Ask Kat: “Can I Copy It?”

 (This post is the first in a new series we’re starting in an attempt to publicly answer some of the mostly commonly asked questions we receive.)

As you might suspect, we field a LOT of questions by phone, and by email every week. And here’s the deal, for every person that actually picks up a phone and calls us with a question, it’s likely that there’s 4 -6 others that have toyed with the idea of calling and asking us the very same question. So I thought it might be a good idea to start posting some of the more common questions we receive in this public forum so that everyone can have the same access to the answer.

So… let’s start with a question I received three phone calls about just last week, and that would be,

“Can I make a copy of my pattern?”

It’s a logical question due to the copyright statement that’s printed on the back of every single pattern we sell so I thought I’d take a shot at providing some assistance in an extremely confusing area, an area of law I might add, that was surely created to help lawyers make money interpreting.
(But please remember that I am not a lawyer, so the information outlined below is therefore only my understanding of copyright regulations based upon what I’ve read and gleaned from others. It is by no means the final word.)

So… what exactly IS copyright?

By definition, the purpose of copyright is to provide balance between the rights of the creator/writer/designer/composer to profit from their efforts, and the interests of others who want to learn from, build upon and otherwise enjoy these works.

Generally speaking, the creator has the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies of the work

What this means, is that it is illegal for anyone to violate any of these rights without the expressed permission of the author/creator. However, these rights however are not limitless…

“Fair use” is one of the exceptions to copyright law and it allows for the use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission as long as that use can be considered “fair”. So what exactly would be fair?
Listed below are a couple of questions that might help you make that determination for yourself.

  1. How do you intend to use your copies? Are they for your own personal use or are you going to profit in some way from them?
  2. How many copies do you need to make? The more copies you need to make, the MORE likely it is that you should seek permission.

Make sense? So…keeping all this in mind, here’s how we answered the three copyright questions we got last week! See if you agree!

1. “Can I xerox-copy the pattern template sheets to keep in my files, because they sometimes get really tattered from overuse?” This is a classic example of a “Fair Use” exception. This customer simply wants to make copies for her own personal use, just in case her originals get lost or become too tattered to use, so of course we told her this was fine by us!

2. “I would like to use your FREE Aeropac pattern as I teach a group of middle-school girls. The only thing is, some of these girls do not have access to the Internet and cannot download their own copies. Can I please have permission in this instance to make the copies for them to use?”  In this example, our customer wants to make several (in this case 10) copies and distribute them to her students so that they can take part in her class. This is perfectly OK with us. Even though it’s  always our preference for students to come to our website to download their own copies of our FREE stuff, it’s more important to us that as many people as possible learn the joy of creating with fabric!

3. “I had such a good time sewing up my Boho Baguette! So I’d like to have permission to copy the pattern so that the other ladies in my sewing circle can make up the bag too? I’m sure they’ll enjoy it and I bet they’ll come back to buy a few patterns of their own someday!”  This customer is unfortunately every pattern designer’s nightmare. I’m really glad she loved the pattern this much and it’s great she showed enough respect to ask for permission, but we never, EVER grant permission for anyone to copy our handbag patterns and distribute them. In class situations, ALL students must purchase their own copy. Sorry, no exceptions.
(However- Private instructors are always invited to contact us to receive a group discount rate for their students.)

So…How would you have fared answering the questions?
Were there any surprises?
Please feel free to leave your comments in the space provided below
and stay tuned for the next post in this new series
when we’ll answer another of our commonly received questions!
Did you enjoy this post? If so, please feel free to share it via FaceBook or Twitter!


22 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. In the same line, I bought a book for a class Quilt in a Day. My mother loved the quilt and is now going to take the class. Is it okay to lend her my book, so she can save some money?

    • Good question! Actually, from what I understand, that falls under the Fair Use clause as well. Writers probably dont like hearing it but it’s perfectly permissible.

    • I belong to a sewing group and when we have classes that require a pattern, it’s emphasized that for the person to participate, they must have their own pattern, not share with the person sitting next to them, etc. We’ve been VERY fortunate that 99.9% of participants agree with the rules and if they want to take the class, they buy the pattern. Your answers seem fair and informative, as well as educational.

  2. Along the same lines, you can probably loan your mother-in-law your pattern and have her give it back when she’s done making the project.. You just can’t make an extra copy.

  3. I work in the copyright field, and you did a great job explaining it, Kat!

  4. The only copy I make it to trace your paper pattern to the pattern saver fabric you buy, it just holds up better and easier to cut out the pieces, and I retain the original pattern.

  5. To the questions you posed at the end: These responses all seem quite reasonable to me, not to mention fair to you.

  6. Thanks, Kathy; This does make it clear, and I am SO grateful for the “fair use” clause. I teach teen age homeschool girls beginning quilting as a volunteer. I can’t afford to buy their patterns, and so have created a sampler quilt pattern myself from traditional methods which are not copyrighted, but occasionally there comes along a pattern which my more advanced students want. This only involves one copy at the most, and this is quite a blessing to be able to share one copy. I DO agree with the need for you and other creators to stay in business so I can have your beautiful results for my own use, so YES, I’ll gladly pay and require students to pay as well. Thanks for your good work.
    PS. would you ever come to Hendersonville, NC?????

    • Hi Jane-
      Just to be clear, we are NOT saying that its OK with us to EVER copy a full handbag pattern and give or sell it to someone. BUT- fair use does imply that you are entitled to give or sell YOUR copy to anyone of your choosing. Sharing is a different matter and the arena becomes muddied when it comes to sharing. We really do not condone sharing of patterns, although we understand its pretty hard to control that.

    • Thanks for clearing that up==I think, (; In essence, I was not referring to copying, but what I said probably sounded like that. And NEVER selling a copy–not even considered. Sorry.

  7. I would think that fair use might include being able to buy the pattern, make it up once and then be able to sell it without having to buy a license. I can understand a license fee if we wanted to sell many duplicates but I don’t think it is fair to not let us sell our one original purse.

    • Once again, fair use would probably permit that. I would be surprised if a judge came down hard on a person who made up a bag pattern once and sold that bag to a friend. I really dont think thats the kind of activity the copyright laws were made to control, do you? 🙂

  8. A spin off of this question and possibly another blog post would have to do with making something using a copyrighted pattern that you intend to sell. I do machine embroidery and make quilted handbags usually for myself and my family. I have been in the position where someone wants me to make one for them and they want to pay me to do it. There are also those people who make multiple things to sell at craft shows, etc. How do copyright laws affect these practices?

    • You’re right- this would be a good topic, albeit a controversial one since it is so designer-specific. We’ll plan on addressing how WE handle this question in a future post so stay tuned! 🙂

  9. You answered the questions exactly the way I understand them. Recently a women in my quilting club was handing out copies of the instructions for making a bag (not one of yours). When I asked her if she realized that she was breaking the copyright law she got very angry .She knew exactly what she was doing – her feeling was “I paid for it and I can do whatever I want with it”. After we had our discussion she no longer speaks to me. Same women offered to download books from her Kindle to mine – someone she knew worked out how to bypass security. It was no thanks if I can’t afford to buy it I’ll borrow from the library.

    • You did the right thing Marilyn and thank you for it! What many people do not understand, is that the more that things like this happen, the more likely it will be that eventually there will be no independant pattern designers and thats where the majority of pattern innovation is coming from right now.

  10. Excellent post–so clear–and good comments. It is a muddy area, so my inclination would be to err on the side of the designer, always! That said, I’ve sold oodles of Big 4 commercial clothing patterns to online sellers. I just have too many patterns! I also donate patterns. Since the online pattern sellers can do it; it must be legal.

  11. The only copy I make is out of pattern maker fabric, as it “bends” when I pin it and is easier to cut than paper. As someone who use to do craft shows, I can’t tell you how many women bought one of my crafts I designed and had the nerve to tell me they would take it apart and figure out how I did it, and make it to sell at their booth!! My sister told me to feel it was a compliment. I said are you kidding?

  12. Thanks for that, I have that question posed to me all the time. I have sent your email out to my newsletter group.

  13. Is it legal and/or ethical to draft your own pattern from a purse design or pattern you have seen for sale on a website? It just feels wrong on one hand to take another’s original idea(if it is truly their original idea), but on the other hand, there are only a certain number of shapes out there and I’m sure they’re duplicated quite often. If you buy a commercial pattern are you prohibited from selling the items you produce from it? Are you only allowed to sell your own items you design yourself? Where is that fine line?

  14. Good questions all, but quite honestly, no offense intended, but these questions pretty much sound like you’re looking for an “out”. You’re right, there are only so many shapes, but I doubt it would be just the shape (ie; square, rectangular) you would be mimicking, right? It’s probably specific features in that design that drew your attention and those are probably the ones you’d be “borrowing”, right? In a word, this is unethical and I have a feeling you probably already know that. 🙂
    As for whether you can sell items made from someone else’s patterns, that is completely up to each individual designer. The answer could vary greatly on a case by case basis.
    Thanks for writing!