Let’s talk about copyrights. I am a firm believer of protecting copyrights on artistic works. It’s just I find this much easier to understand with writing than with quilting. As a writer (Even My Family, Cries of Freedom, Once Again), I think it is pretty clear what would be a copyright infringement. Quilts, I don’t understand so well and it worries me. I have used a quilt pattern perhaps twice in my quilting career, in the very beginning. The books I used were more a ‘how to’ than a ‘here’s my pattern’, as how can you copyright a log cabin or or a nine patch block? And to add to that, there are star patches, underground railroad blocks, etc. The designs most pattern designers use are just a reorganization of traditional blocks, or giving a traditional block an edge with the choice of color or fabric.
I don’t make complicated quilts. I admit it. I think simplicity often soothes the eye. Also, I usually decide what to do with a fabric in my head, often while I’m cutting the pieces. Did I, at some point, see a quilt with one of the blocks I am using? Probably, as many traditional blocks have existed through time and/or I see a lot of quilts at shows. In fact, the simple block design on some of my Don’t Bore Your Baby Quilts is similar to the quilt that was on my bed when I was a young child, which means it was on my mother’s bed when she was young…1920’s. And yet, I could see it in someone’s time consuming new quilt pattern as well.
I understand if I were to buy someone’s pattern and copy the pattern to the letter (or the fabric), then I am seriously involved with their copyright. If I were to turn around and sell several quilts made from that pattern then I have infringed on their copyright. But there are so many patterns that just use traditional blocks in a traditional way that it strikes me that anyone who doesn’t use a pattern could infringe on a pattern designer’s copyright. I guess my question is how can people have a copyright on blocks or designs that have existed for decades or centuries? Or are the copyrights based on the word for word of the pattern? Even then there could be duplication. These traditional block designs will also just come out of the head of a quilter as they are logical and are in existence for a reason. So is that a copyright infringement because someone wrote a pattern with that same block or combination of blocks?
There are some quilts that I can see would be copyright infringement; ie, the woman who made the quilt with the F word on it a couple of years ago that so many people had their panties in a twist over. I’m having a hard time finding a link to that quilt, but I’m sure you can use your imagination. That was different, but even still, likely not totally unique. Then there are new designs because they didn’t exist before, this bar code quilt by Thomas Knauer, which I understand. And I love how it came to be. Read his blog post about it. And then there is Victoria Findlay Wolfe, who is studying a traditional style and making it her own. Clearly, Ms Wolfe is working the wedding ring pattern. I love it. And yet color gradation, I don’t think, in itself can be copyrighted.
And as I don’t intend to infiltrate the quilting industry with patterns or fabric designs, does it really matter on my level? I’m just happily quilting away. I suppose it should matter, but I find it hard to understand it in a centuries old, artistic and functional genre. I’ve been working on this nine patch quilt, which is what got me thinking about the copyright law. I’m sure someone wrote a pattern for this at some point. But can you copyright logic? Can you copyright a nine patch, which has existed since quilting began, in all likelihood? Would someone enlighten me on copyright law as it applies to quilting?
My blog posts have been few this new year because I have been distracted. When I’m on the computer lately, I am doing this:
I am planning a solo trip to Sweden, one of my bucket list items. I am so excited! I know I’m supposed to keep to quilting on this blog, but should I? The blogs I enjoy are not always, solely, on topic. So…I think you might get some of my trip stuck in between quilts or the trip itself. My grandmother’s family came from two different parts of Sweden; Angermanland towards the Arctic Circle and Smaland southwest of Stockholm. I’ve always wanted to make this trip and decided there was no time like the present. I also think it would be good to step out of my comfort zone a little and explore a country on my own! I probably have living relatives there, but I don’t know who they are. Instead, I’ll walk a few graveyards, which I happen to like, and many spirits will be there with me. And, serendipitously, there are two fabric stores on the same block as my Stockholm hotel!
And, of course, this is New England in the winter so this:
has been distracting me as well. I love winter in New England. With all the shoveling, by the time this winter is over, I’ll be able to transport my 20 pound suitcase around Sweden with ease! Happy Quilting.
The copyright issue is not a simple one, and I have no legal experience. My ‘feeling’ is that stealing something is one thing and borrowing an idea that you see to create something yourself for your own enjoyment is something else. Sweden sounds like a wonderful trip, and as a reader, I’d enjoy hearing all about it. 🙂
Yes, you are probably correct on that. I think I will expand a bit on my Swedish Adventure in the spring. Thanks for the encouragement.
I’m not an attorney, either, and yes, copyright law is complicated. This might be helpful and interesting to you:
I would not worry about using traditional blocks and formats in your quilting. In this case, there is very little new under the sun! However, I’m a big believer in giving credit where it is due. If you use someone else’s design, they should be acknowledged. I am struggling with this issue a little myself, as there is a quilt I’d like to make with an identifiable designer. All the blocks are old traditionals, but the combination of them is what makes the quilt interesting. Generally I design all my quilts myself, so I just don’t worry about it much. Here, though, I’m not sure what to think.
Melanie, Thank you for that link. It is apparently somewhat ambiguous in the legal world as well. Just because a pattern claims a copyright doesn’t mean there is one. However, I agree with you that there is a level of respect that should be given to each person who has created a design. I won’t worry so much about what comes out of my head from now on. Thanks for your input!