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you didn’t write it or create it, you do not own the right to copy it or distribute it!”
COPYRIGHTS AND COPYWRONGS
Pattern Designer, Homestead Specialties Pattern Co.
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.
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
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.
U.S. Copyright Office: 202-707-3000
Copyright Information Office: 202-479-0700
To request a
Permission is granted by the author to reproduce this article
in its entirety
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