In the past few months I’ve heard from several teachers and pattern designers about problems with copyright issues. In a couple of the instances, students were copying the design and sharing the design with friends. Yes, we will continue to have this problem. 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 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 $330. 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 theCopyright 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, IAPQ members have access to an intellectual property attorney for copyright concerns.
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.