Copyright issues seem to be cropping up with increasing frequency in the quilting world and I for one would like to try to stem this flow, or at least open your eyes, to the very real threat looming for our craft.
What is this threat? Where is it coming from?
It is coming from within our own ranks. Quilters with a certain penchant for copyright and legal wrangling are turning our open, creative craft into a mine field of rules, regulations, licensing, attribution, and copyright lockdown that it's enough to make anyone set down their rotary cutter and sell their sewing machine.
And these particular Copyright Nazis (I really can't think of a better name for them) are not just vocal, they are flexing their arm powerfully enough to include copyright notices within quilt shows.
Just recently I was contacted by AQS asking if it was okay if a quilter used my designs in a quilt entered into one of their shows.
At first blush, that seems like a good thing. I'm excited to know the designs from this project are being used and seen in shows. Of course you have permission! Run with it!
But then I started thinking - they were referring to a QUILTING DESIGN. A squiggly line drawn in thread by a machine on a quilt, like any one of these:
Do you see how ridiculous this is? How the questions and implications start, but they very rarely end. You can set a precedent once by your reaction to a situation and it will just roll from there.
Here's a simple case in point:
This is a spiral design. I call this Basic Spiral and it was published on Day 5 of the project and published in From Daisy to Paisley.
First off, I don't even WANT to claim ownership of these designs. I don't feel like this is my property simply because I stitched it on a 4 inch square, named it, and published it online and in a book. See my full copyright policy here.
I feel this way because spirals have been around since the dawn of time. A spiral is a spiral is a spiral and stitching it out in a quilt doesn't make it a special, different design from the spirals drawn on walls or sand thousands of years ago.
But what about the designs that aren't spirals? What about the designs that I'm sure are 100% new and have never been stitched on a quilt before?
First off, how I can I be sure, 100% sure, that a design has never been stitched on a quilt before? Have I seen every quilt in existence since the dawn of man? No!
I have a human brain, and have seen an ordinary creative person's usual quantity of inspiring images, places, and things that have led to new designs. I do have a unique talent for creating new designs, but I'm not so conceited to think that I'm the ONLY person who has ever though to create a design like Desert Sand.
My point is: All art is derivative.
As scary as this question is, at the beginning of the Free Motion Quilting Project, way back when it was called 365 Days of Free Motion Quilting Filler Designs, some of the first questions I received were from quilters concerned with copyright.
Mostly the questions came from longarm quilters who need to be able to use designs in quilts for service. Technically this is a commercial activity and most copyright policies get very sticky when business / money gets involved.
These longarm quilters were so gun shy of using the designs from this project that many would ask, then ask again for further clarification that it was REALLY OKAY to use these designs in the quilts they quilted for service.
They were scared. Very scared. And that makes me so sad.
Because if you're in business to make a living, the very last thing you should be scared of is doing the thing that makes you money!
Why in the world should they have to ask for permission in the first place? It's a quilting design! It's the design in thread that's stitched on the surface of a quilt and I don't care how exactly you follow my instructions, every quilter will quilt the design slightly differently.
But these quilters had more experience than I did at the time. Early in the project I published a design that looked too similar to another design by another quilter. It didn't matter that I'd thought of the design while eating sushi, the level of negativity, name calling, and awfulness this generated was so overwhelming I took the design down.
Despite the fact that I seriously doubt these designs can or should be copyrighted, I backed down. So I've been on the receiving end of a Copyright Nazi and her cohorts and I know what that feels like. It sucks.
My question is this: is this the world we want to create?
Is this the industry we want to build, where quilters who quilt for a living must live in fear that they will be sued for the designs they use? That a blogger trying to teach and spread the love of free motion quilting can be threatened for using the wrong design? That quilters who quilt for show must credit every designer involved in their quilt, down to the fabric and thread manufacturer?
Because as I said before, once the questions start, the don't stop.
Recently there's been a very public example of this with Kate Spain, C&T Publishing, and an author Emily Cier.
I've read many posts directly from those involved and have a basic understanding of what happened. Of course, situations like this are so fraught with drama and finger pointing and blatant lies that it's often hard to know what is true and what isn't.
The basic story goes like this: Emily Cier wrote a book called Scrap Republic for C&T Publishing. Moda, a fabric manufacturer sent her lots of fabric for free to create the quilts in this book.
Now this doesn't seem like a big deal at first sight, but Emily was designing quilts that used only a specific line of designer fabric. Out of a line of fabric, you might have 10 - 20 prints that all coordinate together so you can make matchy matchy quilts.
Of course, when you make a quilt out of only one line of fabric, it's pretty obvious. The fabrics are designed to match, so they do actually match!
Just to see what all the fuss was about, I purchased Scrap Republic this past weekend and flipped through it. I'm not a fabric designer and I don't even use prints that often, but I instantly recognized several fabric lines popular in 2011.
Yes, the fabrics were large enough and obvious enough that you could easily tell not only the particular print, but the entire fabric line being used. I'm sure someone more into prints could easily recognize all the lines in the book.
I also found while flipping through the book that while Emily Cier was given credit as the creator of the quilt, neither the fabric line, nor the photographer were given credit for their contribution to the book.
And this is a sticky point because I actually like the fabric in two of the quilts and would really like to know who designed it!
Sometimes providing credit (attribution) is a good thing and has nothing to do with copyright. In this case, it'd be nice to know the fabric line so any quilter reading could search for the right fabric and make that exact quilt on page 39.
So that's enough about the book, which had some clear flaws. It's one thing if you take a line of fabric and chop it down into 1" squares and mix it with 100 other prints. It's quite another thing to leave the fabric in large pieces where the design is very obvious.
Some attribution should have been given, not because of copyright, but because it would have made the book a better resource.
Now the story gets sticky because C&T Publishing randomly flipped through the book and picked a photo of one of the quilts, enlarged the image and printed it on the front of an eco tote bag.
Keep in mind, the fabric used in the quilts were obvious. The pieces they were cut into were large, making it very clear which line of fabric each quilt is created from.
The quilt used for the eco tote just happened to have been created using Kate Spain's Fandango fabric. Kate saw the bags and decided they violated her copyright of her fabric line.
Kate Spain then initiated a lawsuit against C&T Publishing and Emily Cier and demanded both the eco totes AND the books be destroyed.
Now things get murky because on her blog, Kate Spain denies starting a lawsuit, but it's obvious on both C&T's and Emily Cier's blog that a real, big, scary lawsuit was initiated. C&T Publishing ended up taking the blame and came to some accord with Kate Spain.
I'm thinking a lot of $$$ changed hands because everyone is friends again and Kate wants to design quilts with Emily. Personally after a lawsuit threat I'd tell her to shove her fabric where...you get the idea.
You can find all this information in various forms on Emily Cier's Blog, C&T's Blog, and Kate Spain's blog. Keep in mind that everyone has their own spin on the truth.
I'm not saying Emily Ceir was the bad guy, or Kate Spain, or C&T. I think they all made mistakes in this situation and no one is the winner. Personally I'm the most cheesed off at Kate Spain simply because if she is this quick to sue and get cash for it, how many other fabric designers will start doing the same thing. Will I one day be sued for the print fabrics I used in Power of Now?
As I said before, this situation only creates questions, questions, and more questions.
Let's work backwards: the tote bag was printed with a PHOTOGRAPH which was taken by a photographer for the book. Whoever that person was, they aren't credited in the book.
The QUILT was designed and created by Emily Cier.
The FABRIC used in the quilt was designed by Kate Spain.
Who really own the copyright?
Is the quilt actually Emily's or should she pay licensing fees to Kate just to sleep under it? And if Kate is really wanting everyone to use her fabric for any reason, why does she print "for personal use only" on the selvage of her fabric? That statement implies a limitation and a rule of what can and can't be done with it!
(Updated: Fandango did not have this printed on the selvage)
Unfortunately this entire situation sets a precedence. C&T Publishing took the blame and settled, which means the real question of who owns the copyright in this situation will never be battled out in front of a judge who would give us the legal guidance we need to know what is right and wrong in this situation.
Even better would be to get a judge who knows copyright law and understands the public domain nature of utilitarian industries. Personally I think copyright has gotten way out of hand in the quilting world, which is only one step shy of the fashion industry.
And guess what the fashion industry is?
Open, public domain.
I have a favorite jacket that I love wearing in the winter, but it's getting worn out. I could take that jacket and make an exact copy of it. An EXACT COPY. I could even turn that copy into a pattern and sell it.
I would not be doing anything wrong. I would not be violating any copyright. Clothing is completely open because a long time ago the US government realized it would be ridiculous to try to copyright clothing - a utilitarian commodity.
Imagine if a company could copyright a zipper - we'd all have to pay licensing fees just to use it. Or the collar of a shirt. Or the way your elastic pants fit.
I can feel you nodding your head in agreement. You wouldn't want to pay $50 extra for your socks just because the manufacturer had to pay an expensive licensing agreement with the copyright holder of sock design.
But how is this any different from a quilt design? We use basic geometric shapes: squares, triangles, circles, hexagons, diamonds that have been around for hundreds of years, yet quilt designers are increasingly demanding that this is THEIR quilt pattern, or THEIR exclusive technique.
To understand this better, take a minute to watch this awesome lecture on the fashion industry. The details, especially the comparison of revenue and net worth of this open industry in comparison to copyright rich industries like the music or film industry is extremely eye opening.
I love this video because it perfectly illustrates all the reasons why copyright can be detrimental to an industry. If you lock everything down, slap rules and limitations on your work, you essentially slam the door on your potential.
And that's not just your potential to make cash, though money certainly flows more freely into open systems. It's also the potential to create new designs, come up with new ideas, continuously innovating and expanding into new realms of design.
Current copyright idealist say that without copyright, the creator won't want to create because they're constantly being copied and ripped off all the time.
The current mentality is that being ripped off, an example being those eco totes with Emily's quilt and Kate's Fabric, is the worst thing in the world because the designer isn't getting paid for their work. Kate even wrote on her blog that if she didn't protect her copyright, she wouldn't be able to make a living.
WTF?! How much did sending your lawyers after C&T an Emily Cier cost?
And this brings us back to the core question - did Kate even have copyright over the image of the quilt in question? Was it not Emily's quilt because she cut the fabric up and turned it into a quilt? Or wasn't it the photographers copyright because it was his / her photo?
The idea that an eco tote being sold with a photo of Emily's/ Kate's quilt on the surface would suddenly beggar Kate Spain puts me into a rage. It is such utter nonsense.
The fact is, if Kate had simply requested that her name and Fandango line was mentioned somewhere on the tote, she would have had a wonderful advertisement for her fabric being sold all over the world. She would likely have sold even more fabric, and gained loyal customers for future lines too.
The idea that without copyright all designers will be broke and stop designing is simply not true.
The reverse is the truth! How much innovation comes out of the fashion industry each year? They innovate constantly because as soon as a new shirt is released, it's copied quickly, but the buyers loyal to the brand want the original, real product from the real brand.
So in order to have a business, big designers are always changing the look, cut, and feel of clothing so they remain unique and authentic and their loyal customers keep buying.
They continuously innovate, not in spite of, but BECAUSE they are being copied all the time!
I probably wouldn't have created all 365 designs if I hadn't posted them online and seen quilters start to use them. The excitement of seeing these designs in all sorts of quilts just made me feel so excited, I couldn't wait to make more.
I could never fathom telling you where or how you could use these designs. I can't even imagine requiring you to give me credit. I certainly appreciate it, but did I actually quilt YOUR quilt? No! YOU DID! I just taught you a cool design, but you were the one with the skill and talent to use it.
I know for a fact, if you lock everything down, all you will focus on is keeping everything locked down. You will spend countless hours NOT quilting, designing, or being creative because you'll be busy talking to lawyers, reading copyright laws, and studying ways to make your work "safer."
When in reality all you're doing is make people feel uncomfortable and scared. I don't know about you, but I'm extremely uncomfortable about using not just Kate Spain's fabric, but any designer print thanks to this situation.
Already I knew better than to use any fabric printed with "for personal use only" or "for home use only" on the selvage but now I feel far more constrained in my choices. And constraint of any sort makes me want to punch my fist through a wall. I hate feeling like I can't use something or do something because someone might wag a finger and threaten to sue me.
Should I only create with hand dyed fabric? What if the dye manufacturer comes out with a special, exclusive, copyrighted color and demands attribution for using their color of purple?
I'm all for sharing great products, and I love telling you all about the tools and materials I'm using. It's when it becomes a REQUIREMENT to tell you every tool, every material that went into a quilt, that makes me very uncomfortable.
But this is the world that's being built every day by situations like I described above.
If you want a quilting world where we all work in secret, creating in a void of new ideas and innovations just so your work can be "yours" to slap a copyright on, you can be guaranteed of one thing: failure.
Because no one wants to deal with this. No one wants the headache, the complication, the fear, or the negativity that this kind of attitude will bring. The more you shut down and lock up the quilting world, the fewer people will want to have anything to do with it.
I've met a few quilters with this close minded mentality. One in particular came to teach at my local guild. She was unbelievable in her desire to copyright and control every aspect of her quilts, right down to trademarking the name of her "exclusive" technique.
After a conversion about teaching, she emailed me to say that I should never use a term - TWO WORDS - we had both come up with to describe a new way to sell patterns. I deleted her email and will never speak to her again. No one has the right to tell me what words I can and can't use. I have no time or energy for Copyright Nazi's or the lies and fear they try to spread.
On the flip side I've met wonderful quilters who seem to understand the reality and implications of excessive copyright. If we lock up this industry, we will lose something powerful, something essential, something that brought me to quilting in the first place: freedom.
Freedom to play with fabric. Freedom to experiment with different shapes and layouts. Freedom to play with new techniques and materials. We can lose the freedom to create.
Because if you have to check with 5 different fabric designers and the quilt pattern designer AND the free motion quilting designer in order to make your quilt, how likely are you to do it? Even the idea of asking, even words like "licensing," are enough to send many people packing. Off to find another hobby the lawyers haven't ruined yet.
Many quilters understand the growing impact of situations like the recent tote bag fiasco. I for one want to see an end to excessive copyright, particularly on blogs.
If you post something: an idea, a technique, a pretty picture, whatever, man up and give it away for free.
REALLY free. As in copyright free - as in anyone can use whatever you post for ANY reason.
What's the worst that can happen? Someone might teach your technique or idea. More people will learn it and enjoy it than you could ever reach alone. Is that such a terrible thing?
Spend some time thinking about copyright today and what world you're helping to create with quilting.
A world where we share ideas, techniques, fabric, and tools as freely as our grandmothers around a quilt frame.
Or it could be a world locked tight by fear, lawsuits, negativity, selfishness, and egotism.
The choice is yours.
I'm off to quilt now and create something beautiful to share with you later this weekend.
UPDATE - 3/31/2012
I've never received so many responses to a single post before, and I plan to keep the comments open so everyone has a chance to air their opinion on this matter.
Kate Spain even shared the following comment which clarifies some points, including a mistake I made about about her fabric:
Hi Leah,Sincerest apologies for my mistake about your fabric, but my core issue with this entire situation remains.
Thanks for your thoughtful post and great questions about copyright and the extent to which it is influencing the quilting community. Lots of people think I'm trying to control the ways in which my fabric is used, but that is untrue. As far as making things (quilts or otherwise), please answer these four questions about your fabric use:
- Is it just you sitting at your sewing machine making stuff to give to friends/family or to sell?
- Are you shipping fabric overseas and having any manufacturing done in a factory?
- Are you copying or otherwise reproducing recognizable designs from fabric and printing them onto another material like laminate or plastic and then manufacturing a new product like a tote bag? Or shower curtain?
- is your distribution through mass market channels?
If you answered Yes, No, No, No, then you really have nothing to worry about! Whatever you are doing with my fabric is fine!
Also just wanted to clarify that the selvages on my fabric do NOT have a "for personal use only" stipulation. If you spend your hard-earned dollars on it you should be able to use it however you like! I've written more on my blog to clarify the resolution of this situation and an FAQ: http://katespaindesigns.blogspot.com/2012/03/moving-forward.html
I completely agree with you that an absence of attribution is a missed opportunity for both promotion as well as resource material.
One last and important thing to know is that I did not make ONE dollar on this, and donated the recalled tote bags to several local charities.
Keep up the great discussion!
With Kindest Regards,
If I have to stop and ask myself 4 questions before I cut fabric, I simply won't cut it.
Because here's something I know about the quilting / crafting world, Ms Spain - it is very rarely black and white or as simple as a "Yes" or "No" when it comes to question #1.
The question was: Is it just you sitting at your sewing machine making stuff to give to friends/family or to sell?
First off, if I answer "yes" to this question, is that yes to making stuff for family / friends, or is it yes to potentially selling it? Already things are getting confused!
If I plan to sell what I make - what does that mean? Can I make something to sell: a quilt, a handbag, a tote, a belt, a skirt, pants, machine cover, etc, etc, etc or not?
I've been making some form of income from sewing since middle school. Back then I would slice up the leg of jeans and insert funky fabrics into the leg to create homemade bell bottoms. These caught on so well, I began making them for other girls in class.
So it's safe to say that EVERY item I've ever sewn since the age of 12 has been for personal AND / OR business use.
I know I'm not an anomaly with this. I've posted about business before and been surprised by just how many quilters (around 80% I'd guess) make SOME form of money from this craft. It doesn't matter whether you make $50 or $50,000 a year with this, money is money, sales are sales.
Which is why this issue is so very important.
We want the freedom to make whatever we want for whatever reason.
I shouldn't have to ask myself 4 questions! I shouldn't have to question my right to cut up fabric and use it!
Because the questions never stop.
What if I made a quilt for myself and photographed it. That photograph ended up in my online quilt gallery and one day, years down the road, I decided to make a picture book of all my quilts, which was then sold all over the world and through mass market channels.
Technically that would fall within the big no-no you've just outlined, but at the time of cutting the fabric, I would have no idea of the potential of that quilt, made with that fabric, to end up sold in that way.
We never know what the end use of a quilt will be.
We never know how long it will last or who it will be given to, or who will photograph it, or what those photographs will be used for. We just don't know. It's impossible to know.
All the questions this raises will just keep getting bigger and bigger, more complex and more technical, and our feelings of frustration, anxiety, and fear will build until all desire to create is obliterated.
It's far easier not to cut that fabric and not to have to ask those questions.
I've edited the above post to reflect my mistake about Kate Spain's fabric. Her fabric does not have "for personal use" stamped on the selvage.