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R.Kay Design: Copyright and Sewing Patterns

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Copyright and Sewing Patterns

I just recently started sewing again after not looking at my machine for at least 15 years. One of the things that inspired me to pull out my machine (actually I went down and bought a new one), was seeing patterns on Etsy. I decided I wanted to make a cover for my daughter's IPad, so I bought a pattern on Etsy. Then I wanted a Kindle cover, so I bought another pattern. Then a purse, another pattern.
One thing I noticed on some of the patterns I was looking at that I had never even considered was a statement that if I wanted to sell the finished product I made from the pattern, I had to buy a license to do so. I didn't think twice, I decided I wanted to sell the Kindle covers, so I purchased the license. I wonder why I didn't even think twice?

Well, now I'm making and planning on selling patterns, so I thought I'd better check out the copyright laws. Come to find out, a license was not necessary to sell that finished product unless I just wanted to buy it as a courtesy. The pattern designer has no recourse under the U.S. copyright law if I make and sell the item. In fact, the only thing covered under copyright is the wording and images used in the instructions and the graphics used to market it.

The copyright law will cover the interpretation of how to construct the piece, in other words, the written instructions, but it does not cover the design or idea.  And further, the copyright law does not cover any 'useful item' and that Kindle cover, and all clothing for that matter, are useful items. The copyright law only covers works that are written or recorded, like books, sheet music, plays, graphics, pictures, motion pictures, and the like.

So, unless I was going to try to sell her written pattern as my own, the idea for the Kindle cover was not copyrightable. So there was no way she could me tell how to use or not use that idea. In fact, if I want to make a pattern and write instructions in my own words with my own pictures of how to make that Kindle cover, even if I didn't change a thing, it would not be unlawful and the person I purchased that pattern from would have no recourse. That is why you see the same 'high fashion' dress on the rack at Macy's made in a less expensive manner, it's not breaking copyright law to copy a design. Of course, there is the matter of integrity, so I wouldn't do that. However, when it comes to the pattern that I'm speaking of, I changed it so much it's really not the same any longer, so someday, I may go ahead and write up instructions for my new version. Who knows.

Anyway, I'm not giving any advise about law as I am not an attorney. And you should always speak to an attorney about your own work, please DO NOT rely on this blog post for your legal advise concerning copyright law. Just be aware that just because someone says you can't sell an item you make from their pattern, doesn't mean they have the right to do that. They have the right to sue you if you copy, but people have the right to sue for any reason, doesn't mean they will win.

P.S. The photo on this blog post is of one of the Kindle covers I made from the referenced pattern...the pattern that I paid for the license to resell the item. It's on Etsy at this link: Handmade Kindle Cover .

Until later ~


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At September 8, 2011 at 10:40 AM , Blogger Janlynn said...

That's very interesting. I never knew any of that.
Thanks for the info. Nor more bullying by the big four about making their patterns for other people and charging for it.

At September 8, 2011 at 10:42 AM , Blogger Bethany said...

What a great post! These licenses and limits on selling a finished product never sat right with me, especially for something like a simple bag or clutch or something that you could figure out on your own anyway. I would never sell someone's printed pattern or steal their idea outright and just reshoot the photos, but if something is changed a lot (and made better!) and is only loosely based on the original I'd sell it with no kinks in my conscience. There's nothing new under the sun anyway....

At September 8, 2011 at 11:42 AM , Blogger Tanya said...

I have often wondered about that. Thank you for posting this information

At September 8, 2011 at 8:34 PM , Blogger Reba said...

Love the comments! I did find a document on the internet where the fashion industry is trying to change the copyright law regarding design, but it hasn't happened yet.

I also saw where there was a purse designer that claims that one of the Kardashian purses that Sears sells is a copy of her design (that sells for $600) and has made it public. Sears pulled the purses but no suit has been filed...probably because she (or her attorneys) knows she can't win.

If you start researching this yourself, I'm sure you will come to the same conclusion, but if you see anything that's contrary, please post, I'd like to know.

At September 10, 2011 at 1:56 AM , OpenID tillymintboutique said...

Great post Reba, going to look into it a bit more now, thanks :-)

At September 10, 2011 at 9:56 AM , Blogger Reba said...

I just read a post on Handmadeology about copyright - there are a lot of comments, good stuff. The comments get into not just copyright but trademark. There is a difference. Here's the link:

At September 14, 2011 at 1:07 PM , Anonymous Lydia said...

Reba! Thank you so much for all of the information & sharing you are doing on your blog ... I see so many folks that don't do their research & so glad that you have & you SHARE! Keep up the great work ...

At September 14, 2011 at 10:53 PM , Blogger Reba said...

Lydia, thank you for the nice comment! I love sewing and I love the internet - sharing is what makes it so great. Glad you liked the info.


At October 25, 2011 at 2:13 PM , Blogger Patricia Hodge said...

Thanks for the info. I have done some graphic artist work for digital scrapbooking. Copyright infringement is a huge problem in the graphic art world. As I have started sewing more and taking my artistic abilities in that direction, I wondered about copyright laws and how they effected what I might sell to someone. I also noticed that most patterns do not come with a terms of use like digital art does. I appreciate you posting this.


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