TIDKT: Copyright

At the moment Pinterest and Ravelry are teeming with projects to knit and crochet minions from the film Despicable Me 2. They are pretty cute and look like a fun crochet project. But is it ethical and is it legal? A few days ago I tweeted:

Its amazing how many crochet minion patterns pixar have licensed. Oh wait, they haven’t. Theft is still theft even if its a big company.
— Joanne Scrace (@notsogranny) August 15, 2013

Mostly because I feel let down by the design community over this. Designers are the first to jump up and down and get upset if someone has copied their design.* Being copied isn’t nice, someone taking your idea and/or work and depriving you of income.

* or they perceive someone has copied their design – a lot of times people do just have a very similar idea to you – this needs to be the subject of a different post I think and I will link it here when I write it.

Because we live in an online world international reach that is legislated with national/state/federal laws it is so difficult to work out what exactly is legal/illegal where and why but here are some general guidelines to help you respect copyright internationally.

Use of patterns:

Cool

  • Make something with the pattern and you can dispose of it as you want – sell it, give it, keep it. If you sell it, particularly multiple copies online it is nice if you credit the designer of the pattern.
  • You can dispose of the pattern how you wish – you can gift it, lend it or sell it provided you deprive yourself access to it. This means that it is okay to lend out a pattern to a friend but it isn’t okay to copy it and give it to a friend. Obviously this becomes tricky with selling on digital copies as how do you prove that you have deleted it and destroyed any copies you made? This is why most sites prohibit it. 
  • Making a copy for your own use – printing out a pdf or photocopying a section from a book so you can annotate it. 
  • Pointing people to the link for a free pattern online.

Not Cool

  • Posting a pattern written by someone else in part or in its entirety on the internet.
  • Selling or giving away copies (scanned, photocopied or written out) of a pattern written by someone else.
  • Using the photos from a pattern to promote your products – even if you have made it to sell you must use your own photos to do so.

Interesting to note: 

  • It doesn’t matter if the pattern is paid or free the same rules apply.
  • Copyright doesn’t have to be asserted in the pattern it is automatic.
  • Please please please, if you find sites on the internet that are posting for free or selling patterns that you think are infringing copyright then let someone know and don’t give them your business. If  a seller on a site such as Etsy or Ebay sends you a pdf or physical pattern that is obviously copied then report it to the sites as they have the power to ban people infringing the copyright of others and you will be entitled to a refund if you paid by paypal (always do this to protect yourself)

Designing: 

Cool

  • Being inspired by a shape or a technique and using it in your own design.
  • Using stitch dictionaries.

Not Cool

  • Reworking someone’s pattern in a different weight yarn and publishing it.*
  • Reworking someone’s pattern with a different stitch pattern inserted and publishing it.*
  • Working up someone’s design (reverse engineering) from a picture and publishing your notes or turning it into a pattern.
  • Creating and publishing a design based on a licensed character (unless you have the licensees permission.)
*These are called modifications/mods and you are of course welcome to modify a pattern to make it yours for your own personal use but you cannot then call the entire pattern you own. It is of course okay to write and share notes about how you modified the pattern but without giving too much about the rest of the pattern away.
I am expecting this post to be controversial so with a little trepidation I ask:
Thoughts?
Find more posts in this series here

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Joanne,

    Thanks for this post and for putting everything in a straight-forward, easy to understand way. I agree with everything that you have said. I would ask though about the copyright surrounding simple motifs such as granny squares- they are so versatile and widely used….surely people accidentally copy designs all the time?!

    Personally I would always ask a designer before publishing a modification of their design too.

    Thanks again,

    Sally

    • says

      Simple motifs such as granny squares and many traditional stitches have entered the general design language and are free to use in your own designs. Just make sure that you write your own instructions for doing them – if you cut and paste someone else’s you are plagiarising their work.

  2. says

    Just another note- the laws around copyright vary quite a bit from country to country (for example, in the US it’s legal to reverse engineer something and sell it as your own, though it’s certainly not ethical) and there’s a lot of debate about licensing so far as selling finished objects goes. Big ole clusterf*$#. When in doubt, lawyer up!

    • says

      Wow! Legalised reverse engineering – that is no way to encourage creativity is it? Still it isn’t a nice thing to do and would be illegal in lots of territories so it is probably best to have your own ideas hey? :-)

  3. says

    Yes. I used to know all this and more…
    There is soooooo much confusion about copyright and Alex (above) is right, copyright laws differ around the world.
    As a designer, it would be a good idea to keep any/all working drawings/illustrations etc for a new design. Easier to show it was your idea, not copied. Of course similar things crop up all the time, we are unwittingly inspired by things we see – that doesn’t mean they are copies though.
    You’ve explained things pretty clearly :)

  4. says

    So, if I knit a jumper from a pattern I have bought or from a book for example, I can then sell that jumper on to someone else? As a crafter with an Etsy shop I have been wondering about the type of crafts I can sell.

    • says

      That point is hotly debated and may depend where you’re (and the designer/author is) located, as well :-/ The easiest thing to do is ask the designer for permission and then your bases are covered and you know you won’t have any trouble with them (most will say yes anyway). I have talked to lawyers who have said polar opposite things about whether or not it’s okay/defensible in court/etc… the thing is that it has never gone to court as far as anyone I’ve talked to can tell, and it won’t be decided until it is :-P (Which it probably won’t be because there’s not enough money at stake, haha.)

    • says

      Thanks Alex, I would prefer to have permission from and give credit to the designer wherever possible anyway to acknowledge their hard work and will make sure I do this from now on.

    • says

      I agree with Alex. I think it is mostly okay. I think if you sell on Etsy it is even more important to get the designers agreement because the last thing your business needs is a cease and desist letter causing them to close your etsy shop.

  5. says

    Really informative post Joanne – Thank you. I was going to ask a similar question to Sally… Smaller, and more commonly used motifs such as granny squares etc., have been published many times in books/online. All, surely, are modifications of each other. Where does copyright come in on say, writing a pattern or tutorial on a blog for such things. I’m presuming it’s fine as long as it’s not a direct copy or modification of a pattern (people often develop their own methods of doing things and the original pattern it came from might be long forgotten)? and that obviously a pattern should not be reproduced in entirety and a modification should be attributed? Sorry, bit long-winded!! x

    • says

      Yes there isn’t much truly new in this ancient craft! Yes as long as its a common motif or comes from a stitch dictionary that allows reproduction in your designs and you write your own directions it is okay. (with a massive AFAIK disclaimer!)

  6. says

    A very interesting post with lots of great information – thanks Joanne. I have often seen on Twitter for example that someone has “made” my pattern from a magazine & are then going to make loads more to sell at their Summer / Xmas Craft Fayre because their friend loved it and so they knew it would sell well! I wouldn’t mind them saying this if they had DM’d me to say “do you mind?” first.