Saturday, March 31, 2012

In re Copyright Terrorism

Ok. I read Leah Day's post on copyright terrorism. And let's just say, I've been thinking about it for a long time. For those of you that know me, I mean REALLY now me, you would know that I used to work in the field... intellectual property protection. I'm not an attorney, but I have a pretty good grasp on what it means to register your trademark, copyright, or patent and try to protect it.

I have to say that everything Leah said pretty much crossed my mind at some point during my (oh so short) quilting adventures. Yes, I'm still an amateur, but at some point I was paid to decide what constitutes IP (intellectual property) infringement.

When did I first hear of the whole copyright thing as it relates to quilting? I was in a store in Virginia. I brought in a quilt that I wanted to make bigger. Someone at the counter said, "It's lovely. You should get it copyrighted. So no one can steal it." I promptly told them that I used a pattern from a book, but all I could think was "Really? It's just triangles and squares sewn together over and over in a repeating pattern. I don't think you can copyright this." Well, you probably can. But, that doesn't mean it's protect-able.

There are several elements to copyright protection. First off, what is copyright?  I have to say, probably not a quilt made entirely of HSTs (half square triangles). But, in the quilting world, you really need to read this. I hate the copyright "Nazis" too (my hubby said this term is too derogatory to use so I should put quotes around it), but I understand where they are coming from. I just think they are misinformed.

Unless your "work of art" (because that is really what a copyrighted thing is) is very distinguishable and unique, you are not going to be able to protect it. Even if you register it. Let's just say you make a quilt that looks like the Mona Lisa and let's say it's owned by Google. If it's not totally an exact replica (like 99%) then forget it. It's not the same and it's not going to withstand any copyright lawsuit from Google. The only reason people usually win these cases is they settle out of court. This doesn't mean someone infringed on a copyright, it just means they decided not to pursue the case (maybe it was too costly for attorneys or whatever) and they settled it for smaller amounts of money (and maybe admitted blame). Also, copyright protection law expires. Things become public domain (in the U.S.) after awhile. That's why we can use Beethoven's 5th as much as we want without legal repercussions.

Now, should you give credit where credit is due? Legally, you do not have to. But, in the industry, it would fare well for you to do so. Any inspiration you get is always a good thing. And, you should give credit to your inspiration, for the good of the cause.

Regarding the case that Leah mentioned, I can see where it stemmed from. If someone created fabric with a design on it that they artistically created, then that "image" (regardless of the medium) should be protected. It's like, if I have Mickey Mouse fabric and I make a quilt out of it, should I be able to make a profit out of it? The answer is "no." I would be stealing a (world renown) image and making a profit for which I do not have the right to do so. I would need permission (or usually called a license) to do so. What it comes down to is whether or not the image on the fabric is widely recognized or easily reproducible. Widely recognized usually means that the "work" is property of someone and the chances of you profiting from it (in essence stealing from someone) is highly likely. But, if it's something so obvious (easily reproducible) that anyone could have come up with it, then you probably can't stake claim to it. Imagine, if I created the first wheel, and it was round. Could no one else create another wheel without paying me royalties? This also opens a whole new can of worms because the wheel is an invention (patents), but the concept is very similar. But, ponder this, I make a quilt (and I've already thought of this) that is entirely made out of triangles and squares but when you look at it, it resembles the head of Mickey Mouse. Am I stealing something? Probably not, and as a reminder, I am not an attorney. But, if I try to sell it, or reprint it in a highly read magazine, there will probably be trouble, even if I try to claim "parody," which is a license given to creators (such as Weird Al) that makes it so you can reproduce but modify something "just for fun."

I say, just be careful. If you feel you are truly stealing something from someone, don't do it. If you feel inspired, then maybe that's all it is... give the inspiration credit. If you are not sure, talk to your "inspirer" and maybe it will be the start of a wonderful relationship. (Yes, call them, email them, who knows where it could take you!) It's supposed to be fun. Don't worry too much about stealing copyright from someone. Like Leah said in the context of what do you want, should be something like this: "A world where we share ideas, techniques, fabric, and tools as freely as our grandmothers around a quilt frame," I think this is our ultimate goal.

Anyway, I say, unless you are totally plagiarizing something, it's probably ok. Get over it if you want to try to copyright everything that you do. It does put a damper on the "cause." Enjoy yourself and spread the "cause."

No post would be complete without a picture, so I am sharing my progress on my Mom's quilt:

Until next time...


Oh, I almost forgot my legal disclaimer :)

All copyrightable text and graphics, the selection, arrangement, and presentation of all materials (including information in the public domain), and the overall design of this web page are ©2012 The Amateur Quilter. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to download and print materials from this website for the purpose of viewing, reading, and retaining for reference. Any other copying, distribution, retransmission, or modification of information or materials on this site, whether in electronic or hard copy form, without the express prior written permission of The Amateur Quilter, is STRICTLY ALLOWED!!!!!

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danih03 said...

Thanks for your insight. Some of people's idea of what they "own" is eye rolling

Debbie from the South said...

Mike, Please feel free to jump over to the page I have created,and follow the discussion, and chime in.

Debbie from the South said...

We are having a terrible storm here, and my internet wimped out before I could finish my post...

The link is this

Anonymous said...

Mike, You are right that it pays to talk to or at least about your inspiration. Here is my story: in the 1990 at the Houston show I showed a kimono like robe I had made to remind me of the wonderful time we had in Alaska where the Military had sent us. In a AQS engagement calendar, I found a photo of a quilt that had what I called "Jumping Salmons". From the photo I designed a block that would fit in my project. When I showed it, I said that the salmon block was inspired by a quilt that Charlotte Warr Anderson had made. I was shocked and so pleased, when at the end of the fashion show, she came to talk to me and thank me for mentioning that she was part of my inspiration.
I found you at Leah's and jump to your blog once in a while.
annick5424 - at -

Mike Pearson said...

Thanks Annick! I love the story. It’s very true. Give credit for your inspiration, even if you don’t have to. In the end, it’s good karma.

Anonymous said...

Debbie From the South,

I have been unable to gain access to the FB page you mentioned. I keep getting an error message.

Karin said...

Hi Mike...interesting post...I also have been wondering about and exploring copyright as I occasionally contribute to Magazines over here (Australia). You do have to sign an agreement that the Magazine literally 'owns' the instructions to the quilt that is published. One of the woman from the Guilt over here once gave me a hard time over this, saying that I was giving my work away. I nearly did counter that a huge part of quilting was sharing your work (well, it is at least for me). The whole copyright issue is out of control! Mind you, I quilted Spongebob (yes, Spongebob)and realise that this is an image that is copyrighted. However, does that mean I also cannot publically show this quilt? I should really follow this up.

Mike Pearson said...

I think you can show it, but unless it's an exact copy, you might be ok. In the U.S. it might be considered a parody. Like when Weird Al copies a song and changes the words. This is protected. He can't get in trouble. Making a sponge bob out of fabric blocks and triangles etc., might fall in that category. Making a sponge bob embroidered so that it is very close in similarity, could be a problem. Just my 2 cents.

Beeshebags said...

Hi Mike, I'm glad you broached this subject as there appears to be a heck of alot of grey areas involved, but you've kind of cleared them all up, so thank you.

I love your legal disclaimer at the end!


Mike Pearson said...

Thanks for reading! Yeah, I don't think there are many quilt designs you can copyright these days. The bar is set pretty high on originality these days when it comes to folk art such as quilting.