Sew Karen-ly Created...

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Wednesday 28 December 2011

Copyright Woes

2011 has been an unusual year for Sew Karen-ly Created…and for me personally. In my quilting, it spanned the reach from the best-of-the-best to the worst-of-the-worst experiences ever. Paducah, Houston, Quilt Canada and the highly successful Nova Scotia Fibre Arts Festival rank as highlights. On the down side, my cotton allergy has become quite severe and all cotton batting is now banned from the studio; a Honeywell air purifier has been installed to enable me to continue to sew cotton fabrics. This solution is not 100% successful, but it helps. Slowly I am coming to recognize the brands of fabric which have more lint and bother me most; those stay in the store, no matter how much those gorgeous prints beckon me to take them home. This reaction to fibre is not unusual and builds up over time; certainly over almost 25 years of 10 hour days, I have been exposed to a great deal of cotton fibre. Quilting has also taken a toll on my hands, which are swollen and painful from repetitive movements. These are things one can expect from the business, and accept. What I find I cannot and will not accept is my work being copied and sold; it is an unbelievable kick in the heart and one perhaps you can’t imagine until it happens to you. But trust me – it hurts.

As quilters, you well know that creating something from scratch is a labour of love. You pour your heart and soul – as well as many long hours – tweaking the design to suit your eye, removing a seam here and there to bring it to its simplest form. It’s exhilarating when you come up with something unique; there is excitement in the sharing. Since 1989, I have been sharing my designs through publication in books and magazines as well as individual pattern sales. The instructions are written with the utmost care to make recreating the design as simple and straightforward as possible. My patterned designs are intended to be sewn and duplicated – that’s the point of selling patterns after all. I want quilters to make them. But you CANNOT copy the design and pattern it as your own to sell. Not only is it rude and underhanded, it’s illegal. It’s theft. It’s the school yard bully knocking you down to steal the assignment on which you worked so hard and passing it in with his name on the top of the page. I never understand when people think you are making a big deal over nothing when copyright infringement is mentioned. It *IS* a big deal, and one governed by international laws.

If you own one of my patterns (thank you) turn it over; on the back you will see these words:

This pattern is for your own personal use. Photocopying, digitizing, and all other forms of copying to share or distribute the pattern, whether for profit or not, is prohibited by copyright law.

That does not say you cannot photocopy the pattern to use as you sew (in fact, many of my patterns are written for foundation piecing so photocopying the masters is pretty much assumed) – it means you can’t photocopy it to hand out free at guild meetings, nor can you scan and email it to all your friends. It’s for you to use yourself. You bought it.

This notice is followed by statement of copyright with that funny little © to indicate this is an original work, and the year in which the copyright was registered. That statement looks like this:

© 2008 Karen A. Neary All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved” means Karen A. Neary reserves (holds) ALL the rights to copy this design. No one else has the right to copy it without permission. This includes derivative (similar) copies of the original.

Although not operating from a brick and mortar store-front, Sew Karen-ly Created…has been in business officially since 1989, registered with the Joint Stock Companies of Nova Scotia. I operate as a sole proprietorship, and collect and remit all taxes, including GST, quarterly. An accountant audits my books. I am not just a quilter who does this for a hobby, I operate a retail business the same as any shop. My patterns are sold wholesale to quilt shops across North America and retail from the checkout page of my website. If you stole a printed pattern from a quilt shop, that’s theft and I expect the owner would call the police. If a pattern has been stolen from me and copied, it’s really no different. It’s wrong, immoral and unlawful behaviour.

Over the years, I have discovered copying of my work 7 times - 3 this past year-and I am always left wondering how many I haven’t discovered. These copy cats have always been confronted and each time, without fail, they admit what they have done, apologize, make restitution of sorts and we move on. The ones this year have been different. Last February, by accident, I found a well-known quilter in Australia who was blatantly claiming my Oriental Beauty as her own, selling patterns and conducting workshops all over her country. The rub on this one is that she herself publishes in quilting magazines and knew full well what she was doing was wrong. She made a very nice profit from my work. It was dreadfully upsetting and the new design I was working on in my studio in February got set aside. I felt I didn’t want to finish it and risk having her – or someone else – copy it. It sat unfinished all summer as I pondered what to do, working on string quilts and workshop samples in the meantime. On December 17th, I decided I was over it and resumed quilting on the piece. I posted a picture of Polly and I happily at the machine working on this quilt. The very next day, I discovered a copy of my New York Roundabout quilt on the website of a Massachusetts quilt shop, Fabric Stash. I contacted the shop at once and left a message, but did not hear back from them until after my blog post on the subject prompted numerous emails from my readers to the shop owner expressing displeasure with the copying. (My sincerest thanks for the outpouring of support). The woman responsible telephoned and she was LIVID with me – how bizarre!! She lit into me with unbridled fury, telling me she could copy any darned thing she saw. I have never encountered such violent anger, and it rattled me. I waited while she ranted; she did not hesitate to tell me yes, she had copied my quilt and that she was within her right to do so as there was “nothing new out there, it was all the same.” When she quieted down enough for me to get a word in, I calmly asked “so why did you choose this quilt to copy?” to which she replied, “Because it’s so different, I’d never seen anything like it before.” (Now put those two statements together and see if they make any sense: everything is the same but this one was different). She is right that my New York Roundabout quilt is different, and so is my Farrago, and Oriental Beauty, and Yuletide Jewel and…I’d like to think all the others. That’s why my work is copyrighted at the Intellectual Property Office in Ottawa. It’s an expensive and time consuming process but one I feel necessary to protect my work. I registered my first copyright in 1993 and have done so fairly regularly since then. Mind you, not every piece is registered in Ottawa; it would be unrealistic seeing as how I have published over 300 original patterns and most magazine deadlines do not allow time to wait for a copyright registration to come in. Thankfully, New York Roundabout is a design which I registered in Ottawa and I hold full, legal rights to this design. Two days after discovering the knock-off on the Fabric Stash website, I found another (again by accident) on the website, a shop in Michigan. The description reads, “this table runner has a new flair with an interesting shape.” “New flair” in unique. Get that? It is different for a New York Beauty quilt. Different is the reason I was able to obtain the copyright. I anonymously emailed to ask about the kit and pattern and the shop owner, wrote back saying it was her own kit, done in her quilt shop. I telephoned her immediately and told her I was the designer of the New York Roundabout quilt she had copied. She knew she had been caught with her hand in someone else’s cookie jar and as a quilt shop owner, she knows better. This particular quilt was designed to be kitted by Benartex using their pre-printed foundations and Fossil Fern Fabric. The shop owner decided she could make more profit and move some of her slower lines of fabric by kitting the Benartex foundations with non-Benartex fabrics from her shop. She printed up her own directions to include in her kits. My directions reference Fossil Fern colours. She has even taken the design and taught it at workshops. She admitted what she had done and told me she would stop selling the kits. I suggested she needed to make restitution and one solution would be for her to sell my patterns in her quilt shop…since she obviously liked my work. Frankly, I think that was a generous offer on my part as she had stolen sales from me. That’s all I was asking. She hesitated, so I suggested that we take some time and both think of a fair solution that would benefit each of us as business owners. She was to email me in two days’ time (Dec 22nd). That day passed and I never heard from her…nor did I have any response from the numerous messages and emails sent since then...until I posted this article which originally included her email address. She answered then. Her promise to contact me was no good, so how do I trust that she has removed these kits from sale in her shop? I don’t. She has removed the page from her website but through the magic of web archiving you can still see it - things never disappear. Once they are posted they are there for eternity...

So…what comes next? Certainly these official pieces of paper from our nations’ capital can do more than fan one’s face on a warm day. They will stand up in court to establish my claim…but why do we have to go to all this upset? No offense to the legal profession but we know there will be significant cost if a lawyer is involved. What a waste of time and resources…unless of course making a big fuss this time will bring a bit of awareness to the issue. I am not a happy camper to have to deal with something stressful and unnecessary like this; I just like to quilt :( This issue dogged my year and totally ruined my Christmas.

I will be doing a series of posts over the next little while to talk about the copyright issue some more. In a previous post (scroll down) I posted a link to Kathleen Bissett’s excellent article on the topic, and I have Kathleen’s permission to use excerpts. To say this is discouraging and disheartening states it mildly. This needs to stop...


  1. Hmm, I would think that Shop owners would know about copyright and such things. Gesh. Too bad you had to challenge her, but I'm glad you did... I'll go read Kathleen Bissett's article too. I'm a guild coordinator and I know when we plan workshops, we try to be very careful about patterns etc. Gail M...

  2. I could not agree more, and commend you for following up when you find these fraudsters. I thought a pattern on Moda Bake Shop copied a technique I had seen and contacted the creator. She was quite thankful, even though she said it wasn't exactly the same, so she was fine with it.

    Karen, in your blog posts, perhaps you can comment on an issue I have never seen addressed, that is, the re-selling of patterns after you have used them. I have seen this a few times - the person selling it even shows a picture of the quilt they made with it. To me, that is infringing the "personal use" part of copyright. What do you think? Does it make any difference if you have bought the pattern, but never used it?

  3. You've certainly been through the wringer. Bad enough to know you've been cheated but then to have the cheater act like the wounded party? That's outrageous!

  4. Karen, by coincidence only yesterday I was reading the copyright page on Judy B's blog - as well as her own articles she has links to many others While they are written from an Australian perspective, there are many international links. Copyright is pretty much the same anywhere.

  5. I couldn't agree more with you; but, gosh it is an icky thing to deal with.

  6. Oh Karen - I can't even imagine the hurt and frustration you must have gone through - especially when the one shop owner got mad at you!! I am so sorry that it spoiled your Christmas - that just isn't fair. Please don't let this stop you from designing and selling your beautiful patterns. Lori

  7. didn't detect any voice shaking in these...just pure gutsy stand up honesty.

  8. WOW!! I am reading your blog backwards and had no idea this was happening to you. I am so sorry you went through this. I am shocked that "professionals" in the quilting world are guilty of this type of behavior. I hope 2012 is going a bit better for you Karen.