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Sunday 1 January 2012

Intellectual Property Does Not Mean You Have A Wiseacre

What is Intellectual Property?

As promised, the next few posts will focus on copyright. Certainly I am no lawyer and do not claim to be an expert, but I do have a vested interest in the subject and would like to share my thoughts. The material here is presented in good faith. Even though it is a complex topic, like most of our laws a lot of it is simply common sense and the application of The Golden Rule which we learned in Sunday School: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Please bear with me through long, wordy posts.

Intellectual property (which we will hereafter abbreviate to IP) refers to creations of the mind – inventions, literary, musical or artistic works, names, symbols and images…and that very clever title of this blogpost :) Your thoughts are unique to you; you own what goes on in your mind. Logic dictates you cannot and do not need to protect the idea while it’s in your brain because (thankfully) no one knows what’s going on inside there. But once your idea leaves your head and becomes a painting, a distinctive way to write the name Coca Cola® so that it’s easily recognizable, a cotton gin, or a quilt, you are able to protect the expression of your vision. We are given protection over our tangible property and “real” estate through laws and courts which address trespassing and theft, and our wiseacre property is no different: we own it and have the right to protect it.

Once an idea leaves the brain and is translated into something tangible the IP protection takes different routes depending on the route the idea has taken: inventions (such as the cotton gin)are protected by patents and assigned a number. Names (like Coca Cola®),symbols (such as the red swooshy Coca Cola® name) used in commerce to identify products (i.e. logos) are registered as trademarks and have these symbols after their name: ® ™. You can get in a lot of trouble if you use a company’s logo as your own. Artistic works such as books, poems, films, music, paintings, photographs, sculptures and fibre art (such as my New York Roundabout © quilt ) are protected by copyright and use this symbol: ©. You can get in a lot of trouble if you pass off another person’s quilt design as your own.

When you have an idea that has come into being through expression, you may then apply for the copyright on this work. Intellectual Property Offices are federal institutions; in Canada, the office is part of Industry Canada and operates out of Gatineau, Quebec. Your application form contains details of the work and once submitted, an investigation is begun on your behalf to make sure your work is original and not a copy of something already out there. If it is deemed to be so, you receive this very large official looking envelope in the mail. At 10" x 16", even the envelope looks important.

It's a big moment when you receive that document - second only perhaps to getting your child's birth certificate. It validates your creative vision.
The appearance of the document has changed somewhat over the years, as has the method of registration. The application can now be done online. When I first began applying for copyrights in 1993, they cost $65. Over the years that increased gradually, but now has dropped back to $50.00. As mentioned in a previous post, quilts fall into the "artistic" category.
IP protection for artists is not new; the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works took place in 1886. This international treaty is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It doesn’t matter whether a copyright is held in Canada and infringed upon in the U.S. as political borders are not recognized. The point of IP protection is to encourage creativity and expression of ideas for the benefit of all. If we keep everything bottled up in our heads for fear of someone else stealing our ideas, that would be a very sad world. I don’t want to live in that world and I am determined to speak up when someone breaks the rules. The next post will (hopefully) address some of the "can and cannot do" rules of copyright. As always, your comments are welcomed and appreciated.


  1. Thank you for sharing this Karen. I'm understanding more already & I'm sure many of us out there are going to benefit from the time & effort you are putting into this most interesting, but what appears to be, complex issue. Thanks again.

  2. I know this has been a lot of work getting this accross; but, boy have you done a good job of it Karen. Good for you. Looking forward to your next post!!

  3. This is all very interesting reading. I have a question about the copyright. I'm an art quilter among other things. some are quite small, so I therefore may do a dozen or so a year. Would I have to apply for copyright for every single piece? Would that also apply to mixed media pieces of artwork as well?