You know how you go back and forth on whether or not to post on a topic, then something pushes you over the edge? That’s what this post is like. First off, let me say I am not an intellectual property lawyer. In fact, I’ve never, ever been to lawschool. I considered just making this post a series of links that might be helpful to people, but I’m going to add a few thoughts here and there as well, avoiding personal opinion as much as possible. And before I get started, let me say that I know this can be an emotional topic but please, oh please, if you feel the need to let me know how angry you are, please email me (address at top right) instead of leaving the comment here. I try to maintain a happy blog here. Thanks. Oh yes, and feel free to include your own reputable links (no discussion threads, please) in the comments.
There seem to be a lot of areas of copyright in general and more specifically related to sewing that just aren’t readily known to the general population. Even people who should know better sometimes are tempted to cut and paste pictures or content because it’s just so easy on the internet. I’ve seen my free purse pattern posted in it’s entirety on someone’s blog that I’ve never had any communication with. But why should it matter? You ask. It’s free, right? Well, I realize that the Lindie Bag isn’t rocket science, but it does matter to me. And more importantly, it violates copyright law. And btw this was not the incident that pushed me over the edge. Please don’t ask me about that one. Thanks.
When I started my internet research, I came across several discussion threads. They were frustrating to read because people were making points based on emotional appeals and making moral points instead of stating what the actual law was. People use legally-defined terms improperly all the time to make a point. But how does she know, if she didn’t go to law school? Well, I’m glad you asked! The legal definitions are just a few clicks away.
The first place I would encourage anyone who’s interested to read is the U.S. Copyright Office web site.
The woman who cut and paste my Lindie Bag Pattern was very nice and took the post down when I brought it to her attention. She said she looked around and didn’t see a copyright notice on my blog so figured it was fine to cut and paste. Not so. See here, “Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created…” My pattern didn’t need to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, or even have the copyright symbol on it for me to own the copyright. Good rule of thumb here – always ask before taking anything.
Okay, let’s look at the term “derivative work”. It is defined this way: “…a work based upon one or more preexisting works…” (see here and scroll down for the description in it’s entirety). So let’s say you see a tutorial for some quilted widgets. Then you see another tutorial for quilted widgets. Can you then make some minor changes to and publish your own tutorial based on those others that you saw? This is part of Circular 40: Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts which includes sewing, knitting, crochet, and needlework patterns (see page 2):
“The owner of copyright in a work has the exclusive right to make copies, to prepare derivative works, to sell or distribute copies, and to display the works publicly.” (Circular 40, page 1)
I have also read that if you change 20% of a pattern, then it’s your own. This is a bad, bad myth. There is nothing I could find about this from any reputable source. If you change 20% of a pattern that you’ve used and then republish it, it sure sounds like a derivative work to me (and yes, that is my opinion).
Well that’s enough for today. There’s so much more info than I can put together in a post. And just so I don’t get into any trouble, let me just say very clearly – don’t take my advice alone, since I’M NOT A LAWYER.
And now just one more fun variable to throw in here: remember that when something goes to court, emotional appeals may render a judgement that doesn’t seem to fit exactly with the law and then these cases can be used as precedents for future cases even if they shouldn’t have won in the first place. Fun, isn’t it?
I had a hard time finding all this information in one place and hope that this is helpful as you start your own research into Copyright Law.