Copyright, Creativity and Crafting

The song Donna Summer song “She Works Hard for the Money” is rolling around as I write this post. And work hard I do. And in spite of this, I’ve mentioned I wanted to start selling my extra produce at the local resort. Well, they’ve put me off just long enough that I’ve gotten the message—not interested. They are nice people, they just to keep things neighborly. So rather than say “No”. It’s always, “We’ll get back to you.” Only they never do. So I’m looking for a new outlet.

Happily, many of the samples I knit up fell into the hands of my family members for Christmas, saving me a huge amount of time shopping and bringing lots of joy. The other reason I didn’t sell them was that I noticed (and wrote about) that some of the items had the stipulation that they “cannot be used for commercial use”. I assumed this referred to the knitted garment, but a person posted on that blog I should read up on it because that was not the case citing US copyright law.

I didn’t have time to check it out at the time, but this weekend I decided to research and found out—they are quite correct. According to US copyright law, this stipulation cannot apply to “useful articles” produced following a recipe or pattern. The UK (of course!) has a similar rule specific to knitting and croquet items.

You certainly don’t have to take my word for it–after all, I may have many advanced degrees, but I’m no lawyer. So here’s where you can read up on it yourself:

You might also find a couple of articles helpful to parse the legalese. I really appreciated Jason M. Krellenstein’s brief description in his “Ask a Lawyer” column in Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2012 issue. To summarize: any statement about “no commercial use” in a pattern has no legal precedent and is unenforceable on knitted items. This article, from 2014 in “Plagiarism Today”, spells out in understandable detail why socks, hats and sweaters fall under “useful objects” and can therefore, not be restricted by a designer.

The bottom line: A designer cannot, as of this writing, legally enforce a “no commercial use” clause in the UK commonwealth (Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, etc.) or in the United States on articles generated by following the pattern.

In retrospect this makes sense. The pattern and all the hard work that went into creating it belongs to the designer—and they should profit from the sale of that pattern. For produced item based on that pattern, a knitter’s cost of materials, time and effort, modifications/customizations belong to the knitter–full stop. Effectively, the knitter may not be restricted from earning a profit on their labor, clause or no clause.

This said, while you (and I) can sell these items (until there is a legal decision to the contrary), be mindful of what the copyright protects–the pattern itself. The law is very clear that this intellectual property belongs to the designer.

A pattern should not be resold or given away, in whole or in part.  A pattern must be purchased and it should not be shared, unless the designer gives you permission. You also cannot reproduce or publish it without express permission. Speaking from personal experience with my own *very simple* designs, designers work hard for the money.

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2 thoughts on “Copyright, Creativity and Crafting

  1. Glad you liked my short piece in Vogue Knitting about copyright. I am still kind of haunted by that photo of me, but I am gratified that the substance of my comments still resonate. Feel free to contact me anytime with a copyright question. I love this stuff. Thank again for the shout-out. Best regards, Jason

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  2. And I see I managed to get two typos into five brief sentences. Wow. Ok, the substance of my comments still “resonateS.” And “ThankS again for the shout-out.” Apologies.

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