Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Patterns and Copyright Laws

With the holiday season approaching, this is the time of year that we see craft shows popping up all over the place. Some are set up so that a portion of the proceeds go to charity, others may be just a group of people who want to get together and sell their handworks. This is a good time, then, to review copyright law as it pertains to patterns and the sale of items made from those patterns.

In either of the above instances, if the pattern you are using to make your items is not your own completely original design, then you need to be aware of copyright laws as they pertain to patterns before you make an item to sell.

If you go into Kiwi and wander into the books and needles room, you will see a sign on the wall that tells you that we will not copy patterns for anyone. To do so is a violation of copyright law. You may purchase a pattern and make a working copy of it for your own use. I often do this so that I don't have to carry a whole book with me everywhere I take my knitting (which is everywhere), and can make notations directly on the pattern where needed. You may take a book out of the library and make a copy of a pattern that you are interested in making. What you may not do is make a copy of the original pattern, and give or sell the copy to someone else. To do so avoids paying the designer for their work. It is the same as pirating movies or music, and is the wrong thing to do.

It is also illegal to take someone's pattern, tweak it a bit, and sell the idea as your own, either as a pattern or as a finished item.

This is taken from the U.S. Copyright Office's website (
"How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's
Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to
authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly,
you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent. See Circular 14, Copyright
Registration for Derivative Works."

Likewise, if you have someone else's original pattern, you may not make an item from that pattern for resale without direct permission of the designer to do so. The pattern is considered the designer's intellectual property, and for anyone else to attempt to profit from a designer's intellectual property without permission of the originator is a violation of copyright law.

As a designer, let me give you a small idea of what goes into designing a pattern. First, I start with an idea or concept. Next I will make a rough sketch or chart of the pattern idea. I look for (and spend money on buying) quality yarns that will do what I want them to do for this design. I work up several swatches to decide needle size, stitch patterns, fabric drape and feel. This can take several days. Now I sit down and calculate my pattern, the number of sts to cast on, etc, and write a prototype pattern. Finally, after as much as a week of preparation, I can begin to knit. As I knit - and this can be as much as 90 hours or more of knitting for a sweater pattern, or even 20-30 hours of knitting for a felted bag - I am making notations as to pattern changes, increases and decreases, etc. Next I block and finish the item, and take the time to make several good photographs of the finished item. Now, 4-5 hours are spent at the computer turning my notes into a readable pattern that a stranger can understand. Ink, paper and protective sleeves are bought in order to print up physical copies of the pattern. And the knitting consumer comes along and purchases the fruits of all that labor and time and money spent, for the grand price of $5.00 for most of my patterns. If I am selling my pattern through another party, I am actually getting half the cover price to put in my pocket, one-third of which I pay in taxes. While the process is enjoyable and even compelling, the remuneration doesn't even begin to compensate for the work and creativity that goes into it.

If, therefore, someone were to take my pattern and give a free copy to a friend, they are literally taking food off of my table. If they make an item to sell for profit without my permission, they are keeping a roof from over my head, making it difficult for me to meet expenses of daily life such as car expenses, utility bills, medications, health insurance, dental care, etc. If you went to work tomorrow and worked all day giving your best, wouldn't you be upset it someone else got your paycheck?

Some designers pursue copyright violations ruthlessly. There has been an instance of one designer who sued - and won - against someone who made a sweater from one of her designs, and then later sold the sweater at a yard sale because it didn't fit her.

I am not unique in that all of my patterns have a copyright symbol on each pattern page. With or without that symbol, my design is copyrighted by law. Because of a conversation I overheard about a year ago I began adding a line to my patterns in that same area that states that one may not reproduce the pattern, or make items from the pattern for sale. This is a clarification for purchasers only - even without this notation on a pattern, copyrights automatically prevail.

So you can see that the issues that come about from copyright violation are two-fold: the morally and ethically wrong act of stealing someone's livelihood, and covering your own bottom against possible legal issues that may arise from violating copyright. If you are interested in making items for sale - either for charity or for profit - you must contact the designer first in order to be granted permission to do so. Be aware that you may be asked to pay royalty fees if you are given permission. If you do not ask and are not granted permission to sell an item made from another person's pattern, and proceed to do so anyway, be aware that you are committing a crime, and may be pursued through legal channels. Be smart: Ask first.

Respect and show gratitude to the people who take the time and trouble to share their ideas with the world.

Some good references to copyright as it pertains to patterns-
Copyright FAQ for Knitters:
Links to good sites here:

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