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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Have My Rights Left? Are My Rights Wrong? ©

Have My Rights Left? Are My Rights Wrong?©
It’s easy to protect ideas in our heads, but once they are born it often feels like a free-for-all. It shouldn’t. Ideas are not free for all to use without permission, or consequence. That’s what a copyright is all about. The word copyright means the expression of the registered work is controlled by the creator. The creator has the right to determine if the work may be copied and reproduced, and is the only one able to give permission to others to do so. Wikipedia has this to say about rights: Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.
There are two types of rights under copyright law. Economic rights allow the copyright owner to derive financial reward from the use of his work by others. Moral rights allow the author to take action to preserve the personal link between himself and the work.
Since I publish and sell the patterns for my designs, I get to say what rights buyers have to my work when purchasing a pattern. It’s important to realize that the Intellectual Property you are purchasing is not the paper pattern itself, it’s the information or knowledge contained within the pattern. To quote James Thurber from “Here Lies Miss Groby”, the paper pattern is simply the “container for the thing contained”. Some folks object to paying $10.00 for a 6 page pattern using the ridiculous argument that it could be photocopied for a dollar. The value of the pattern goes far beyond the actual cost of ink on paper – the worth is in the knowledge communicated by the words.
Essentially when you purchase a pattern you are entering into a contract with the seller and are agreeing to adhere to the terms and conditions of that sale contract. We need to be very clear on this next part: Each designer decides for themselves what Rights they are selling to their design. It’s a “because I said so…” deal, so do not assume there is one correct answer. Each has his/her own set of rules and you need to read your pattern to see what Rights you have purchased. Some designers do not allow you to make more than one quilt from each pattern. If you want to make the quilt again, you need to repurchase the pattern. Check your pattern covers and see what’s written. If you are unable to find the information, contact the designer and ask. Always ask. Here's a link to a book cover where the information is clearly stated. Note they spell out the permission for copy shops to photocopy the pull-out sheets of templates in the centre of the book. Interestingly the author of this book, Patrick Lose, dealt with copyright infringement in 2010 when a piece he had designed appeared in a magazine. Speaking for myself only…my rules are printed on the back cover of each pattern and read thus: 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. A key phrase in that sentence is “personal use.” When you purchase my pattern, you are given permission to do anything you want with it, if it’s for your own use. You can make it as many times as you like, for yourself or to give as gifts. You can photocopy the templates to use in your studio, thus keeping your master intact. You can line your bird cage with it (I hope you don’t.) What you cannot do is photocopy it to hand out free at guild meetings (because that’s no longer just you using it), nor can you scan and email it to all your friends. It’s for you to use yourself. After you are finished with the pattern, can you sell it? Again, ANSWERING ONLY FOR MYSELF…of course you can – it’s yours. Note that when I say you can sell it, I mean the pattern you purchased – not a photocopy of it, not a scanned or duplicate copy, nor can you retype the instructions and sell those. You can resell that ORIGINAL pattern with my blessing. Quilt shops that purchase patterns wholesale are given permission to resell the patterns for profit. Quilt designers need quilt shops, and quilt shops need quilt designers - it's a symbiotic relationship. Quilt shops are NOT given permission to copy the design in any way – they cannot photocopy them to hand out free with a fabric purchase, teach a class, nor can they rewrite the instructions and distribute them without my name on them. This is why when you take a workshop each person is required to purchase an original copy of the pattern. More on this in a later post.
How about the quilt you made from the pattern - can you sell it? Yes, but…this is a different ball of wax now because there is financial gain involved. Refer back to the types of Rights noted above: economic and moral. Economic rights allow the rights owner to derive financial reward from the use of his works by others. Presumably when you sell a quilt you do so to make a profit. You are profiting from my work in your work, and my copyright allows me to derive some sort of financial reward from this. What I ask back from you is advertising, to include my Sew Karen-ly Created…name and website address ( on the tag. It doesn’t cost you anything to do that, but it satisfies my right to economic benefit. I think that’s a small thing to ask. As for the Moral Right ( Moral rights allow the author to take certain actions to preserve the personal link between himself and the work),it’s imperative that the designer’s name stays with the design. Paraphrasing Kathleen Bissett, in her article she writes: "If there is no reference to another, the implication is that the artist is the designer." To illustrate this point, during our Fibre Arts Festival I visited a shop in town with handmade items for sale. I was carrying my selvedge tote bag.
When I entered the store, the shop owner said, “oh – you made Jane Doe’s bag!” and pointed to a bag for sale in her shop identical to the one on my shoulder. I laughingly responded, “no, Jane Doe made MY bag.” When I looked at the tag, it had the maker’s name only so naturally it was assumed that she was also the designer. A quick phone call to the maker cleared the matter up easily, and the bags are now properly labelled and credited - no hard feelings on either side. Small point, but an important one as it (morally and legally) preserves my link to the design. Would I be upset if you show a quilt made from my pattern to your friends in your livingroom without assigning designer credit? Nope. But if you put it on the Internet on a blog or Flicker page or your Etsy shop where your audience is the world, I would be then. It’s not just a courtesy, it’s part of what’s required by law.
I thank everyone for the kind comments and emails of support I am receiving. I do realize this is a lot of reading; I know that it's certainly a lot of writing :)


  1. Karen, thank you for these articles....they are very interesting, and it is good to have them spelled out as a reference to point others toward.

  2. Karen - thanks so much for taking all this time to educate us! You have done a lot of work digging out this information I am sure and I am finding the posts very interesting. I look forward to tomorrow's post but don't forget to leave time for designing and quilting!! Lori

  3. I have loved these blogs. And, I will forever forward give credit to the designer on my quilts if I have used a pattern. I honestly never thought about it before.