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Copyright essentials for quilt pattern designers

Copyright (not Copywrite), and that little funky symbol that goes with it, ©, might be a little intimidating. It dips into that word of confusing legalese that no one wants to deal with (unless you're a lawyer), and that drains you when you do have to deal with it. However, if you're a quilt pattern designer hoping to write your own patterns, you really shouldn't just ignore it.


What does Copyright mean, when do you use it, and how can it protect you? This post will break it all down.


Of course, any time we're talking about laws, I have to preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer. I'm not a Copyright expert. However, this is my understanding of the current Copyright law based on nearly a decade of dealing with intellectual property laws and concerns as an engineer.


Contents:

  1. What is Copyright?

  2. What Copyright means for you as a quilt pattern writer

  3. Dos and Don'ts of Copyright

  4. Registering vs. not registering

  5. Copyright internationally

What is Copyright?

Copyright is nothing more than a type of intellectual property law that protects original authorship of any kind from copying. That is, authorship in the broad sense of the word, not just in terms of written words. Copyright also applies to any kind of document, artistic work (audio or visual), sound or video recording as soon as it becomes tangible, i.e. published.


The important thing here is that it protects a particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Two people can have the same idea to write a dessert cookbook, but as long as the expressions of it (the recipes, amounts of ingredients, and instructions) are different, it's not a violation of Copyright.


How do you get Copyright protection? All you have to do is create something tangible. As soon as the work is available in a 'fixed' form (one that can be reproduced and shared), it is inherently protected by Copyright. You don't have to pay any money, you don't have to do anything in particular, it just has to be in a fixed form. Functionally, this means writing something down, making a tangible object, or recording something. If you've done that, the work is protected by Copyright already, whether you publish it or not.


What Copyright means for you as a quilt pattern writer


So enough of that pie-in-the-sky preaching, here's what Copyright actually means for you.

  1. Your pattern (the complete pattern and the specific design itself), is protected by Copyright as soon as you write it.

  2. You should be including official Copyright statements and symbols in your quilt patterns so that there is no doubt that the pattern is protected by Copyright.

Here's what that looks like on one of my patterns:

Footer of a quilt pattern showing an example Copyright statement

A Copyright statement must include the word "Copyright" (and/or the symbol ©) + the year of publication + the name owner of the Copyright. That is your business name (if you've registered an official LLC or sole proprietorship) or your own name, (if you haven't).


Copyright 2023 Guilty Quilty Studio

and

© 2023 Guilty Quilt Studio


are equally valid, however, I prefer to include the symbol, ©, because it looks more official which is the purpose of this after all.


Since your work is instantly protected by Copyright as soon as you publish it, the only real reason to include a Copyright statement on the work itself is as a deterrent to other would-be copiers. The more official (and scarier) it looks, the better. The Copyright symbol, ©, looks a lot more official and thus scarier than simply the word "Copyright" so you can, and should, use it.


You can find the Copyright symbol in the" insert symbols" or "glyphs" panel in most word processors or publishing software. Alternatively, if you're on a Windows computer, simply type "0169" while holding the "Alt" key to insert the symbol.


Since many quilt patterns are sold digitally, and thus when printed are prone to having pages separated, here are several areas where I suggest adding Copyright statements in your pattern.

  1. At least once on the cover (front, back, or both).

  2. On the footer of each page.

  3. On any paper templates or removable elements in your pattern.

  4. On the product listing for your pattern, if selling online.

I also recommend adding the statement "Duplication without permission prohibited" or something to that effect in at least one location within the pattern. Why? Because the average person doesn't necessarily know what Copyright means so translating it into normal language can be helpful.


Dos and Don'ts of Copyright


So now that you know what Copyright is, here are some quick things to illustrate what is and isn't allowed under Copyright law.

  1. Don't share or copy any quilt pattern or any portion of a quilt pattern without the author's permission. This includes sharing a picture of a pattern page on social media or making copies of a printed pattern for your friend.

  2. Don't knowingly copy anyone else's quilt design unless it is made of traditional blocks that are already in the common domain (i.e. log cabin blocks, 9 patch blocks, Ohio star blocks, etc.) Specific designs are also protected under Copyright law even if your pattern instructions are different.

  3. Do purchase individual patterns for each member of your quilt guild or bee if you intend to make the pattern as a group.

  4. Don't expect customers to refrain from selling a quilt made from your quilt pattern. This isn't covered under Copyright law. Physical items made from following directions in a Copyrighted work cannot be protected under Copyright law and most quilt design elements are too common to qualify under Copyright protection for artwork. As long as they aren't printing the design and selling it commercially, you aren't legally allowed to prohibit this kind of use.


Registering vs. not registering


Now, if you've heard something about Copyright before, you might be aware that there is a registration process that you can pursue. This can be done for individual works or for a related set of works through the US Copyright Office website. All that registering your work does is provide a certification that you own the Copyright.


Registration is required if you intend to sue anyone over Copyright infringement. It is not necessary for the work to have Copyright protection. You do not need to have registered a Copyright in order to request that your content be removed, or that someone provide reimbursement for lost revenue due to infringement. You just don't have many options if they don't comply voluntarily unless it's registered.


However, registration is not cheap. It is $65 to register your first work and then $45 for each work thereafter. That can really add up quickly if you're publishing multiple patterns each year. There is talk of the Copyright Office establishing a more entry-level process for registering digital works, but nothing has materialized yet.


You do the math for yourself. Only you can decide if registration is worthwhile for your particular situation. The important thing to know is that your pattern is still protected under Copyright law even if you don't register it.


Copyright internationally


I am based in the US, so most of this information has been written from the perspective of someone in the US. However, Copyright law is one of the few things that is almost universal. Most modern countries have agreements to honor each other's Copyrights.


Likewise, most Copyright laws function similarly in that Copyright protection is automatically granted at the time of creation. This is the case for Canada, Australia, and the UK, but is likely the case for many other countries as well, just check with your government's Copyright office.


However, this process works better in some countries than others. China, Russia, and other less progressive countries are notorious for not enforcing international Copyright law so be wary of foreign entities ripping off your work. It does happen in the quilting industry and you should be aware of it, but please don't let this threat deter you from writing patterns.



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