Thursday, March 24, 2011

Copyright Law and Cottage Licenses

Have you seen those "cottage licenses"?  You know, the ones that sellers try to get you to pay $50 or more for, and then they give you "permission" to sell something YOU made?  Yep, those are fake.  Don't buy them. Ever.  I have done some research on this topic.  I don't claim to be the guru on Copyright Law, but here's what I've found...

Wait... I first want to say that I'm NOT saying it's OK for you to "steal" ideas from others.  That's just bad juju.  All of the knitters, crocheters, seamstresses, and other artisans in the handmade community should STICK TOGETHER, not try to best each other.  If we band together & do the right things, we can all get a slice of that "pie". 

OK, so... more about the BS...

1.  Copyright Law does NOT protect ideas, only their expression.  (For example, it protects my tangible, written pattern... but could not prevent others from making similar items.)       
*1a.  If you find an item online & you want to recreate it, go ahead.  As much as I hate to admit this, since I'm in the business of selling patterns, there's no law that prohibits you from being "inspired" by someone else's work.  However, it's just NICE to give credit to pattern writers & designers.  Do you have to?  No.  But giving credit among others in the handmade community is good for everyone!!

2. You are not allowed to resell/reprint patterns or other copyrighted works.  Changing/altering them & claiming them as your own is also a no-no.  Using someone elses photographs, graphs, charts, and/or drawings is a BIG no-no.

3. Copyrights & Patents are only good for a certain amount of time anyway, so don't get suckered into renewing a "cottage license" forever... because even if the pattern you got ripped off on DOES have a real copyright, it's only good for a certain amount of time anyway, before it becomes public domain.

4. The Doctrine of Exhaustion states that, "the first unrestricted sale of a patented item exhausts the patentee's control over that particular item." In human being words, that means that once a seller sells you the pattern, they have no control over what you do with it.

Long story short... a "Cottage License" is not a condition a copyright owner/seller can place upon the sale of an item... at least not without the consent of the purchaser. (If you paid for a "license"... Sorry Charlie, you got ripped off.) A license requires the approval of all parties (buyer & seller, in most cases), as well as many other conditions. Patterns are sold, not licensed. Anyone who says otherwise is just blowing smoke up your ass.  HOWEVER, if a seller asks nicely for you to not sell their designs online... it would be nice of you to follow.  If you REALLY want to sell something online, design it yourself, or buy the pattern from someone who allows it.

Some of you might also want to look up more information on trademarks, while you're at it.

And on that note... Happy Crocheting. 
You are always welcome to sell the items you make from my patterns.  Sell a billion hats, really!  I just ask that you help spread the word about my patterns by giving me credit for the pattern I wrote.  If you become a self-made millionaire selling crazy owl hats, throw me a bone, would ya?  ;)



  1. Great to know thanks for all the info. I always wondered about that cottage license too. And it was all just a fluke! LOL I will make sure to give you credit when credit is due. I have a pattern of yours and love it.

  2. Great post with very useful information! I always do my best to give credit where credit is due. That's the least we can do. I will be passing this info on!

  3. Great post! Very useful information!

  4. Thank you so much for this info. I have seen a number of these "licences" on Etsy as of late and was wondering.

  5. Here's a quick briefing on copyright laws for those interested

  6. Amen, Sista'! Okay, how about this one, tell me what you think. Say I found a free pattern on Ravelry, and I have tweeked the pattern a bit, and I think it makes the pattern better. Can I post the new pattern on my site or Ravelry with notes saying "adapted from...this link" with posted link. Or, do I just post on their pattern link in Ravelry with my adaptations? Is that clear? I'm not sure. With all this talk about copyrights, I'm just wondering what you think. Thanks for your input.

  7. I wondered who came up with the cool owl hats! It was you?

  8. Great post, great blog! Thanks!

  9. Good information to know. I have been wanting to open an Etsy shop and have been reading up about how to give credit for items I make from the patterns I purchase. Thanks!

  10. @Hillery - I'm not sure what proper etiquette would be on that. I would probably post the link & then mention the adjustments. Do NOT try to sell the pattern.

    @DeBBie - I didn't invent owl hats, but I have my own awesome version of them. :)

    @Amanda - yep, just give a quick mention of the source of the pattern at the bottom of your listings. Even if the pattern was free.

  11. There are some errors in the original post, though I'm certainly sympathetic to the sense of it. (Disclaimer--I'm not an intellectual property attorney, either, but I've done a lot of research).

    First, copyrights are different from patents. Law that applies to one does not apply to the other.

    Under US copyright law, you don't have to "get" a copyright. Creative works are copyrighted _automatically_ upon creation. It is optional to _register_ that copyright, and much easier to enforce it if it's registered.

    Finally, copyright also covers "derivative works". Whether or not an item made from a pattern is a "derivative work" would be a matter for the courts--and might get a different answer from one time to the next, depending on the court & the specifics of the case.

    1. Roland, I think you and I are on the same side on this so I mean this in the friendliest of ways, but I think you may have misunderstood what a "derivative work" means in the larger copyright context (and believe me, when it comes to intellectual property law, the language used is the source of most of the confusion because a lot of it sounds like it is saying one thing when legally it means something rather different). Let's use Harry Potter as the example: You can't just go out and make a bunch of Harry Potter related merchandise and sell it because HP is ENTIRELY a (genius level:) creation of J.K. Rowling and she has the right to control and benefit from something she produced out of thin air that had never been done before. However, if you were say, artist Andy Warhol, and you created a series of Pop Art paintings and one of them was a take-off of Harry then (assuming it was a substantial enough departure from the original to have creative merit purely on its own) you would have created a "derivative work" that was actually okay under the doctrine of "fair use" of other people's creative efforts - whether they like it or hate it. Where all this talk of paintings, and writings, and poems and plays etc. goes through-the-looking-glass is when it gets applied to knitting which - art or not - is fundamentally a craft that ends in the creation of a functional object the same way elegant cooking ends in lunch. Functional objects that have been around for centuries, regardless of variations in ornamentation (i.e. knitting) have no hold in the world of patents or design patents and barely have a toe-hold in copyrights. It's just a different sort of animal and that distinction is very important under the law. People can't just make up their own legal rules. That's why we have courts and legislatures.

  12. YOU~ARE~AWESOME! (always remember that)

  13. Thanks so much for explaining all of this in a way that I can understand! I agree very strongly that we crafters, of all kinds, need to stick together and SUPPORT each other!! With the advent of the internet we are able to communicate with many, many people in a way that was not possible before, so we really have to respect that, not take advantage of it, and respect each other :) Thanks for getting the word out.

  14. Really useful information. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. I know copyrights & patents are different... I was just using the terms broadly. I have never come across anything that says that "creative works are automatically copyrighted upon completion. I know there are intellectual property rights... but that's something completely different.
    I don't claim to know what I'm talking about all the time... but long story short, don't buy cottage licenses. :)

  16. Wow, can I agree with you on this. My brother is an attorney and when I asked him about a Cottage License that the Creative Thimble said I had to buy, he said if you make a muffin from a recipe book, who says you can't take it to the school bake sale? The muffin is a useful article and people use various methods to make it .. you cannot copyright a useful article such as a handbag or a knitted shawl .. you can make a bag that looks like a Guess but can't put their name on it .. but you can sell that bag and as long as you don't put Guess' name on it, you're fine .. you wouldn't copy someone's paper pattern and instructions and sell it but you can make from that pattern, as it's your own "method" and the original designer cannot lay claim to something you have made! I'm so glad to see this!!

  17. Thanks for explaining this! I had someone else explain it like recipes for cooking/baking. I can sell brownies at a bake sale using the Betty Crocker recipe, but if I were to sell the brownies commercially and claim the recipe as my own, that would a copyright violation.