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Copyright Confusion

April 7, 2011

Truth be told, I’m not a very good pattern maker.  Some of the items in my shop I’ve completely designed myself (the peasant dresses and eyelet sundresses for example) but it takes me days and days and days of tortuous struggling to figure out sizing adjustments, bodice widths, skirt lengths.  When I consider the time and headache involved it’s much easier for me to purchase patterns or adjust a free online pattern to my liking.

The drawback to this is that some pattern makers/designers –mainly independent ones such as Etsy sellers, not the big names such as Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls and Vogue– add a stipulation to their work stating any items made from their patterns are for personal use only and are not to be sold.  I’d say that 2/3’s of the patterns for sale on Etsy are this way and it makes it challenging for sewists such as myself.   So I look for patterns in which the seller encourages the sale of items from their pattern and then I go so far as to credit them fully in the resulting listings.  (Whimsy Couture is fabulous for this and is the first place I now shop for patterns!)

Legally though, the pattern designer has little control over what a seamstress does with the items made from their pattern or tutorial.

For starters, the pattern itself cannot be copyrighted as it is a template and templates are not copyrightable.  A pattern could also contain specific methods or procedure which are not copyrightable.  And all items considered “useful articles” (which we all agree that clothing certainly is!) are not copyrightable under sections 101 (definition of “useful article”) and 102 (subject matter of copyright) of the Copyright Act.  I suppose one could argue that both the pattern and the resulting articles of clothing are “useful articles”.

Even if the pattern *could* be copyrighted, how could the copyright extend to the items made from the pattern?  All of the pieces used to construct a garment — fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, ribbon, lace, velcro, etc.– would not be covered by the pattern copyright.  Logically, one could conclude that IF a pattern could be copyrighted the rights would extend only to the physical pattern purchased.

Carolyn V. Peters (a licensed attorney who specialized in Intellectual Property including copyrights, patents, and trademarks) states the following in regards to pattern copyrights:

Under the copyright laws, you are not allowed to make a copy of the pattern, except for your personal use. As the legal owner of the authorized copy of this pattern, you have purchased the right to make the article that is presented in the pattern, to sell or give away your authorized copy of the pattern that you purchased, and to sell or give away the article that you made from the pattern.

In my opinion it comes down to an ethical issue.  Legally they can not tell you items produced are for personal use only.  Legally you can do whatever you wish with the resulting items.

But if someone asks you not to do something, shouldn’t common courtesy come into play?

Hence why I try to only purchase patterns that allow items to be sold.  Even though the designer has limited legal rights regarding the items I make, it still makes me feel funny to go against their wishes.


If you want to read more, check out “Patterns and how they are affected by copyright law” and “Pattern Companies and Copyrights“.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Whimsy Couture permalink
    April 8, 2011 8:36 am

    First up……THANK YOU VERY MUCH for mentioning Whimsy Couture as your no.1 shop for sewing patterns!
    Secondly, you are absolutely correct which what you posted and all that comes along with the copyright issue! I have personally studied the copyright laws very carefully and agree! Sewing patterns are only copyrighted for their intellectual content and not for the constructions and sales of the items made from a pattern. It’s only common courtesy NOT to sell anything from them.
    I encourage everybody buying from me to sell anything made from my patterns and I do not charge for a ‘selling license’ to make even more money. That’s just me!

  2. May 10, 2011 6:47 am

    I do the same thing. Having sewn and crafted most of my life, all ideas and patterns I am interested eventually meld into my style and literally become my own. It’s like playing the piano or cooking. You practice and try all sorts of things, and then you begin playing without instructions and who can pinpoint exactly where every tip and habit begins?

    As a business owner, EVERYTHING I make or can make is for sale. If an independent seller specifically asks that the pattern not be used for sales, the author loses out. I honor the request; I just don’t buy the pattern from that person and move on or design it myself.

    Nice that you took the time to do the research. People should remember that pretty much nothing is new under the sun; things just come around again and get modernized. Of course, we don’t want to copy someone’s specific style, especially in our “small” neighborhood of the internet, but we have to expect that being such close neighbors and sharing so much truly does create inspiration in another artist. That shouldn’t be frightening or worrisome. The inspired artist’s new item will have a bit of “you” in her work, and you can’t help being pleased with that.

    And, if you have a good product or service and excellent communication with your clients, you just can’t worry about what the next person is doing. If you concentrate on providing an excellent product and new ideas, you will have all the business and recognition you can handle!

  3. Heather permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:50 pm

    Very well put! I have done a little research into this subject and what you have stated lines up with what I have found. I also agree with what you said about morally respecting the wishes of the author of a pattern who requests that you not use their pattern for items to be sold. I simply don’t buy from them. There have been many a pattern that I have passed up on Etsy for that very reason, and with the many fabulous patterns out there whose designers are happy to give “permission” to sell products made from their pattern why not support them instead!

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