Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Explaining Copyright & Terms of Use

Copyright and ToU Information

"Every time a pattern is 'ripped off' a designer loses their wings"

Or so I've heard.   I think most times it's more like a few feathers than actually both wings. Although, with some new designers who are very sensitive - it is enough to make them stop designing and stop putting their patterns out there ever again.

We love our craft.  We love to share.  If we didn't there wouldn't be so many blogs dedicated to crochet and we wouldn't have so many people reading them.  One of the problems is that Copyright & ToU seems like such a huge gray area.  Trying to understand it all can make your head hurt. (usual disclaimer -I'm not a lawyer, this isn't legal advice, yada, yada, yada)  After studying this for years this is my understanding of it.

In it's simplest form it comes down to Kindergarten Rules.  
If it's not yours - don't take it without permission. 

In the US (I can't speak for other countries because I don't know what their laws are), Copyright Protection is granted the moment you put an idea into a usable format - whether it's a pattern, a picture, a poem, etc.  Copyright protection is given to 'Intellectual Property'.  That means "I thought of it - I created it - it belongs to me".

There is a difference between Copyright and Terms of Use.  

Copyright protection is automatically granted whether or not it is marked on the pattern or picture.  (For the purpose of this article I'm discussing patterns and pictures - it does extend further into realms that I have not studied and cannot speak on).  You'll normally see the little tiny c in a circle or (C), the year it was created, the designers name and All rights reserved on the first line.  Technically, it should be the creator's name - not the name of the company but regardless - marked or not it's still protected under Copyright. 

(C)2011 - Michele Shirley - All rights reserved

You can make 1 (one) working copy for yourself.  An example of this is copying the pages from a book or printing off a pdf so you don't mark up the original.  You cannot make several copies and pass them around to your friends.  In the digital age we live in it's all to simple to forward a pdf to our friends.  Just because it's simple doesn't mean it's ok.

Terms of Use is usually the 2nd line of the Copyright statement.  This is a licensing agreement.  It'll tell you if the pattern is for personal use, charity use, commercial use - whether or not you can sell the finished items created from the pattern, etc.  Many designers add that you may not share (by mechanical or digital means).  The sad fact is that they shouldn't have to add it.  If you are aware of the ToU before you purchase or use a free pattern then you're legally bound to it.

I'll use my Etsy Shoppe as an example.  This is listed at the bottom of each product page.

Terms of Use/Licensing – Personal, private & local sales of 
finished items are allowed. Please contact RoseRed Designs
for questions regarding internet sales or commercial use of
items made from this pattern. RoseRedDesigns @

Many designers don't know that they're supposed to list the licensing agreement before you purchase the pattern.  Technically and legally (and I hate to say this because there are some people that will use it as a loophole but for the sake of honesty...) you are not bound to the ToU if you don't have the ability to read it before you make your purchase (or use a free pattern).

So - if it's not listed prior to your purchase or use - is it OK to blatantly ignore it and do whatever you want to with the finished items?  Legally - yes.  Morally - well, that's entirely up to each individual and their own moral compass.  Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic but I like to think that there is more good in people and in the world than bad.  My hope would be that anyone who reads this and sees a pattern that doesn't have the ToU listed prior to purchase or use would gently mention it to the designer. 

One thing to remember with this is that you cannot add a restrictive ToU after a pattern has been purchased.  It only holds to future purchases or use.  You can go back and add less restrictions to patterns that are already out there.  I did this.  It used to say that you can not sell the finished products on all of my patterns.  Now my ToU restriction is that you cannot sell them on the internet BUT you can use them for local or personal sales.  If someone in Seattle wants to make a bunch of something and sell it at a craft show - it's not going to hurt me in any way, shape or form.  Go for it!

Copyright Infringement occurs when you 'share' something that's not yours.  Copyright Infringement hurts designers in ways you may not normally think about.  For 'pay for' patterns sharing them illegally amongst your friends is literally taking money out of the Indie (Independent) Designers pocket.  It raises the cost of the books, pamphlets and e-patterns coming out of the Design Houses (like Annie's Attic, DRG Publishing, etc).  It hurts the designers feelings and tests their professionalism when they need to confront someone who has illegally shared what was not theirs to share in the first place.  In some cases in can cause someone to stop designing altogether.

What is included/not included under Copyright Protection?

It includes the exact wording of the pattern and and all pictures (whether they belong to a pattern or not).

Stitches, shapes and ideas are NOT covered by Copyright Protection.  You cannot copyright a stitch pattern.  You can only copyright your wording of how to create the stitch.

You cannot copyright an idea.  A sleeveless vest, a hexagon lapghan, a round ripple with added points are examples of ideas.  Your wording and pictures telling a person how to create your idea are protected.

So, is it ok to see something and make your own version of it?  Short answer - yes.  That's how the fashion industry works.  That's why there's so many patterns for round ripples and sweaters and scarves, etc.

The long answer - ask yourself if you want to be known as a designer that copies other peoples designs or if you want to be known for your own designs.

Derivative Works are patterns created from the original.  Part of the problem with making your own version of something is that it may fall into the realm of Derivative Works.  Changing the yarn, color or hook does not make it your own.  Adding a different edge does not make it your own. Combining several different patterns does not make it your own if you are working directly from the original.

Part of claiming All Rights Reserved is saying that the designer reserves the right to create their own derivative works from the original pattern.  It also says that the designer holds the original copyright and is allowing you to use their pattern (whether free or for purchase).  Simply purchasing a pattern does NOT transfer copyright ownership.

The Useful Items clause says that anything that is a useful item (clothing, blankets, pretty much anything you can use other than artwork for the sake of it being art) is not covered under copyrights.  So - it goes right back to only the wording and pictures are covered under copyright protection.

What can you do if you see Copyright Violations?

The best and most helpful thing that you can do is to notify the designer or copyright holder.  They are the only people that can do anything about it.  Under the DMCA (Digital Millennial Copyright Act) there is a set procedure for the copyright holder to follow.  Hosting sites will do nothing about infringements unless they are contacted by the copyright holder.  This is the law and they will follow it to the letter.

Just remember that there are NO official Copyright Police.  There are, however, people that have taken it upon themselves to help protect the copyrights of designers.  Many of them don't understand the basics of Copyrights but they do mean well.

I hope that you find this article helpful in navigating the 'murky waters' of Copyright-land.



Bailey said...

It is a frustrating dilema all the more challening in a digital world where it isn't a matter of one person making a copy and sharing with a friend, but someone posting a pattern on the Internet making free copies available indefinitly. While the first is not right and costs money, the second can destroy the income stream for the designer.

Michele Shirley said...

That is very, very true. There are groups dedicated and created just for that.

Tiffer said...

I loved reading this Michele. It's very informative!

~tiffer93 @ Crochetville

SusanD1408 Crochet Addict said...

Fantastic post! You have made a lot of sense to a lot of things!

Dedri said...

Hi Michelle. I like the way you've explained everything and am deffo going to link to this post. I'm a newish designer and have already been copied. It put me off so much that I almost stopped designing. Im so glad i didnt. It energises me :)

I hope your back is masses better x

Dedri (

Michele Shirley said...

Thank you.

I'm glad that you're still designing.