“Copyright”; that’s a term heard often these days, but what does it all mean? Believe me, I really don’t know all the answers, but it’s a subject I’ve been wanting to toss around for a long time, and Facebook just didn’t seem like quite the right forum. So I’m going to address some of the issues here, and I HOPE that you all will chime in at the end of the article and make comments or suggestions. I think it’s important that we all become more learned on the subject.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of “copyright” in relation to the quilting world is that copyright insignia assigned to commercial patterns. I think we’re all aware that when we buy a pattern at the quilt shop, or take one out of a book, we always have to give credit to the designer. We also know that we can’t legally make copies of that pattern for distribution (not even to our friends).
Something that is commonly seen on an entry form when entering a quilt in a quilt show is a section regarding the design source for the quilt you’re entering. Most shows just ask you to name your design source (or “give credit”). If it’s your own original design, you just check that box. But if the quilt is based upon a commercial pattern (or even part of the quilt, or even a single applique block in your quilt), you are required to state that design source. And something new on AQS entry forms is that you actually have to have WRITTEN PERMISSION from the designer in order to enter a quilt in one of their shows. This includes pictorial quilts. If you’ve made a quilt based upon a photo, unless it’s your own photo, you must have written permission from the photographer.
So, this opens up a whole new can of worms in my opinion. Let’s say I’m shopping at a quilt show and see a pattern I love, so I buy it. I naturally think that if I make that quilt and it turns out better than expected, I’ll enter it into a show. But now, I have to think much further ahead; I have to think about whether that pattern designer will give me written permission to enter that quilt. What if I ask the designer right then (at the show) if she’ll grant permission in writing? Maybe she says “yes”, but maybe five years down the road when I finally make the quilt, I email her and ask for her written permission, but she has changed her mind. Well, I can tell you, I’d be MAD!
It only makes sense to me that designers would be thrilled to be named and given credit and exposure, but I’ve had some difficulties with designers before, and it’s infuriating. Believe me, I’ll never buy their patterns again, nor will any of my friends if I can help it. So, those designers are hurting themselves in my opinion, but I guess they have their reasons (although I cannot fathom them).
Another common thing in the quilting world is to take a pattern and “tweak” it. If you’re going to do this and pass the design off as your own, you better tweak it A LOT! If it’s distinguishable as someone else’s design, you could find yourself in trouble. Recently one of my quilting friends made a beautiful wholecloth quilt that won a lot of awards in major quilt shows and was featured in several magazines. Then later another quilter took her design and made it into an appliqué quilt, and then asked permission to use the wholecloth design so she could enter the quilt in some shows. Well guess what! The original designer said “NO”, and I don’t blame her a bit. She worked her fanny off to create that wholecloth quilt, and it was recognized worldwide as her design. So for someone else to turn it into an appliqué quilt and THEN ask for permission was not cool at all.
Another area where I’m seeing copyright issues coming up is with actual quilting designs. This, to me, seems a bit ridiculous. For instance, think of all of the hundreds of background fill stitches we see these days. Their number is infinite! For instance, think of “pebbles”. No one can claim that the “pebbles” design is her own. But what if I change it by adding a swirl inside of the pebbles. Can I then say it’s “mine”? Heavens no! Because hundreds of other people have probably had that same idea, and added swirls to their pebbles long before I ever thought to do it. Maybe they can sue me for copying them? I don’t think so, because somebody else probably thought of that years before them, and so on. Like I said, these background fill stitches are infinite in number, and I’m sure many of them can be viewed in artwork, architecture, or even petroglyphs from hundreds to thousands of years ago. So to say someone copied someone else’s quilting designs is pretty silly.
Another sketchy area (in my opinion) is that of applique blocks. Think about it; there are only so many kinds of flowers, roses, buds, trees, birds, leaves, etc. Many of these same shapes are used over and over again in applique blocks. It is just the arrangement that is changed. But nevertheless, if a designer comes up with an arrangement for a block or border that is uniquely hers, then she can copyright that pattern. You cannot just take her pattern and add a few yo-yos or an extra leaf or two and call it your own. You really have to change the layout and shapes to call it your own design. With all that being said, I think many of today’s applique patterns are quite similar to each other.
I once read a blog post from Leah Day in which she stated that “All art is derivative.” How true is that?!!! Think about it; we go to quilt shows and see quilts that inspire us. We take photos of the quilts, or close-ups of a section we particularly like. Then we try to emulate that design in one of our quilts. I’m not saying we “copy” it, but we go for that particular “feel” or overall visual impact.
Or maybe we just like someone’s color scheme. What if we copy that? Is that copyright infringement? No. However, I will say that I have had someone copy one of my quilts that had a unique color scheme, and when I saw her quilt, I knew instantly that she had copied my idea/color scheme. I can tell you that it was a bit unnerving and a very unpleasant feeling. The quilt I’m talking about is one I made in 2005 which I named “Bluer Than Blue”. It was made from a pattern by Robert Callaham out of McCall’s Quilting magazine. But the pattern showed the quilt done up in soft florals of lavender, green, pink, blue, and beige. I chose to do mine in all delft blues and whites, and it turned out to be quite striking. To this day, people still tell me that my “blue and white” quilt is their favorite. It has been at many national shows, and I’ve had people call me out of the blue (no pun intended) and ask me to share the pattern. They already know that it’s a Robert Callaham pattern because I stated so on the quilt show tag, but I give them the magazine dates so they can find it through the McCall’s Quilting website. At any rate, in 2013 when I attended the AQS show in Paducah, I saw the “clone” of my quilt hanging there, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I read the tag, and of course, no mention of me. But what right did I have to expect any recognition? None really, but it would have been nice for the maker to say something like, “inspired by Cindy Seitz-Krug”. You know what bothers me most is that people may see my quilt at a later date and think that I COPIED HER!
Even as I write this blog I have to worry about people copying my designs. The photo of the applique block at the top is the first block of my new quilt. I have been warned by others to “protect” my photos by watermarking them. But apparently this doesn’t always keep people from copying your quilt pictures and posting them elsewhere. Believe me, this will be the only photo of my new quilt because there’s a good possibility that I’m going to write up a pattern for this quilt, and I don’t want anyone beating me to the punch! It’s sad really; I’d love to share my progress as I go along, but in this day and age, I don’t dare.
I just bought some postage stamps that have pretty designs that sort of look like lace or doilies. They would make great applique or quilting patterns. If I copy them, am I breaking some copyright law?
This is all food for thought. In a way it saddens me because I think that being afraid of copyright infringement can hamper our creativity. And that’s partially what I mean by a “double-edged sword”. Copyright laws are good, but if we’re afraid to use the lovely inspiration all around us, then we may just stagnate, or worse yet, quit. I guess being inspired by the beautiful things around us is good, but to duplicate something exactly, or in some cases so closely that it is obvious where the inspiration came from, is not a good thing. And if pattern designers quit granting permission to use their designs on quilts entered in large shows, then quilters are going to quit buying their patterns. So, they’re protecting their designs, but deterring quilters from buying them.
I don’t know where all this will end because with on-line things like Pinterest or Google Images, we can see hundreds or thousands of lovely quilts and we can copy at will. But just remember what you were taught in school: don’t be a copycat! I believe it’s OK to be inspired by the beautiful quilts around you, but try to be original to the best of your ability. However, I also believe that imitation is the best form of flattery. So if you are going to imitate, please be sure to give recognition to the person who inspired you. If you are not using that designer’s ideas for monetary gain but just for personal enjoyment, she (or he) will be grateful for the shout out, and probably flattered.
I realize I’ve probably gone on way too long on this subject, but remarkably I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. And I feel woefully ignorant about this subject in general, so again, if you have comments or information regarding copyright issues, please do share them below in the “comments” section so we can all learn from them.
Thanks for reading, and now go forth and create something lovely!