Copyright law and CAN you sell that item from a pattern?

by ArticlesofaDomesticGoddess | December 19, 2014 10:07 pm

LAW VS ETHICS and how they relate to the crochet community

Let’s talk about patterns. First, let’s talk about ethics vs laws and how they relate to the crochet world. So many times in the crochet community I think: THIS.IS.NOT.SPARTA! Hahaha (PS My husband laughs his head off every time I say “the crochet community” b/c he thinks we sound like a biker gang or something…. I tell him… it kind of IS depending on who you’re talking to!) I am NOT in a biker gang, nor do I aspire to be. I think we should be able to depend on each other, build each other up and share this wonderful hobby! I would love to support each and every one of you however I can. This IS however a very important part about crocheting and it needs to be addressed.

1. Can I sell an item created from a pattern?


^We’ve all seen this and started to sweat.^


By the time I’ve seen this in a pattern usually, I’ve already made the item to sell and didn’t see it until the end of the pattern or I saw it at the end of a pattern or on the main screen on Ravelry and completely passed up purchasing a pattern solely based on these words.  Once you buy a pattern, or download it for free off the internet, you can do just about anything you want with it besides share it with the world for free, sell it or copy it and they usually have no right to tell you what to do with your finished item once it’s complete.

In some instances, the pattern designer really DOES have the rights to say this and the law to back him/her. There are probably as many different copyright situations as there are pattern designers in this world, but let’s take a look at some examples.

So why do you see it then? There are designers out there who want to require that crocheters following their patterns must purchase a license in order to sell finished items and many designers will always feel that a license can be imposed. They have every right to feel this way because such a thing has never been brought to court.

And, probably the most disputed instance – is how all this relates to trademark law. Pattern designer Z does her due diligence and contacts a company that owns trademarked images (ie: Mickey Mouse, Minions, Angry Birds, etc.) She obtains permission from the company to create and distribute a pattern containing the trademarked item. She now has the right to say that you may not sell for a profit any item made from her pattern. Pattern designer Z has the right to sell these items because pattern designer Z has contacted the company, obtained a license and now may spread her creations wherever she sees fit. Anyone creating and selling items made from her pattern are breaking trademark law and may be prosecuted in a court of law. Gifting trademarked items or making them for personal use is still within your rights as a pattern owner. (For more on Trademark Infringement, see “4. Trademark Infringement” below.)


2. Pattern sharing and copyrighted patterns (FREE PATTERNS ARE COPYRIGHTED TOO)

^That is the actual copyright law on the US govt website.^

Note the section that states that ALL new, original designs ARE covered under copyright law. You MAY NOT sell a pattern that is not your own. You may write a pattern that is inspired by another pattern if it has sufficient revisions that make it VERY different; different enough to be considered a new design. If you copy words from that pattern that you are “inspired” by, then you are no longer inspired, you are copying it and it is illegal. You MAY sell any item made from ANY copyrighted item. It is ILLEGAL to distribute a pattern that is not your own design that you purchased. You cannot offer a paid pattern for free. You cannot copy it and offer it for free and claim it as your own.


3. Illegal photo use

Once you know this and you start looking around, you will notice that the internet today is just this slurry of lawsuits waiting to happen! You cannot sell an item using someone else’s photo as your own. Their photo is also copyrighted. Take your own photos if you want to sell something, or share a link to the original photo as it was uploaded to the internet by the creator. If you find a pattern or item on the internet that you would like to make and sell, share a link to the item to tell your followers about it. Sharing the photo itself and saying you can make it is illegal. When I had not items in my shop and I had to have product to show, I crocheted 15-20 items for my own children for free and posted them for sale. I got many new sales just from that. I shared links, but people don’t want to see what it COULD look like, they want to see what YOU will make it look like. YOUR work. After all, that is what they’re purchasing.


4. Trademark Infringement

Trademark infringement and copyright law go hand in hand but they are different in some ways. Let’s say I write a pattern for a Mickey Mouse hat. Mickey Mouse was not created by me. The item was. I own the pattern, but I cannot sell it and make money from it without doing something illegal because the copyright for that character is owned by someone else. He was created by (I think) Walt Disney. Anyway, Walt Disney owns the license for that character. Just like above on patterns. I can be inspired by Mickey Mouse, but if I create a Mickey Mouse hat, I have to pay the piper because I did not create him. I created a hat, and I own the hat. I can gift it, I can wear it, I can make it if I can do so on my own, but creating a pattern, whether paid or free I’m getting compensated somehow. (see #5 to see why free patterns also get paid for.) Even attention to my business name is considered a commodity in the court of law where trademarks are concerned. I CAN create something inspired by  a licensed character. Let’s take Spiderman for this example. Creating a blanket that is red and blue may make you think about spider man, but it does not look like spiderman. They would have a very hard time prosecuting this. It’s removed enough from the original character to be different. A hat that looks like a Spiderman mask however would be considered direct trademark infringement. Use your best judgement. I like to stay away from trademarked items if I can.


5. Free patterns vs paid patterns and how designers are paid

There are free patterns. There are paid patterns. Both are equally nice and the designers of each offer them for free or paid because they get compensated for them in different ways. Some offer free pdf copies on websites, some you must go to their blog to get the free pattern, some offer paid patterns, and some do a mixture of all of these. However each designer chooses to offer their patterns is their prerogative. I am thankful for each and every designer out there. They perpetuate a beautiful hobby with their creativity. Here are some helpful links to websites where free and paid patterns alike are shared.[1] is probably the most visited with the most free and paid patterns alike, it’s a database of sorts.[2],[3] are also good places to find patterns. There are many, but these seem to be the top three. It is never good practice to share, even with your buddies, the pdf copy of any pattern, whether it be paid or free. To be safe, always share a link to the pattern from either one of the above sites, the designer’s fb page, or their blog, etc… but sharing the ACTUAL pdf patterns is risky and here’s why: How does that person receiving the pattern know it is free? What if (God forbid) someone shared a paid pattern pdf with their friend and the next person shares the pdf with another not realizing what they are doing? This would be copyright infringement. Sharing a paid pattern is illegal. It is copyrighted and it is wrong. When you buy or follow a pattern, anything that you create using that pattern is yours to do with as you wish. You can sell it, you can gift it; it’s yours. But let’s talk about the actual pattern, the words that tell you HOW to create that item. When you buy a pattern, that pattern belongs to you. If it was not offered for free and open to everyone on the internet by the designer, then it is a paid pattern. Just like buying a copy of the movie 300 belongs to you when you buy it. When you burn a copy onto a dvd for a friend and hand it to them for them to use on their own, that is then piracy and you may be persecuted. It’s the same thing with crochet patterns. If the piracy continues, then designers (however they make their money) will stop designing, and then it will be a sad world for us all. (Have you SEEN some of the movies out there today!? That could happen to us!) Be assured that however a pattern is offered, paid or free, the designer is being compensated in some way for your attention to it. For free on a blog we get a few cents for your time on the blog, for free as a pdf, the method they upload it is the method you should use to view it and for paid, obviously, with your money. So, for this reason sharing pdf’s, even free ones are not a good practice. If you share a copy of a free pattern with a friend, then somehow the designer is not being supported in some way, shape or form and it is so hard to tell you how many ways there are! Lol To be safe, share a link where the designer puts it. It’s just ethical. The designers you love are supported by you, but most offer to support you as well by offering stellar patterns or free items in giveaways, free classes that would otherwise cost you time and money, or the free patterns themselves. Even for the few cents they get for your attention, it’s not by any means an apples to apples exchange. Even free patterns, a lot of time goes into designing. YES, you can ethically copy and paste a free pattern on a blog and share it with a friend, but as designers when we offer it that way, we’re hoping that you will want to support us with your attention and if you cut out the opportunity for attention to our blogs, then we are not receiving a few cents… yes, very little, but it adds up. I have sold a lot of patterns, but I don’t think I’ve made enough this year to cover the materials and time I’ve put into them. I don’t even think I’ve come CLOSE. The sad truth is, we are overworked and underpaid. So when you smart off that you LEGALLY CAN do something and don’t take the time to understand our point of view, it stings.


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