Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Copyright craziness

I belong to several online groups of art quilters and pattern desginers who have been struggling with copyright issues. Most people just don't understand copyright law (and there is a LOT that is complex about it.) But this part is simple. If you photocopy a copyrighted quilt pattern (one that says “copyright” on it, or has the copyright symbol, the little circle with the c inside it), you are violating American copyright law. You are breaking the law. You are stealing someone else’s work. I know a lot of quilters who share patterns; after they've made the item, they give the pattern to someone else. (This is not illegal, but it is unethical, in my opinion, because it deprives the designer of any income.) Or they make photocopies of a pattern and give it to a friend. (This is illegal under copyright law.) Most of them are not bad people. They just don't think about what they are doing.

Most pattern designers don’t make much money. They are like the rest of us: just trying to pay their mortgages, pay their kids' dentist bills, and heat their homes. After making color copies, photocopies and/or paying a printer to print … and then calculating in the time for collating, stuffing and putting the patterns in polybags, the profit margin is not big. Believe me. And then … if you sell your patterns to a quilt shop directly, you get about half the retail price. If you sell your patterns to a distributor, they usually want an additional 30% knocked off the wholesale price.

I'm not outraged, I'm not angry. I don't think I can control the world, and I don't think the problem will ever go away. I just think that the quilting industry needs to educate consumers about copyright. With that goal, I'm going to start including this orange copyright logo on all my patterns. If you are a pattern designer, and would like to use this logo, contact me and I'll send you a copy. Or pull it off my blog and use it. It is NOT copyrighted. If we all start talking about the issues, maybe people will understand it better and start doing the right thing.


  1. When you made the charms did you each buy an individual January/February 2009 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine?
    I am sure you did. If all of you used the instructions from one magazine, wouldn't that be a copyright violation?

  2. An interesting question, Christine. And I'm not really sure of the answer. As I understand it (and I'm not a copyright attorney!), it is not illegal to give or buy a pattern to someone, or to share it with them (as long as you are not copying and distributing it to others). Although as I pointed out, it does deprive the artist/pattern designer of the income.

    In this case, four out of the six of us had purchased the magazine. If you "share" a magazine, you are depriving the magazine publisher of income, but not the artist/designer (since they do not get paid per magazine sold, but receive a fee for writing the article).

    There are lots of gray areas here, that's for sure. Even when you are trying to do the right thing, it is hard to know what that is sometimes!

  3. Good points, Susan. And thanks for reminding all of us that something as innocent as lending a pattern we are through with hurts someone else. I like the symbol you'll be putting on your patterns.

  4. Never thought of it the way Christine phrased it but it's something to consider....altho as you did point out, most of us had purchased the magazine already.

    Thanks for the permission to use your copyright logo...already have copyright words on my patterns but the label is BIG and BOLD so that one can't really miss it when looking at the pattern.

  5. Hi, I read your blog entry and have to say that I disagree with the copyrighting. As soon as anyone makes a quilt from a pattern, takes a photo of the quilt and puts it on her blog, anyone with enough patience can figure out the pattern and make a similar quilt. All the quilt blogs I've seen usually cite where they found the pattern, and generally modify it a bit too. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, regarding the photocopying etc vs simply sharing a pattern (I don't really see a difference, sharing is sharing), but to me, quilting is a communal thing, it's like freeware programs on the internet or even other arts like painting/photography, you constantly leach ideas and inspirations for patterns, colours etc from other quilters/artists. Every artist and pattern designer is also influenced by other artists/previous quilts they have seen in their lives. Maybe designing quilt patterns should not be considered a way of making an income, then there wouldn't be an issue of copyright violation. Unless someone designs a pattern and never shows the quilt to anyone, it'll be hard to avoid someone re-doing the pattern.
    Let me know if I did misunderstand you! I'm new to quilting, so maybe the patterns I make are so basic that they're not copyrighted? I don't even know.


  6. Christine (Sunshine),
    Under copyright law, it is illegal to make a copy of a pattern and give it or sell it to someone else, just as it is illegal to make a copy of a music CD or a DVD and give it or sell it. This is because you are depriving the designer/musician/movie production company of their profit. If this kind of copying was permitted, the artists would not make enough money to make it worthwhile to create the pattern. They would all stop creating new patterns/music/movies and start working at McDonalds, because they would make more money flipping burgers.

    As I understand it (and copyright law is very complicated, and I am not a copyright attorney) basic quilt blocks -- many of which have been around for hundreds of years –– are in the public domain, and are not subject to copyright laws. Anyone can use them.

    I agree that quilters all influence each other. But there is a big difference between this and someone photocopying and giving away/making a profit on a quilt pattern, which is the designer's ideas, directions, and hard work.


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