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Once It’s Created, It’s Copyrighted

it's copyrighted

This past week I got a note from one of our members and a CABS attendee about a copyright situation with her guild. While I don’t know all the particulars, I do know this topic comes up on a regular basis.


I think it’s a matter of education. For some reason, people don’t seem to get it when it comes to crafts. Because our industry has always had a sharing nature, many people think everything should be shared. And, this becomes easier with the Internet. And, it’s, in many, many cases, illegal.


I always say that the basics of copyright are simple: if you don’t own the copyright, you don’t have the right to copy. And, basically everything created privately has a copyright, whether it is registered or not. Many people think copyright is about the loss of income to the artist. While copyright theft can have an impact on the artist’s income, It’s really about who decides what happens to your work. You, as the copyright owner, are the only one who can decide if and how it can be copied, adapted and distributed. Of course, copyright is more involved than that, and I think when faced with any question about copyright, your first step is to ask who owns the copyright.


What if you don’t know who owns the copyright? If the copyright was registered before 1978, the Copyright Office staff can search its records for you for a minimum fee of $400. If you are in Washington, DC, you can do this search at the Copyright Office without a charge. If the copyright was registered from 1978 to present, you can search online at the Copyright Office Website for the records.


How do you tell if a work is still subject to copyright? For the most part, if the work was created after Jan. 1, 1978, the copyright is in effect for the life of the creator plus 70 years. If the work was created prior to Jan. 1, 1978, copyright protection varies and the specifics are rather complex. You can read the details in various circulars from the Copyright Office Website. Here are just a few points. If the copyright was in effect before Jan. 1, 1964, it needed to be renewed during its 28th year of the first term of its copyright and then it maintained protection for a full 95-year term. If a work was not published or registered before Jan. 1, 1978, it entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2003 (unless publication took place by Dec. 31, 2002). And, virtually all of the work published before 1923 is in the public domain. Here’s a link to a chart on the Cornell University Website showing copyright terms and public domain.


To learn more about copyright, here’s a link to the US Copyright Office Website. If you have specific questions about copyright, be sure to consult an attorney for clarification. Also, ICAP members have access to an intellectual property attorney for copyright concerns.


While the concepts are the same, my resources refer to US Copyright. For Canadians, Kathy Bissett maintains information on copyright in that country: And, for Australians, Brenda Gael Smith maintains a list of resources for that country:


If you are an artist, take time to educate your buyers and clients about copyright. If you’re a teacher or pattern designer, do the same. If we all continue to educate the public, then we’ll make a dent in the problem.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on copyright below.


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Please do! Just use it in its entirety and be sure to include the blurb below:


Morna McEver is the founder and CEO of the International Association of Creative Arts Professionals where creative arts entrepreneurs craft business success. Her weekly e-zine offers tips, techniques and inspiration to help you craft business success from your creative arts passion. You can sign up for a FREE subscription at



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2 Responses to “Once It’s Created, It’s Copyrighted”

  1. charlotte ann dehgan said:

    I understand that I should not copy the pages of a book or pattern without permission of the author. What bothers me and I do not understand is the restrictions about how I use the instructions in a book or a pattern. The author has made her money on the sale of the paper product. Whether or not I make a fabric creation from those instructions and then sell it does not decrease or increase the amount the author makes from the paper product. The last straw for me was the most recent book I bought that draws most of its patterns from traditional sources and then restricts my use of it to the degree that I can not even make something from it for a charitable donation without permission from the author. Checking through the books I have I can find more than a handful of log cabin patterns that have copyright restrictions. So no one can make a log cabin quilt anymore because it has been copyrighted by numerous authors? Folks who use embroidery software tell me they are not restricted from selling their creations. It seems that most quilting patterns with the exception of your own applique patterns are restricted. After I have spent $100 on fabric, $100 plus on machine quilting and 30 plus hours on piecing, I would like to be able to sell my quilts. I would like your opinion please.

  2. Morna said:

    I can appreciate your frustration, though the laws are set to protect the artist, and the artist is the one who decides how her work is used, displayed, etc. You noted that the author has made her money on the sale of the paper product. That’s true, only copyright does not address money. I should note that most book authors receive only 10 % of the retail price of the book, so none of them are getting rich from this. They spend a couple of years creating this book and may make $5,000-$7,000, and that has to cover their expenses. Not exactly a good return of their time. Most designers I know have no problem with someone creating one project from their pattern for charitable purposes, if they are asked first. If you are interested in selling your own quilts, the best advice is to create your own designs. You specifically mention a log cabin pattern. That design is in the public domain, clearly having been designed prior to 1923, so you are free to use your own interpretation of that block as you design it. What you can’t do is reproduce the block as you find it created in a book, i.e., in those fabrics. All that said, that is my interpretation of copyright law as you’ve asked in your example. I am not a lawyer and for a really clear opinion, you should consult an IP attorney.

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