for guild programs and projects throughout the year. After the winner was drawn, we had a discussion about next year’s raffle quilt project. The 2022 raffle quilt organizer explained what she had done and suggested a time frame for next year’s project. Others added their thoughts to the discussion, too. When the discussion turned to ideas about selecting a pattern for next year’s raffle quilt, I naturally raised my hand and said that when we selected a pattern, we needed to check out the copyright information.

Suddenly I felt like the ugly stepsister or an alien from outer space! My comment was met with a lot of confusion and perhaps even some chagrin. Only a few people nodded in support. I was floored. Copyright is such a hot topic in quilting and has been for years that even popular quilt magazines address copyright and quilting from time to time.

I explained that we should contact the designer of the selected pattern to seek permission to use their pattern to make our raffle quilt. Of course, most designers would probably have zero issues with such a request and would gladly provide their permission. Maybe they’d request a photo of the completed raffle quilt, but most designers would just be pleased that we took the time to ask.

As a quilt designer, I would be. If I was asked.

One of the members indicated the magazine in front of her and suggested using a “free” pattern in a magazine. I said that patterns in magazines aren’t really free because someone paid for that magazine. And magazines are protected by copyright laws, too.

I stewed about the discussion all last night after the meeting — even hashing it over with my pals on the way home. When I got home, I talked about it with my family, too.

The subject of copyright and quilting was really weighing on my mind so I decided it was important enough to bring up here on the Villa Rosa blog.

Background Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

What exactly is copyright?

The Copyright Office of the United States on their website, www.copyright.gov, has a section with frequently asked questions, and defines copyright as follows:

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

So, what exactly is the copyright question?

Actually, it’s a lot more than a single question, it’s a heap of different questions, a lot of conflicting information, and a ton of confusion. But before I get into the topic more deeply, I’d like to tell you about a few of the situations I have personally encountered over the years with copyright issues.

1. One time I was teaching a machine quilting class at one of my local quilt shops. I had designed an original yet simple table runner for the class and provided written instructions to those who registered and paid for the class. As the class was for machine quilting, the students were to make the table runner prior to class so we could work on machine quilting the runner during the class. While I was teaching, a couple of ladies who I knew from the quilt guild I belonged to at the time (not the one I belong to currently) came into the classroom. One of the women commented on my class sample, which was hung on the wall in the classroom area along with a poster with my class information and dates. I thanked her and said if she was interested, she could sign up for the class and would receive the instructions for my table runner. She literally scoffed at me and said she could just take a photo of it and go home and make it herself. I was shocked — so incredibly shocked I couldn’t even say anything. What do you think — is this okay?

2. Last year I found a table runner from one of my Villa Rosa Designs Rose Card patterns for sale on Etsy. The maker/seller took the time to list the name of my pattern and my name as the designer. I have to assume she purchased the table runner pattern at some point, but is it okay for her to make money using my pattern?

3. Recently, I read a comment from someone who said they couldn’t find our VRD Rose Cards in their local area and they don’t want to purchase them online so they made their own version of VRD quilts by copying the quilts in pictures on the Internet. Is this okay?

Every time a copyright issue pops up, I think of my friend and mentor, Cheryl Weiderspahn. Cheryl is the one who started me on the road as a quilting professional by introducing me to her book editor many many years ago. Without Cheryl’s help and patience, I would never have gotten where I am today.

Thank you, Cheryl.

Before she retired, Cheryl owned a pattern company and on her website, she had an article about copyright. With her permission, I am sharing her article in its entirety. Over the years, I’ve read lots of articles, talked to many other professionals, and gathered information, but Cheryl’s article is the one I always come back to when I have copyright questions because it always makes the most sense to me.

So, here is Cheryl’s article:

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 [Electric Quilt] 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 http://www.copyright.gov/

Permission is granted by the author to reproduce this article in its entirety.

— Cheryl Weiderspahn

Let’s use Cheryl’s article to think about my three scenarios above.

1. Was it okay for that guild “friend” to take a photo of my class project table runner and go home and make it?

2. What about the person making and selling my VRD table runner pattern on Etsy?

3. Is it okay to copy a quilt you see as a pattern available for purchase online?

What do you think?

Most likely there are as many people out there who will agree with Cheryl’s article as there are folks who won’t. Copyright law is so confusing! One’s understanding and thoughts of copyright depend on lots of different factors such as who one talks to, what articles or websites they have read, if they have consulted a lawyer who can interpret and understand copyright law (of course, even lawyers and scholars are going to disagree and interpret things differently from each other), whether one is a designer or someone who uses other people’s patterns and many other factors.

Why does copyright have to be so dang confusing?

Hmmmm. Maybe there isn’t really a single answer or a single way to interpret copyright law at all??? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? But I don’t have the answer — I am a designer, not a lawyer.

It’s funny but while I was writing this post and looking up information, I kept thinking about the Golden Rule. Remember that one from your childhood?

Do unto others as you would have done to you.

I just looked it up on the Internet because I wanted to get the wording right and to see if I could find out the attribution of the quote I grew up hearing at home and at school.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Golden Rule is from the Gospel of Matthew (7:12), but the similar concepts of fairness are found in the writings of Confucius, Seneca, and others.

According to Wikipedia, “The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated. Various expressions of this rule can be found in the tenets of most religions and creeds through the ages.[1]

Wow! And I thought it was only something my parents told me when I wasn’t getting along with my older sister or what my teachers said when my BFF and I were fighting on the playground.

So, let’s consider my three scenarios again using the Golden Rule.

1. Is it okay for a guild “friend” to take a photo of a class project table runner and go home and make it? Would that guild “friend” want someone to do that to her?

2. Would you want someone to buy your quilt pattern and make table runners from your pattern and sell them for profit on Etsy, even if they mention the name of the pattern and the designer in their description?

3. Would you want someone to see your original quilt online and instead of buying your pattern, just make a quilt copy from the photo?

What are your thoughts?

So, getting back to my quilt guild and the selection of the pattern for next year’s raffle quilt — using the Golden Rule, would whoever decides which pattern to use for next year want some other quilt guild to use their original quilt pattern for a raffle quilt without asking? Wouldn’t it be nice to be asked? Isn’t that just common courtesy?

As a designer, I would gladly give permission for a quilt guild to make one of my Villa Rosa Designs Rose Card quilt patterns for their yearly raffle quilt once they purchase the pattern. As a designer, I just want to be asked and acknowledged for my work.

Here are more resources about copyright and quilting in no particular order. They may have differing opinions from Cheryl’s article and even from each other, but isn’t it good to read a lot of different opinions and interpretations to figure out what you really think?

Copyright.gov — Copyright Law of the United States

IP Bytes by Loyola University of Chicago Law: Quilting and Copyright Part 1

IP Bytes by Loyola University of Chicago Law: Quilting and Copyright Part 2

National Quilter’s Circle: Quilting and Copyright Rules

Lori Kennedy Quilts: Copyright for Quilters — A Commonsense Approach

Sewing is Cool: Royalty Free vs. Public Domain Quilt Patterns

The Quilting Room with Mel: Copyright and Quilting

Tabber’s Temptation: Quilting & Knitting and Copyright Law

Kathleen Bissett: How Copyright Affects the Quilter

Studio Art Quilt Associates: Copyrights and Quilting

Quilting Daily Podcast: Copyright and the Quilter

I hope you take a little time to explore these these articles and posts — there are a lot more out there, too.

I am not trying to influence people one way or the other, I am trying to promote copyright awareness because awareness brings knowledge and knowledge brings understanding. Even to the confusing world of copyright law.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Until next Thursday —

Sew. Laugh. Repeat.

Always,

Tricia @VRD

3 thoughts on “The Copyright Question for Quilters

  1. Tricia,This is something  that cannot be mentioned enough. I was a pattern tester for another pattern maker and I emailed her to ask if it was okay to put it in our quilt show. She was glad I asked and said she would be honored if I put it in our show and to please send her a picture of it in our show. I have friends who frequently ask me for copies of something I’ve made and I refer them to the website where they can buy it. They are not always happy with me, but I know I’m doing the correct thing. I wouldn’t want anyone to “steal” from me. Cathy Hepburn

    Like

  2. I discovered that a class taught at one of my guilds had used a pattern from local designers and did not credit them. Same design, suspiciously same instructions and photos. Perhaps they arranged an agreement of some kind, I don’t know, but as there was not a mention of a pattern fee to each student. I have since purchased an equal number of their various pattern designs for how many students were in the class on my own. Small businesses, women owned businesses, local businesses all deserve our integrity as users of their intellectual property. It is simply the right thing to do.

    In the past I have also reached out to designers for permission on Opportunity Quilts and have been met with approval each time. Each simply asked to be credited in promotional materials. Their grace allows for their beautiful work to spread even more joy.

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