The Value of a Pattern

by Weeks on 28/08/2007

in Whip-Up

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So here’s the question: Are crafters who are making things for their family and friends that are not to be sold obligated to respect copyrights on designs the same way profit-driven manufacturers are? Before you answer, think about it from one designer’s perspective.

My husband and I design and make quilts for a living. It takes a long time to develop each design, not to mention all of the years of education that went into learning how to design. As is the case with any designer, we need these designs to pay for our mortgage, health insurance, groceries and deposits to our daughter’s college fund. Each design is worth thousands of dollars to us in potential royalty payments and commissions. Once we let someone copy a design, we have no control over who sees it and what happens to it. These designs have very real monetary value to us so we have copyrighted them. In our minds inspiration and color combinations are free for the taking but designs should be protected.

Soon after we started our company it became clear that hobby quilters liked our designs and wanted to reproduce them. We didn’t want anyone else to reproduce the designs for the quilts we made for our clients because we wanted to have some designs that would be made only by us. It’s kind of like a chef who wouldn’t want to publish every single recipe she develops. We want to keep some things exclusive to our studio. So we decided to design new patterns that would be available to hobby quilters who wanted to purchase patterns. We published two books with patterns, developed our own pattern line and often sell the rights to some of our designs to American Patchwork & Quilting Magazine so they can be reproduced by hobby quilters who want to make contemporary quilts.

A year ago a quilt that we made and sold to a collector appeared on the cover of a design magazine. The magazine credited us as the designers of the quilt. Since then we’ve had hundreds of calls from people who want to make that quilt and others that have appeared in magazine spreads that have featured our work. This leaves us in the awkward position of having to tell people that these patterns are not available for reproduction. The person always explains that they will not be selling the quilt, only making it for themselves or someone else. Their reasoning seems to be that if they are not receiving money from copying one of our patterns that there would be no loss incurred by us, which is not the case. Each person who asks assumes that they are the only one who is asking and thus it shouldn’t be a big deal to just let them copy a design, just for them, just this once.

An intellectual property attorney who is also a quilter once told us that it’s hard for quilters to understand and value the concept of intellectual property. She explained that because so many traditional patterns are in the public domain (not protected by copyrights), most quilters don’t see why all patterns shouldn’t be available to copy as easily as those that are not protected by copyrights. The believe that everything should be up for grabs to hobby quilters and that copyrights should not apply to people who aren’t selling things. Many people think that it’s wrong for a big profit-hungry corporation to knock off a designer but they don’t think there’s any harm in individuals knocking off designers because the individuals aren’t planning on making money from the designs they knock off. What they don’t see though, is that they are taking something from a designer. They are taking ideas and techniques, which are the livelihood of designers. This is less a legal issue to me than an ethical one.

The irony is that if designers let everyone reproduce designs that have not been released as patterns, the designers would have no designs left to sell, so they would no longer have a company, so they could no longer develop the designs that the crafters want to copy. When we ask people not to copy a copyrighted design that we want to keep exclusive to our studio, we’re not trying to be mean, we’re just trying to make a living and support our family. I know that imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery will not pay for my daughter to go to college.

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