If you’ve ever purchased a pattern from an indie designer, you may have encountered wording like this in the copyright notice:
Since many makers and purchasers view restrictive clauses as an outgrowth of copyright law, let’s start by reviewing some copyright basics.
Copyright is a set of legal protections granted to the creator of an original work in a tangible form. Copyright law gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to sell, give away or license their work. If someone other than the copyright holder tries to distribute the work, the copyright holder has the right to sue that person and collect damages (assuming certain things are proven in court).
There’s no doubt that copyright law applies to crafting patterns (as long as they’re original works and provided in a tangible form, like a PDF or in print). There’s also no doubt that the copyright law entitles the owner of a pattern to control how their pattern is distributed — who can sell it, where they can sell it and for how long. The copyright holder has the right to decide whether to post the pattern as a free download on their website and still retain the right to prevent others from giving it away or selling it. They have the right to bring legal action against someone else who copies and sells or gives away their copyrighted pattern without permission.
No cupcakes for you!
We said that copyright protection clearly applies to a pattern itself — meaning the written-out language of the pattern and any accompanying photos and charts. But the protection that the designer gets under copyright law only protects the designer’s right to control how their pattern is distributed. Nothing in the statute extends that protection to include an actual item that was made by using the pattern.
Think about the author of a cupcake cookbook with a provision in the back that states: “These cupcakes cannot be made for use in a bake sale.” Copyright law protects the cookbook itself from being copied by other people without the author’s permission, and it gives the author the right to sue if someone scans the book and sells the PDF without permission. But it is hard to imagine how copyright law could give the author the right to tell purchasers what to do with cupcakes made by using the recipes in the book. The cookbook itself is copyright protected; the resulting cupcakes are not.
It’s tough to find court cases that have addressed this precise issue (probably because most indie designers and/or pattern purchasers don’t have the resources to wage lengthy litigation). We do, however, have one very old Supreme Court case that’s relevant. Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879) involved a man who invented a particular method of bookkeeping using lined paper with specific columns and headings. Selden set out his method in several books on which he held copyright. He later sued Baker, who wrote another book, which explained Selden’s method and offered a somewhat different version of the ruled paper. Selden argued that Baker’s book (and version of the special, lined paper) violated his copyright.
The Supreme Court rejected Selden’s claims. The court held that there was a difference between the copyright held on the book itself, and the right to prevent someone from using the procedure explained in the book. Only a patent could protect the exclusive right to control use of the bookkeeping method described in the book.
The Supreme Court gave several examples to illustrate why such restrictions are untenable: “Take the case of medicines. Certain mixtures are found to be of great value in the healing art. If the discoverer writes and publishes a book on the subject (as regular physicians generally do), he gains no exclusive right to the manufacture and sale of the medicine; he gives that to the public,” the Supreme Court wrote. “If he desires to acquire such exclusive right, he must obtain a patent for the mixture as a new art, manufacture, or composition of matter. He may copyright his book if he pleases, but that only secures to him the exclusive right of printing and publishing his book. So of all other inventions or discoveries.”
The court went on to say that, “the very object of publishing a book on science or the useful arts is to communicate to the world the useful knowledge which it contains. But this object would be frustrated if the knowledge could not be used without incurring the guilt of piracy of the book.”
When it comes to clothing, it is very difficult to successfully claim that a garment, even a hand-crocheted or knit one, is not utilitarian. One of the main purposes of clothing is useful: to cover and protect the body. Sweaters have been around for centuries, and before sweaters, many similar garments were created that do the same utilitarian thing: cover the top half of the body and keep it warm. Therefore, you can’t claim that the essential shape or function of a sweater (i.e., crafting a garment with a hole at the top for a human head and two tubes attached to the sides for arms) is copyrightable. (Keep in mind that here we are talking about the actual sweater itself — not the written-out pattern that tells how to knit it.)
In certain cases, a garment may have some “pictorial, graphic or sculptural features” that are distinctive enough, and separate enough from the utilitarian uses of a sweater, to qualify for copyright protection. Imagine one of Alice Starmore’s beautifully complex Fair Isle sweater patterns or an intarsia floral motif on a sweater by Sasha Kagan. These motifs and colors may well be unique enough to be identified outside of their use as the front or back of a sweater, and therefore are protected themselves. In contrast, a plain, solid-colored crewneck sweater would not have such distinctive elements and would not, without more, qualify for copyright protection. Exactly what kinds of design features are enough to qualify for independent copyright protection is a complicated issue, with very fact-specific court decisions going every which way about exactly what makes something distinctive enough or not. (The issues are complicated by trademark law when big-name designers are involved; trademark protection prevents others from using brand names and logos in a misleading way.)
All of that boils down to two conclusions: Patterns in written or PDF form — at least the text and images in their tangible form — are copyrightable and protected, but a useful item like clothing is not (although severable and distinct design elements may or may not be).
But wait: There’s more
One thing that is truly awesome about the law is its ability to apply various legal theories to the same set of facts. Since copyright law is unlikely to provide a basis for enforcing the type of restrictive language we’re discussing, we need to consider other legal theories and the obvious candidate is contract law.
Whenever you buy or sell something, you’ve technically created a contract. I agree to give you $9.99 and you agree to give me a quilting pattern in return:
That transaction is a legal contract. Generally speaking, the parties to a contract are free to impose conditions as part of their deal. You may say, “I will only sell to people who pay me in cash.” If I don’t have cash, you can say, “No sale.” Payment in cash is a therefore a requirement or condition of the contract.
Contracts often have unwritten conditions built in to them. For example, a condition of pretty much every sale is that payment must be made using a valid method (no counterfeit money or stolen credit cards). Some contracts also contain lengthy provisions in written-out form. (Remember the last time you bought a car? Loads of contractual provisions were spelled out in paragraph after paragraph of the sales contract.) Following this logic, a pattern designer might take the position that a pre-condition of the sale of their pattern is the purchaser’s agreement only to make items for personal use.
There are a couple of problems with this argument, however. Foremost is one of clarity and fairness. Most of the time in the crafting world, the purchaser is not told of the precondition before they actually buys the pattern. If the restrictive language only appears at the bottom of the actual pattern — the pattern they cannot read until they purchase it — then how can a court say that the purchaser freely agreed to this condition, a condition they didn’t know existed before forking over the purchase price? Other legal arguments may come into play, further eroding the potential validity of this kind of restrictive language.
One way to try to address this objection is for a designer to change the way they sell their patterns. If there’s any hope of getting a court to enforce restrictive pattern language, the restriction must be clearly communicated to the purchaser before the sale. Because we have no case law to guide us, it’s not clear what form this notice would take: Is putting the restrictive language in the description of the pattern enough? Would it require a special pop-up window that displays the restriction and requires the purchaser to check “I agree” before the sale proceeds? Taking such steps would provide the designer/seller with a better argument, but it’s impossible to definitively say that this would be enough to satisfy a reviewing court.
I have a great deal of sympathy for designers who have valid concerns about being ripped off by large manufacturers looking to mass produce an indie designer’s work. (It’s a very real concern: In the knitting world, Scottish designer Kate Davies wrangled with a large clothing manufacturer about the alleged infringement of her delightful owl yoke sweater, eventually reaching a compromise.) But the law isn’t based on sympathy, and it’s very difficult to see how copyright law alone could give a designer the right to enforce “for personal use only” restrictions.
Contract law might provide a better theory for enforcement, but even there, it’s questionable, especially since courts interpreting copyright law are frequently hesitant to allow claimants to bootstrap additional rights beyond the limits of copyright law. Courts also may be reluctant to validate these provisions given public policy concerns: the long-standing hesitance to place burdens on the sale of goods and free commerce, hostility toward contracts of adhesion (i.e. “take it or leave it” contracts), reluctance to take on the administrative burden of deciding such cases, and so on.
So, as we find all too often in the law, the answer is unclear. Until an actual case comes before a court somewhere (an unlikely prospect, since indie crafters don’t often spend buckets of money litigating against their customers), we may never know for sure. Sometimes the law is a cruel master, indeed.
Important note: This article does not constitute legal advice and is offered for informational purposes only. If you have any questions about your individual situation, please obtain advice from a competent intellectual property attorney who is licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction
Carol J. Sulcoski is an attorney by day and a knitting author, designer and dyer by night. Her latest book is “Yarn Substitution Made Easy” (Lark Crafts 2019). She lives outside Philadelphia with her three nearly grown-up children and a fluffy orange cat.
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In case it’s helpful to anyone out there – this is the language I include with the copyright notice in all my patterns. “© Wendi Gratz 2016
This pattern is not available for commercial resale. That means you may not copy and sell or digitally distribute THE PATTERN. You may, however, sell ITEMS YOU MAKE WITH THE PATTERN. :-)” (I use bold instead of all caps in my actual text.) Since adding this clarification it has cut down a LOT on the requests I had to field from friendly people asking whether it’s ok to sell things they make.
This was a very informative article which has clarified a whole lot for me as a crafter. Thank you for this and I’m keeping this info in my files for future reference.
Thank you for this very useful and informative article.
For readers in the UK, this link will be of interest. The Intellectual Property Office has produced a simple and clear document that provides guidance on this issue for those operating under UK law:
The UK leans more toward accepting restrictions of use under contract law. This is from page 3:
“However, it will often be the case that the designer / author of the pattern will have included terms and
conditions with the pattern, limiting what use may be made of a finished article. Those terms commonly specify
that the pattern is licensed / sold on the basis that it is only for personal or non-commercial uses. This means
that you may give as a gift, or yourself use, an item that you have made from a pattern, but if you sell an item
you may be in breach of contract law. “
An important point that is too often ignored! Copyright varies tremendously from country to country. Canada has laws similar to the UK, and pattern designers can limit the use of finished articles. I have had many emails and comments over the years–some nasty and rude–from people who refuse to acknowledge that copyright laws of another country could be different from their own. Why is this? It baffles me. So arrogant and presumptive.
You are so right. Why can’t there be different copyright laws. Sorry people were like that to you.
Thank you so much for this helpful article! So to sum it up – I could sell handmade items from a clothing pattern bought from another country, even if it says “for personal use only “??!
This has been a concern of mine in selling finisged products in which I have so many. Thanks for the clarity between copyright patterns and selling the finished product.
I have never minded giving permission to home sewers who want to make some extra money selling at local craft shows, bizarres, and boutiques. They truly can never make enough items that could hurt my profit margins. After all, it is how I started and I will always pay this courtesy forward. However, the internet has created another avenue for manufacturers to test one item for sell, if you goes well, can put it into mass manufacturing — and that can hurt my profit margins.
And yes, I have always known that I probably can’t, and most likely won’t ever do anything about an ‘infringement’, but I figure I can still ask, and though not binding, it is not illegal to write the request on my outside packaging of every pattern, including to call/email for permissions. Most decent and respecting people find it acceptable and I get requests every day. It gives me the opportunity to give my parameters and most every one is on board — so wonderful! I do realize those that are not on board are not calling. But hopefully, my request slows things down in the greater scheme of things. Such is the world we live in.
How does it hurt your profit margins? The market for a quilt pattern or a knitting pattern is a completely different market than the one for a mass-manufactured quilt or knitted item. If the mass-manufactured item becomes popular, I can only see that increasing demand for the instructions to make it yourself, not the other way round. Besides which, almost always, the mass-manufactured techniques used will be very different from those given in patterns for hand-makers. They won’t even be using your pattern in the end.
It would hurt her profit margins because a large scale manufacturer could make and sell her item for less than it might cost me in supplies, let alone the time to make it, because of economies of scale. For instance, assume it would take me a week of work and $100 in yarn to sew one of her patterns. If I could just pick it up for $39.99 at the department store, I might decide it’s too much of an investment to do it all by hand, then she loses that pattern sale. Multiply me by a whole region or country.
The person who is choosing a $39.99 dress at the department store isn’t choosing that over making one. The DIY customer who wants to sew a dress has very different motivation.
I’ll be recommending this article to pattern designing friends in the future. Thank you, Carol, for breaking down the different paths a copyright can and cannot take. The big worry for designers I know isn’t small scale manufacturer of their designs, but mass manufacture as was Ms. Davies experience.
I don’t think Kate Davies had any case at all, personally. The mass-market version of the sweater was knitted using a completely different construction technique from hers. The only feature they had in common was the cabled owl – which is a design element that’s been around for generations. There was no copyright infringement at all.
Thanks for this article, Carol! Contract law is the way I handle this for my pdf pattern sales. Before someone purchases my pattern, they must select a checkbox that agrees to my Terms of Service. And in my terms I grant the purchaser a limited license to sell items made from the pattern, as long as they: make the item(s) themselves, the items will not be mass-produced or produced as part of a large-scale commercial operation, and they properly attribute each item (and online listing) that it was made using my pattern.
That is so smart!
If I were in the market to purchase a pattern to knit to sell finished objects from, I would be far less likely to buy from you. I would not attribute the pattern to you. Why? My customers wouldn’t care who designed it. They would just see a cute hat/scarf/whatever and want one, and they likely don’t knit themselves. If someone asked where I got the pattern, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them, but I wouldn’t waste label space for your name.
I am in total agreement with what kerowynsmom wrote with one exception: in my 40 years of knitting, crocheting, sewing, and other needlework only twice have I ever sold my work but that was work done on commission. However, if I were to see stipulations or provisions (or whatever you want to call them) to a pattern limiting me to how I can or cannot use it, that would be the last time I purchase a pattern from that designer (assuming the stipulations are only at the bottom of the pattern, not clearly on the website otherwise I wouldn’t bother at all). For me the issue comes down to a matter of respect. I respect you as a designer and your work enough to purchase from you, yet you don’t respect me at all. Perhaps that isn’t at all how you feel but your extremely limiting language telling me, the buyer, the maker, what I can do with the finished product I made after hours and hours of my time, not to mention the money I paid out for pattern and materials – why do think you have that right? Why should you have that right?
I am in agreement with you. As a quilt designer myself, I’ve seen that the colors and workmanship can “make or break” the pattern. I don’t consider that I have the right to tell the person using my pattern how many they can make with my pattern, or threaten them.
I’m totally with you and won’t buy from someone who has that attitude that they can try to control what you do with a pattern. I’ll keep looking for one without that caveat, or make up my own pattern.
I have no desire at all to design my own patterns. If a designer stipulates, before sale, that a pattern is only for personal use and gifting, fair enough. Some will let you sell finished objects locally but not compete with the designers sales of finished objects on Etsy or other internet sites. Perfectly reasonable to me. What I don’t want is designers deciding not to sell their designs because of drama.
Oh my gosh, well said. I, too, feel you should be able to sell your finished product and you do put several hours into making and item, i.e. applique. I would never dream of selling the authors pattern….only the completed project. Thank you,
I agree with all of this. And more to the point, people demanding to have control over my ability to sell my finished items are all but guaranteeing that I will NOT credit designers when I sell MY work. It’s a lot easier for someone to start trouble if I have credited their design (because then they feel they can prove I used their design) versus me not crediting anyone and them having to figure out if it’s actually THEIR design I am selling. Sell your patterns, collect the money and leave people alone. You legally and morally have zero standing to tell people what they can do with their finished work after they buy your pattern… Especially, as someone else mentioned, because the pattern buyer’s time, money and materials went into actually creating the item.
Thank you! Finally an article about copyright law from an actual attorney. Who woulda thunk it? 🙂
I think the analogous situation in the quilt-making area is traditional quilt patterns vs. art quilt patterns. I believe the “traditional” patterns go more down the path of utilitarian, but one must be careful about the patterns that are more on the “art” side. So if a designer has provided templates to reproduce some artistic frog or landscape or other design that would be considered separate from the utilitarian aspect of a quilt, then I believe (from what I read) that the designer does have more control over reproductions than someone who just made a quilt from log cabins. Just an added example for quilters. 🙂
And thanks for also pointing out the distinction between copyright and contract law. I do think a lot of designers add these provisions thinking it’s supported by copyright, when it’s really contract terms they are trying to define. And it would be really challenging to enforce a contract nobody can see before purchase. I think for the most part, people are betting that no one will challenge them on it, because lawsuits cost money.
Thanks for citing the Baker v. Selden case as most of us only consider copyright when creating patterns and conditions of sale when we also need to understand patent and trademark. Australian copyright for craft patterns are more specific than US regulations and allow the designer much more say in how the patterns may or may not be used. Enforcing that, however, still requires the same efforts as in the US. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap our heads around what a pattern copyright covers and what it does not. Thanks so much.
This is what I have as copyright policies: Copyright and use: Please feel free to print and use the pattern to make items for personal use or home industry. Mass-produced or factory-made items using this pattern is a violation of its copyright. By purchasing my pattern, you agree not to share, upload elsewhere, or resell the pattern either as a digital download or printed pattern. You are prohibited from giving or selling any of my patterns to a magazine, blog, or book publisher.
Thank you, Carol, for this clear, straightforward article. It makes sense, for all sewists and quilters to make themselves aware of the “actual law”, rather than be hesitant, worried (or end up being bullied) about the “urban myths”. As a former Australian lawyer, I believe that our legislation also provides that penalties may apply to someone who intimidates another with the “threat” of legal action due to alleged copyright breach, in the circumstances where that copyright does not belong to the first person, and no breach has occurred (my wording). Again… enforcement would still require time, cost and energy. This is why so many get away with it.
Thanks also to Jane & Allison for sharing your own policy wording. (Allison: I was pleased to find the “Embroidery School” on your website. Somehow I missed learning this skill when I was younger, so thanks for this. I look forward to starting from scratch).
Lisa, I’m so glad you like Embroidery School. I really wanted to make it easy on time and on nerves to learn some basic moves. I have plans for several more series (one for Christmas, one for embroidering with children, etc.). 🙂 Please enjoy!
My brother is a lawyer in the US and is known for his “vaguely menacing” letters. He never sends one unless he is darned sure that if pursued, it’s a pretty clear-cut win for the client, and that includes cease and desist letters. Often a company will simply stop if they have been “caught” and are likely to become exposed via litigation or mass shaming on social media. Not that they have to be threatened, just informed and that’s the trick – inform them of your stand without threatening. Hence the term “vaguely” menacing.
A very interesting post, thanks for the insight. As a brand manager, I think pattern designers need to find a way of gaining reasonable protection against wholesale copying (which is rampant and blatant: see Tuesday Bassen v. Zara, link below), and balancing that against demonizing their customer base. No home maker is ever going to produce enough finished units of a pattern to sell and create a problem. In fact, the more people make your pattern and share pictures of what they are doing, the more patterns you are likely to sell. As a customer, I have to say that if I encountered a T&C agreement like the one Angela Bowman describes, I would decline to purchase (even though I might know she is trying to protect herself against much bigger adversaries than just me and my two hands). IMO it sends a negative message right away: “I think you might try to steal from me”. This is what pattern merchants need to carefully consider.
Remember when the record labels started putting software on CDs to stop people copying them, and it messed up home computers? And then they started suing their customers for distributing copies? That did not work well for them and did not stem the flow, if anything it increased it because those customer got angry and vocal about it.
I think an interesting follow-up up might be to explore alternatives to bootstrapping your patterns with legal agreements. Also perhaps some research into how to protect patterns against the big companies with the big money – which I think is a more serious issue.
That Tuesday Bassen issue is covered well here: http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/07/tuesday-bassen-on-her-work-being-copied-by-zara.html
I’m curious if the other can elaborate on techniques? For example we all watch youtube videos or read book tutorials on techniques for piecing blocks or adding embellishments to garment sewing. Is that actual technique able to be taught (assuming you mention to your class where you learned the technique). For example I’ve seen many variations of improv piecing which I think would make a great class for newbies and seen it taught by various instructors and reads several post about it with almost the same basics starting points.
US Copyright explicitly never applies to methods or techniques for doing anything. So the video itself can be copyrighted, but the concept or idea or method is not. That means that in the US, at least, any person can learn a technique and then pass it on to others without any fear of infringing. if a person wants to patent a technique or method, they can do so, but patenting requires expensive research and legal advice. If a person doesn’t want others to copy their technique, they can also simply keep it as a trade secret. But once you teach something, the student now knows it and you can’t restrict them from using their knowledge. (http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ31.pdf)
Thank you so much for your informative article!
Thank you Evelyn that’s so refreshing to know.
Carol – What about design patents?
A person who has a design patent is not in the business of selling instructions on how to re-create it. The purpose of a design patent is to prevent anyone else from copying your design.
I question whether contract law can be used to control what a person does with a finished object, for the simple reason that a utilitarian object has no IP content in it, so the person trying to tell you what you can or cannot do with your sweater or mittens has no ownership rights to it to begin with. It seems to me like trying to sell rights that you don’t own in the first place. Sort of like telling a person they can’t park in front of your house, even though you have no ownership of the street there. Can you write up a contract with a person and limit their right to control their own property? The Supreme Court has determined in a Bobbs-Merrill case that the owner of copyright cannot prevent resale of a book. This idea of a contract for what you don’t own seems even less tenable to me. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobbs-Merrill_Co._v._Straus
Thank you for the article. I wonder about those teachers who use a freely available pattern, pininterest or who copy antique patterns off of fabric samples and then teach others how to do those patterns. Is this another field or would similar legislation apply?
I don’t know if this is the same principle but…what about licensed fabric that you buy (a professional sports team, for example), make a shirt or dress out of the fabric and sell it? I’ve read. on several occasions, about Disney going after people at craft fairs who sell items made with Disney-themed fabric.
Disney and others don’t go after people for using their themed fabric, they have no case. They do go after folks for infringing on their trademarks. Advertising and/or marketing items as Disney ®, or Cinderella®, or Lion King ®, NFL®, New York Yankees®, Roll Tide®, etc. It is very important to word your advertising/marketing correctly. Phrases such as “Backpack made from licensed character fabric” are generally fine, “Beauty and the Beast Backpack” is not. Additionally, a disclaimer that the product is not produced, or endorsed by the trademark holder is beneficial.
Would this also apply to rubber stamps – where you use the stamped image to create a card, and then sell that card? Some companies don’t allow this. They also don’t allow you to stamp the images and then sell the stamped images, which makes sense to me. But I don’t understand why you can’t sell cards you make since you’re essentially changing the image by coloring it.
it’s the image itself you can’t sell… no matter how you color it, it remains the same image and that image is protected. The same with machine embroidery designs, it’s the machine instructions in the design as well as the image that are protected as IP.
So, I am allowed to sell doll clothes made from big box pattern companies (McCalls, etc.)?
Very interesting article and I will repost it on our quilting guild Facebook page.
This is always our dilemma for our guild. Can a member teach us a technique or class that they previously learned somewhere else, by a professional instructor or at a quilt show? Are we able to teach a technique that we picked up from a book, or other source? I realize that we shouldn’t reprint the instructions without permission, but was just wondering to what point we can use these items with our members.
I would appreciate any information someone could give me.
My issue is when quilt shops photocopy your pattern to put in kits that they do up to make your pattern.
Thank you so much for writing this clear cogent article on this. As a librarian, I hold myself as a guardian of copyright law and especially artist rights which somehow are dismissed or lessened compared to written word author rights. I am a fiber artist who uses patterns to create. Before I sell items, I write the pattern creator directly requesting permission or guidelines. So many are very generous and merely want a note or sign or tag stating that the design was created by them while the actual item was created my me. Quite a partnership. Imagine the pattern makers trust in the pattern follower’s skills. What if I louse it up? I try to honor the designer to the extent of my skills. Again, thank you!
An excellent article! Absolutely fantastic! Thank you for writing and publishing this!
Some of this seems to contradict information on the various pages of this site: http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml
For example, people do indeed make knock-offs of designer clothes, wallets, etc. Also, wouldn’t a quilt or afghan be considered a ‘useful item’?
As someone who sews and crochets I follow these discussions closely. As with so many legal issues, it seems like a lot of this is open to interpretation
Very informative article and very pertinent to my business. Thank-you for writing it!
Hello I am wondering about my quilt patterns being resold after some one has used the pattern. How does this sit with copy right laws here in Australia ?
I have purchased several patterns and then used them as inspiration to make other variations and items Is it ok to publish these changes and variations? Is giving credit to the original patterns as inspiration?
This was a great article. I have a question however. I have several vintage patterns from the 1950’s and 1960’s (some don’t even have a copyright statement on them so I have no idea when they were made). I’d like to digitize them, grade them (because back then it was one size per pattern), make some adjustments to modernize them, and then offer made-to order dresses using these patterns. Possibly sell the graded digitized patterns too. Based on this article is seems selling the made-to-order stuff would be ok, but what about the patterns? The vintage pattern is my basis, but after digitizing, grading, and adjusting would it be considered my own?
as a matter of personal ethics, i do not share patterns that are for sale. i believe the designer/creater is due whatever small royalty he/she receives for their creative process… some people think they are clever by getting stuff for ‘free’ when they share… i think they are stealing…
I knit and crochet and choose NOT to sell finished items for many reasons. This copyright clause being one of them.
While I completely understand the designer’s position, I find the clause frustrating because it’s seldom that I make more than one of an item and even when I do, I could never imagine making so many it’s practically mass production, so designers have no worries on that score from me.
The problem I have is when a friend admires something I’ve made and then asks me to make them one and they offer to pay me. Depending on who it is, I either say something about the clause so therefore don’t make the item for them or I just make it for them as a gift. The friend is effectively hiring me to make it for them because they can’t make it themselves so why can I not be compensated for the materials, time and skill? The designer gains from the sale of their pattern, the friend gains a freebie, and me, one of many crafters out there, loses. Why?
I don’t have an Etsy store or anything like that. I don’t do craft fayres so it’s sad that I cannot be compensated, if only minimally, if someone were to hire my skill for the item they want.
Thank you for this well written and most informative article.
While I understand the reasoning of the “License Purchase” granting the purchaser temporary permission to sell items they make, for me that is a dead-stop, look no further, big red warning flag. Back away from this pattern. Cease and desist any monetary flow to this designer. I have read several of these “Licenses” that actually include restrictions on where the finished pieces can or cannot be sold! “May not be sold on Etsy,” “May not be sold on eBay,” “Name of designer must be placed prominently on finished item.” The resulting language on my part cannot be printed here.
Another “turn off” for me in purchasing patterns from any given designer in any given media, is the refusal to allow the selling of items made from their pattern because, “I work hard to make my designs stand out from others.” Welp, gee whiz. Tattoo my forehead and paint me silly. Okie dokie then, keep your overly high priced pattern in its golden cage, and I will purchase the $4.99 one with the right to sell having been granted from another designer.
I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to rant. 🙂
What about downloading a free online patterns to teach a youth sewing class where students make the item for their own personal use? Is the instructor allowed to recommend and coach students in the making of item as a teaching tool if it is their business to teach?
I would think as a designer/pattern developer it is good press. It could lead to future business for them, as they get free exposure and publicity through the teacher.
What is the legality of doing this?
What about 3D printing designs. Is it different because most of the making is done by machine? It does matter what aesthetic choices are made as well as technique in assembling things but many 3D designers provide files as non-commercial.
Just like machine embroidery files, 3D printing designs are protected IP insofar as the machine instructions are protected under law just like the written word. Any aesthetic choices are not relevant and do not change the protection of the files.
I have shops copying my hand embroidery patterns and selling them, rather than buying them from me or from my distributors. I also have shops and teachers digitizing my designs and selling the digitized disks. It’s shocking when you realize how many people out there feel totally justified in stealing from designers.
What about if I buy a pattern in pdf form from the internet, i’ve used it to make something or I bought it and never made it, is it legal to resell the pdf pattern and delete it from my files?
Hello, thanks for such an informative article. You mention a statute in the “cupcakes” paragraph…could you please provide a link to that statute? Thanks!
I hope by now your question was answered. If not, the statute is stated in that section. Baker v Seldon 101, US 99 (1879).
Hello, I teach sewing classes and have thought about using various different patterns. If I were to buy, say, a Tilly and the buttons pattern for each person in my class and teach then how to make it. would that be legal?
Yes, as long as each student has a separately purchased copy of the pattern, whether purchased by you or them…
I use a Cricut cutting machine. Some YouTube instructors offer SVGs to use in projects. Some are free and some are sold. Some say product made with the SVG is for personal use only. I realize I cannot sell the SVG that is their artwork but when I use it to create, may I sell that item. Does the rule change if the final product is a piece of art or a useful item? Picture on canvas or a lamp for example of both.
This article was very informative and useful, so I thank you for taking your time and your knowledge to address this issue in a public forum. This seems to be the same argument that was used in the Blockbuster case involving renting out purchased tapes bought from the studios. It is NOT at all fair to charge someone a price and then tell that same person they have to use your pattern or design only for free items for yourself and friends. After all… if you want to make more money as a designer, either raise your prices, sell your own designs and makes… or do something different. That being said, I am highly ethical and always purchase my patterns and try to support designers by listing their name as the designer on anything that I make. But I still should be allowed to sell anything that my own two hands have made and that my bank account has funded by buying the tangible products to make the item. I watch a lot of YouTube videos and I do hope that the designers on that service understand that they are giving away their designs by posting the video, but being compensated by YouTube every time someone watches the video. And not everyone watching will be only making for “personal use”.
I have spoken with a copyright attorney, who pretty much said the same thing. Copyright only protects the written text.
If a designer doesn’t want items made from their patterns to be sold, they shouldn’t be selling their patterns. They should just keep them to themselves. Most of the designs in their patterns, can be found all over the internet. Who is to say who was the first person to write a pattern for any given design?
I have a thread shop. I want to make up kits for PDF patterns I can buy online. Can I purchase these patterns and kit them up to sell in my shop. I would only be looking at recouping the cost of the pattern plus the retail cost of the fabric and threads. Stocking patterns is a minefield – my budget is limited so I though by doing this I would be supporting the designer as well as offering fun and beautiful items to my customers.
I would definitely purchase a pattern for each kit. Thanks 🙂
One idea would be to reach out directly to the designer of the patterns and ask. That’s a place to start.
After a couple of hours of reading all these opinions I’m not sure what the final outcome is for the ordinary crafter. The rules seem to be aimed at ensuring that the pattern designer’s rights are protected but the buyer’s are not. What is the designer actually offering me for my money? Most people don’t need a dozen quilts or 20 sweaters of the same size and colour. So essentially I am buying a pattern which I am only allowed to use once. I can’t sell the sweater if I decide I don’t like it despite many hours of work and a pile of money for the yarn. It’s not really “mine”. I have to contact the designer for permission to sell it. I could give it away but must make sure I put a tag on it with the designer’s details. Could I give it to a charity shop? Are they allowed to sell any item without an attribution?
This all blows the simple idea of making “stuff” at home for whatever reason out of all proportion.
Am I leaving myself open to litigation when I buy and use any pattern? And what happens if I change some element in the design, such as increasing the sleeve size, and the designer decides i am trying to infringe on the copyright?
Many craft groups make multiples of one pattern for sale at craft fairs. Is the group allowed to buy one pattern and make it available to all it’s members? Is it realistic or reasonable to expect each member to buy a new pattern each time they make the item? Oh! Did I forget that they aren’t allowed to sell the products they made even if everyone buys ten copies of the pattern?
I understand the frustration of the designers but they have to look at their market. Are they selling designs or finished products or kits?
Crafters are mostly little people trying to enjoy making something which they can’t design themselves. Designers spend a fortune on computer programmes and naturally want to recoup that. Why can’t crafters recoup what they invest in their efforts too?