Basic Copyright for Crocheters
Most designers have seen a pattern and thought that they could take it and put their own spin on it. Or they’ve come up with a great idea by seeing something else. There is a fine line between an original design and copy someone else’s work. Some things border on that fine line, while others are just plain and simple wrong. Let’s take a basic look at some copyright issues.
Welcome to Part 6 of the “Designing Your Own Crochet Pattern” Series. This series guides you through the basics of crochet pattern design. If you’re just joining us and would like to start at the beginning, read Part 1 – the 6 Basic Steps of the Design Process. Even if you have no desire to be a designer, you can still benefit from this series.
Basic Copyright for Crocheters
The term “copyright” gets thrown around a lot in the crochet world, but what exactly is copyright? Copyright, by webster’s definition, is “the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.: works granted such right by law on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of 70 years after his or her death.”
What does all that mean in layman’s terms? It means don’t copy someone else’s work, plain and simple. There are a bunch of legal aspects that I am choosing not to cover because I’m not a lawyer and don’t want to misspeak, but here are 5 things that are a given.
Do Not . . . .
Copy Other designs
Some people claim they look at an item and can figure out how to crochet it so they don’t need to buy the pattern. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean you can then write the pattern and sell it as your own. Plenty of designers get ideas from crochet pieces they see. But they come up with their own ideas or spin on what they’ve seen. I’ve heard figures of everything from 10% – 20% needs to be changed, but an article from Vogue Knitting states that there is not legal percentage. It has more to do with whether or not your interpretation relies too heavily on their idea. Even if you take their design and write your own pattern for it, it’s still violating copyright.
Rewrite or Share Patterns
Do not take a purchased (or free) copy of a pattern and rewrite it into your own words/terms. Just as you cannot copy a pattern and “reword” it to make it your own, you also cannot share a pattern you have purchased with a friend. Even if the design is free, send them to the designer.
Use Someone Else’s Photos
Do not share photos from a designer to sell your finished product of that item, or for any other purpose. I once purchased a crochet book and to my surprise found one of my tutorial photos used in the book! That’s copyright infringement!
Make or Sell any Logo Items
NFL, NASCAR, Star Wars, Disney, Pokemon, etc. – they are all copyrighted, and without permission you are violating a copyright law. And believe me, they will take you down if they choose to. Companies like these have been know to police Etsy on a regular basis, not to mention they have had shop’s that violate their trademarks closed. That’s being nice. They have the right to sue you for thousands if they choose to.
Make or Sell Characters
If you create a pattern, or a physical item (hat, blanket, etc) to visually look like a character from a movie you are still infringing on their trademark. Most companies (like Disney) register the look of the character as well. (Ex: Storm trooper helmets have a trademark attached to them and you cannot make any helmet/hat to look like it.)
Use Character Names
Come up with your own original pattern name. Honestly, there are some names you could easily argue and get away with (Ex: Pocahontas headband). But there are others that are too obvious to be your original idea (Ex: Minions). Many companies also trademark their character names. (See the Star Wars link above. Disney is suing a company that makes holograms because they are calling themselves LEIA – and Pokemon is suing a company for using the word Pokemon in their name).
Things like the granny square do not have a copyright, but if you were to copy either the design for my Vintage 60’s prayer shawl, or the written pattern itself, that would be copyright infringement.
You want your pattern to be original because it will represent you and your brand. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing it, but it’s not worth it. Be original. Be yourself.
If you need help coming up with design ideas, see my post: Finding the Perfect Design Ideas.
For more on this series, read:
Part 1 – 6 Basic Steps of the Design Process
Part 2 – Finding the Perfect Design Ideas
Part 3 – Finding Your Designing Niche
Part 4 – Creating Your Brand
Part 5 – Steps to Publishing Your Crochet Pattern
Part 7 – Should You Charge for Patterns? The Free vs. Paid Dilemma
16 thoughts on “Basic Copyright for Crocheters”
I have always wondered if it would be copyright infringement to make something from a pattern and sell it on, say, Etsy. Would you happen to know the answer to this?
Julie, as best as I understand it, yes you can. The copyright is only liable to the pattern itself. But if someone goes out of their way to add “do not sell finished items” to their pattern you may or may not want to sell them. According to an article on Vogue Knitting they can argue it. It doesn’t mean you’d lose because it doesn’t sound like there’s justification, but I don’t know if it’s worth the hassle. My arguement is, if you don’t want people making things from your patterns then don’t sell the pattern. (but that’s just me)
I studied copyright law (please keep in mind that law differs across every country). From what I’ve learnt, copyright only protects original works in material form. In simple language, it only protects the pattern itself from being reproduced(and the law requires the work to be original). Finished item made from that pattern is not covered under copyright protection.
However, the author can file a registration for design(a different aspect of intellectual property) to prevent items made from that item being sold. Design is more concern about the visual aspect of the item so the material and visual effect of it will be considered when it comes to infringement.
Hope that my answer is helpful enough.
Yes, that is true here in the US also.
I have a question, maybe you know the answer because I’ve done a ton of reading and it seems to be a major grey area.
If I buy a book full of patterns and then demonstrate on YouTube how to make one of the items, is that considered reproducing the pattern and infringing on copyright? I won’t be showing the book or any of it’s contents in the video, including any photos from the book, just verbally explaining what to do (eg “and now we have to do 3dc into this space”). I also won’t be reproducing the pattern in the video description box or anywhere else online. Everything I publish will be my own content, it will just be me explaining/demonstrating how to make something from a copyrighted pattern.
Is this a violation of copyright???
Without permission from the publisher I wouldn’t do it. If you’re reading from the book that may be enough for it to be copyright infringement (ex: You wouldn’t be able to read a book online if you didn’t own it. Crochet publishers have that same right).
It is ok to teach a technique or a stitch you found in a book. Then you can use that stitch to create your own pattern. There’s also the moral issue. The crochet designer community is pretty tight knit and we all stick together. I don’t really think it would be worth alienating fellow designers, and I don’t think you’d want to be known as someone who copies designs. In the long run, this is not a good business practice and I would not recommend it.
good day I want to ask on a comment above. I am buying patterns on etsy wich I am busy making and will be selling soon, before I buy I make sure that I am allowed by the creator of the pattern to sell my finished product on etsy. I want to do videos in future on the products that I sell. Can i for instance say in my video that pattern “X” bought from “creator name and website” or book with “book author” and then do my video tutorial on that? Or do I have to get permission every time before I make any such videos?
Is you video going to be just of your finished products or of how you make them? If it’s how you make them I’m going to say most designers will not approve of you showing how to make their designs (because they will lose income from that). If you’re just showing the finished item in your video and adding that you got the pattern from a specific designer I think that’s fine.
what do I use as a referral to the information here. do I say this interpreted from laws of the US Govt at this Link. I want to use your wording on what is and isn’t legal as far as emailing or sharing a pattern through the Snail Mail to members of a Facebook group.
Yes, just make sure you say you’re not giving legal advice and “this is interpreted from laws” is probably a very good wording.
I’m currently working on a baby blanket made out of different granny squares I’ve seen in different books. Am I allowed to write up the process and how to do the square in a pattern and sell it if I site where the original square design came from and who?
So, you can’t take a square out of a book and copy it with other ones and sell it as your own. You would have to write up your instructions in your own words of how you made each square. It’s the words that are copyright in this case so it needs to be reworded into your own. Does that make sense?
There is a crochet motif that I want to design it in a granny square. Would that be copyright violation? I cannot find the designer of the motif. Can I make my own motif and turn into a granny square or circle?
Granny squares are not copyright as long as you create your own and write the pattern in your own words.
Thanks for this article. I have a question: I saw a doll on Etsy and was able to decipher much of what I saw to make one similar, but a lot is my own guesswork and past experience. It will look somewhat like the original but I’m changing edgings and finishes, and I think the doll will be bigger than the original. There was never a pattern available for it. Is that copyright infringement based on photos?
If you are writing your own pattern based on a photo you saw, while also making changes, then I would say no. I think the fine, moral line comes when you can copy it based on looks even if you’re not “copying” the written pattern. But if you are changing the look and size then I think you’re fine.