Saturday, March 5, 2011

Does Copyright Cover FO's?

So based on the previous post, we know that the design of clothing is not copyrightable, and we know that knitting patterns, as written expression, photos, charts, etc, are copyrighted.

So what happens when I buy a knitting pattern and make a sweater or diaper cover or some other useful object by means of that pattern?

Perhaps the pattern says: "Copyright Diana Designer, All rights reserved."

Does that mean that my FO (Finished Object: the sweater, or mittens or diaper cover or whatever) is somehow under the control of the designer?

When the designer says, "All rights reserved," what does that mean? Can the designer tell me that the pattern is for my personal use only? Can she tell me that I can make a limited number of diaper covers from it, or that I can make as many as I want but only for my personal use? Or that I cannot sell my sweater? Or that I can't sell a hundred booties from her pattern, on etsy, or at craft fairs?

This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of Copyright as it applies to knitting. My answer is based on my own logic and my own understanding of what copyright law says. I am not a lawyer. I am an English teacher by profession and a knitter and small-time designer by hobby. I do not sell any hand-knits not do I ever intend to. I do sell some simple patterns. I believe that my answer is an honest attempt to apply what the law says to this question.

So let's take a step back. Every item of clothing that you own was designed by someone. Does that designer get a say in what you do with clothing you bought? Can she tell you that you can't sell it at a yard sale? If you were a famous person and you wore a dress and then donated it to a charity that auctioned it off and raised a large sum of money based on the fact that you had worn it, would you need to contact the designer for permission?

I think we can easily say that no, the designer, once she designs and sells an item of clothing, has no say in what you do with it at all.

So how about a sweater that you bought a pattern for? In this case, you paid for the pattern and then you also bought yarn, and you made the sweater with your own two hands, using your own skill and creativity. Does that designer have a greater hold on the sweater than the designer of a store-bought sweater has on a manufactured one?

My answer is: of course not! In fact, if anything, she would have less of a claim, since you contributed as much (or more) to the Finished Object as she did.

But the more fundamental reason that the designer has no say in what you do with Finished Objects is that copyright does not apply to clothing. Not at all. Not to couture, not to knock-offs, not to hand-knit mittens.

If the copyright on the pattern does not extend to the actual knitted object in the first place (and it clearly doesn't), then the only Intellectual Property rights that the designer has is to the instructions. If she had made a sweater herself, with her own hands, using her own original ideas, that sweater would not be covered by any kind of copyright or other design rights. So how can the sweater you made give her some sort of rights?

The obvious answer, to me, is that it can't.

(Are we sure that copyright does not somehow subsist in the sweater? Is the sweater maybe a derivative work? I argue that it cannot be. If following the instructions were equivalent to copying the pattern, then it would be illegal to even make the sweater in the first place. Which is absurd. And sweaters, no matter how they were created, are not ever copyrighted. So the designer's copyright cannot have been transferred into your sweater!)

So what does this mean? I think it means that if you have a legally-acquired pattern, you do not need anyone's permission to knit the item once, or a hundred times, anymore than you need permission from an author to read her book a hundred times.

And statements that say: "This pattern is is for personal use only" do not carry any legal weight. Copyright law forbids you from making copies of the pattern, so if the statement is intended to mean "Don't give copies of this pattern your friends," it is true. If it is intended to mean "Don't give these mittens to your friends," it's not true.

And how about if the pattern directly says, "You may not sell objects knit from this pattern"?

Well, does the designer own rights to the mittens or diaper covers or sweaters you made using her pattern? The answer is no. She controls the pattern (ie the instructions) through her copyright. That copyright does not apply to actual items of clothing. So can she tell you what you can do with them? Legally, no, she can't.

Next post: Ah, but what about licensing?

No comments:

Post a Comment