A Question of Copyright

Use of pictures in a snark blog is a tricky thing.   Finding pictures of ugly, loathsome and downright horrible crocheted articles is easy, finding those that are not protected in the Sanctuary of Craft- Etsy requires careful, methodical, prowling.

Once the in-season, correct size, non-pregnant Fug  is bagged, Fair Use and Comment – that taking/utilising a picture in order to make remarks, wax lyrical and/or snark without claiming, purporting or representing it as “mine own” – is according to the laws of several countries (at least) allowable.

Whilst trawling for fug (Here Fuggie, Fuggie, Fuggie… Eat the nice merino…. Goooood Fuggie….. Gotcha ya little Bastard!) I have preferred and legal hunting spots.  But it also means I have seen much in the way of crocheted articles, Fug or otherwise.   I also, courtesy of some OCD-ish streak honed by years in jobs where remembering minutae is rewarded, have a good, acknowleged as some as ‘phenomenal’,  memory.

Thus, while lurking in the long grass of one manufacturing marketplace, I noted a merchant, touting his ability to mass produce wares, specifically crocheted, specifically… this.

Not a brilliant picture, I’ll admit.

A relatively inoffensive yellowy Baby Afghan.

Which I instantly recognised because a) I’m a pattern hoarder and b) I’ve made this pattern three times myself.

It is, for those of you who don’t recognise it,

one of Terry Kimbrough’s designs.

This one, shown in pink.

Which makes me curious.

Most of us who write patterns (for free usage on our blogs, Crochet Pattern Central or Ravelry) put a caveat regarding what use items made from our patterns may be put to.

And commercial quantities is usually cited as a no-no.

Which leaves me wondering whether this is actually a licensed and legitimate use of a pattern, or if a Shonk has crept into our field of view?





  1. Nicole says:

    The copywrite is on the pattern, not the finished object(FO). This means that while the people who create the pattern can ask people not to use the FO to make money, etc. there is no leagal recourse.

    It makes sense to me, since the person who made the object put the time and materials in, and the person who designed the pattern already had the choice to sell copies or make it available for free.

    Even if the item is being massed produced, as long as no copies of the actual pattern have been made, there is nothing that can be done.

    In some ways it sucks, but it makes sense.

  2. jd in st louis says:

    the extent of pattern ‘sharing’ online is alarming. however, unless one dumps on the project, the appropriation of a picture of a crochet FO is not usually treated as a ‘shooting offense’. i know i’ve done it plenty of times on my blog. only one time did someone take me to task for using a picture of her item with a link to her free pattern. she was enraged. okay. i’m giving you free publicity and saying nice things about your pattern and FO. so, go away and shout alone cuz all i’m gonna do is delete you from my blog and never visit or mention your site again. works for me.

    i like terry kimbrough’s designs but they’re usually a bit fru-fru for my taste. beautiful to look at, not so beautiful for me to crochet.

  3. Nolly says:

    This analysis cites case law which suggests that even the pattern may not be copyrightable, despite claims to the contrary: http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml

    They’re specifically discussing sewing / quilting patterns,but I suspect the principle would apply. I believe the same is true of recipes — they can be trademarked and controlled as trade secrets, but are not subject to copyright as such. Specific phrasing of directions might be, but not the combination of ingredients/stitches.

    Plus, the vendor is almost certainly outside the US, so even if it were technically a violation, it’d be utterly unenforceable, and depending on the country, might not even be a violation of their local laws — that is, if the country hasn’t signed an international copyright treaty, the vendor is totally off the hook, so far as I know.

  4. Lurker :-) says:

    The text and photos/diagrams included in the pattern are copyrighted, but it’s quite possible that the blanket itself can’t be. Anyone could rewrite the directions by rearranging the words a bit and copyright their own version of a pattern for making the same thing. (the Facts included cannot be copyrighted.)

    According to U.S. copyright law, the functional aspects of a utilitarian object cannot be copyrighted, only elements of the design that can exist separately from the construction. (i.e. you can’t copyright a skirt, but you can copyright an image printed on the fabric it’s made of.)

    Designs for clothing, furniture, cars, and most utilitarian household objects are not eligible for copyright protection in the U.S. (Some things can be patented, but I doubt that would apply to a crocheted blanket.)

    Also, (even if that wasn’t an issue) to be copyrightable a design has to be original & distinct enough from designs that already exist in the public domain. Crocheting has been popular for a couple hundred years, and it would be difficult for either pattern maker to prove that any particular placement of well-known stitches was invented by them.

  5. TacoMagic says:

    I’m quite late to this party, but I thought I’d throw in why copyright does not cover this, and why, perhaps, it’s good that it doesn’t.

    As other’s have mentioned, true copyright does not extend to produced goods. You can suggest or ask that others not reproduce your works commercially, but there is not statute that enforces such a request, nor does copyright extend in any fashion to produced goods. The copyright only truly extends to the presentation of the pattern (Pictures, verbage, content) but any items produced with said pattern are solely the property of the assembler to distribute as they desire and are under no legal obligation to follow instructions put forth by the author. This is because the material and the labor that make up the product are what is actually for sale, rather than the method of production, which should still only be available as the author has dictated (whether it be in a sale-able publication or a free blog post).

    Patent, on the other hand, does extend to manufacturing and production of goods. However, there must be evidence that either the good or the production method is unique enough to merit protection under patent standards, which would be neigh impossible in a craft setting.

    The idea that someone can/should be able to control what is done with a set of instructions is a dubious one. I can think of many arguments on both sides of the fence on why or why not such a request should be enforced. To go down that road is to have to decide what price we put on knowledge as a whole. Should all knowledge be restricted based on intended use, which knowledge would have to be restricted and which knowledge would still be allowable for unrestricted distribution? A slippery slope indeed.

    In all honesty I think the current situation is the most tenable. An author can request that their instruction only be used in certain ways, and the reader is left to decide if that request is reasonable. In most cases, I think , the reader will honor a reasonable request to maintain private use of patterns. And those that don’t honor such requests are probably small enough in number that no true harm is being inflicted on the author, other than some hurt feelings.

    It is, perhaps, the unfortunate side effect of allowing freedom of information and use of knowledge. But I think the alternative is far more grim. A world where all knowledge is subject to the whims and desires of the instructor would be a treacherous place to say the least. Are we to tell authors that they can’t use letters and words to make money because the person who taught them to read and write does not want them earning their keep off the knowledge they are providing? The ramifications of knowledge control are wider spread than we perhaps think at first blush.

    As an aside: I have never sold anything produced from free or commercial patterns, nor do I have any particular plans to do so. I do not condemn nor condone those who have, but I feel it is within their rights to sell such items, though they may be jerks for doing it against the wishes of the author to keep such items for private use. But it is still within their legal rights to be a huge jerk.


  6. Trippet says:

    It would be difficult to prevent the sale of products from a pattern on a global scale so I think it would be wise to price the pattern accordingly. I’m sure Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick and the like don’t hold expectations of their patterns being used solely for personal reasons.

    According to the following site, Simplicity responded to a similar question. A point-by-point debunking of the email follows:


    What I’m getting from this is that if the pattern hasn’t been registered with the US Copyright Office, you’re not infringing. Considering the fee for registering is $35 and there’s a big bunch of rigamaroo to go through, I doubt many patterns are protected by copyright. http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-register.html

    This is only US law, though. I’ll admit I’m too tired now to look up how far that extends and whatnot. I just know I don’t have the attention span required to make a pattern more than once, or for profit, so I’m good to go! =p

    If you want to have some fun, though, search the database. Annie’s Attic has 1249’ish entries, but they look to be printed materials (like books). http://www.copyright.gov/records/

    I nicked the tip of copyrighting patterns of trademarked characters and got a headache from the first site so I’m stopping here.

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