Be an Original: Copyright and Original Designs

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The tough questions: What’s an original design? How do I know if I’ve violated copyright laws or infringed on someone’s copyright? How do I make sure what I’ve created is original?

One of the most important elements of earning income from our creativity is that we must only sell what is original. We can’t copy, change the color theme, or add a bow to someone else’s original work and suddenly call it our own. In a career that spans over 25 years, I have seen individuals try to pass off the work of others as their own. It happens. Sometimes it’s done without any malice. Other times the individual knew exactly what he or she was doing and it was done with no care about the consequences of breaking copyright laws. If we do overlook copyright laws, we might get away with it, but if one does get caught, there can be a high price to pay.

To give you a better understanding of how this works, imagine the perfect sunset. Now imagine 12 artists and craftspeople watching that same sunset at the same time. Chances are, you will get 12 different, original designs or projects from these creative folk even though the inspiration was the same. The sunset wasn’t their original concept, but how they chose to visually represent that sunset will be. Each deserves to earn income from their work. But what if 1 of those 12 folks decides that, rather than creating something original, he or she will just “borrow” the creativity of the others and copy someone else’s creation? Now, what if it was your work and originality that individual decided to copy?

The rights to the visual interpretation of that sunset go to the creator of it. The creator should document and process the implied copyright. Copyright notice should be included on the item, any photos, and any written documentation of the work. Yes, as the creator, you own the copyright, but to litigate, you must have proof and documentation that you protected that copyright. We must participate in supporting creativity by knowing the laws and following the laws.

If you are serious about earning income from your creativity, know the laws that protect your original work. Talk to an intellectual property rights lawyer and visit the U.S. Copyright Office to learn more about copyrights, copyright infringement, and how you can register a work electronically. And most of all, be an original!

By: Maria Nerius, Resident Craft Expert

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  1. Alethea says

    Isn’t creating the opportunity to have your work replicated the point of designing something, then making and selling the pattern of it? If the designer doesn’t want the item recreated, why on earth put it on the market? Somehow, that seems a bit like finding a cake, pie or cookie recipe, making that item and selling it at a bake sale or online etc. The RECIPE isn’t being sold as mine, just the end product. What is the difference?

    I have been designing and crocheting since I was 18 yrs old, and after more than 40 years, I can’t even imagine not allowing anyone to replicate what I design–ESPECIALLY if I sell or give away the pattern!

    According to copyright law stated on this site,– the statements people post with their patterns about “personal use” etc is untrue. Is incorrect?

  2. Barbara Marrin says

    As a quilt and crochet designer, I create my patterns primarily for my own personal use. I’ve recently designed two completely different Celtic quilts, one using a modified version of the log cabin, the other with squares and various types of triangles. While the log cabin isn’t the ‘original design’ (like the sunset as discussed above) my interpretation of the log cabin into a Celtic design is original as I have never seen anything like what I’ve done. In putting the pattern on the market for sale, and not the original quilt created from it, I fully expect the purchaser to make a quilt using their own color palette and this wouldn’t be a Copyright infringement, even if they made the quilt for resale. Reproducing my original pattern and selling the pattern as their work would constitute Copyright infringement. Since my work is covered by Copyright for my lifetime, and bequeathed to my daughter for her lifetime, anyone who attempted to duplicate my original pattern design could be sued by either myself or my daughter in the event of my death. The same holds true for the crochet items that I’ve designed, baby clothes, slippers, a bath TP caddy, afghans, etc. If you want to make all of the items I’ve designed and sell the finished product, that’s implied in the sale between myself and the buyer, but don’t reproduce my patterns and instructions and represent them as yours, that is Copyright infringement that can become a legal entanglement most designers wouldn’t want challenged.


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