An Update On Knitting Pattern Copyrights

The comments after my post about quick knitting patterns were great because they highlighted an issue that most knitters who sell their work will face, whether you can use a someone else’s knitting patterns to make knitted products to sell (even if the knitting pattern is free). So I’ve done a bit of research on copyright and how it applies to knitting and crochet…

Copyright is a form of legal protection for creators of original works (whether literary, artistic, dramatic or musical) which ensures they are credited (and/or paid) for that work for a certain period of time. This includes original knitting and crochet patterns.

Copyright laws were created because there needed to be a balance between sharing ideas and information, and making sure that the original creators of those ideas are credited for them. Without copyright laws, people may be much less willing to share their ideas for fear that others could use their creation to make money, with no credit or reward to them for their inspiration. But sometimes copyright works against the author, with people unwilling to use an idea or inspiration for fear of infringing copyright, and so the work is never widely known.

When you find a knitting pattern, whether it is in a published book or free on the internet, it is automatically subject to copyright laws, which are in essence the same around the world. If it says "All rights reserved", that means you basically can’t do anything but knit it for yourself or perhaps as a gift. If it just says copyright or says nothing at all, then the best course of action is to contact the designer and ask.

Obviously, you can’t just change a couple of stitches and claim a design as your own, but you can use the ideas and techniques in a pattern to create your own designs. Exactly how much different it needs to be to not infringe copyright is like asking "how long is a piece of yarn?". A lot of it is down to common sense and courtesy really – if you’re not sure, just ask the designer. The knitting world is generally a friendly and sharing community, and every author can decide what you are allowed to do with their patterns. If you ask, most are quite happy to at least discuss it.

There are also patterns available that are in the "public domain". This means that their copyright term has ended, and you are completely free to use them, reproduce them, modify them and resell them as you wish. Generally these are vintage knitting patterns published before 1963 (this is for the US, and providing their copyright has not been renewed).

These days there is a big swing towards "free licence", which means many people are putting their original ideas and works out into the world happy for people to use them as long as they credit them as the original creator. I really like this model because it encourages sharing and collaboration, which is something that sits very well with the knitting community spirit.

If you are a designer, it is also a great way to get your patterns known by lots of people, because they will be more willing to share and recommend them. You are also likely to make more sales worldwide with this model because it opens up whole new markets – especially people who want to make money from knitting and need unique patterns that they can sell from!

And when you think about it, the actual knitting pattern is really only part of the creative process of the finished knitted product. The knitter will choose the colours and yarns and fix mistakes or make small alterations to a pattern. So every finished piece will probably be a bit different from the original design!

If you have patterns that you are happy for people to sell the finished work from, feel free to post your web address and details in the comments section below and get some free traffic! Or if you have any comments or other information about copyright of knitting patterns, please post a reply and let us all know.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Klara says:

    Now here’s the law as I understand it:

    Copyright applies to MAKING A COPY – for example, making a photocopy of a book. Or scanning it, or copying it by handwriting (which, incidentally, is expressly allowed for all books under German copyright law).

    But when I am knitting a sweater according to a published pattern, I’m NOT making a copy of this pattern. I’m executing instructions to make something. Instructions that were published so that other people could make the item in question. I have paid money to get these instructions, I’ve paid money to get the yarn, and I’ve spent lots of my time to make the item – so I really don’t see why the item should not be mine to do with as I please – whether that’s wearing it, ripping it, giving it away or selling it. To me it looks as if designers/publishers wanted to sell their patterns and keep them!

    On the other hand, when I am copying a sweater I’ve seen in a shop window, then I am infringing at least French copyright law, because under French law clothing is expressly included in copyright legislation and in this case the sweater designer did not want me to make that sweater (she did not publish the pattern) but to buy it. (And incidentally, counterfeiting is a pretty serious issue in France – there’s a designer of in-handbags who makes probably as much money by sueing copyists than by selling his own bags).

    On the other hand, under U.S. legislation, useful articles cannot be copyrighted. I suppose we could argue that clothing – i. e. most knitting – is useful. In Germany it’s similar: Copyright protects literary, artistic and scientific works – the pattern BOOK is protected (as a literary work), the ITEM made from the pattern probably not – unless the judge considers it a work of art.

    Now obviously I can be completely wrong in my interpretation of the various COPYRIGHT laws, but that’s what I’d tell my lawyer if I ever found one who’s knowledgeable in the question. And I’d really like to know which laws the publishers you contacted based their interdiction on – I believe there are possibilities along the lines of trademarks, or registering a design, and possibly some I’ve never heard of…

  2. I looked into this subject some years ago now in the UK. I was told that the pattern itself, ie., the page of instructions were copyright protected and could not be reproduced and distributed, but, if you used a different colour of yarn,different make of yarn, or even just changed a couple of stitches, then the garment was not protected.

  3. Liz says:

    Both great points, and shows how copyrights get tricky when it comes to knitting and crochet patterns. According to my sources, the copyright does apply to the product created from a pattern because that is what the designer has created – not just some instructions on a page, but the actual design of the finished product (the instructions are just the method used to show you how to recreate it).
    I think it all comes down to common sense and decency, many people make their living from designing, just like you may want to make some money from knitting their pattern, it’s fair that they are acknowledged.
    If you are going to use someone’s pattern for anything other than private use, contact them and start a conversation. Let them know what you intend to do, they may have some patterns that they are happy for you to use, or they may even design something especially for your niche, you may end up finding some great new opportunities together!

  4. I am a designer of patterns, both knit and crochet.. and while many pattern designers will say you can only use their patterns for personal use, and not profit, I am the total opposite!

    I tell my buyers, to please feel free to sell their finished items anywhere they please!
    And I am happy to see them reproduced (not the patterns, of course, but the finished items.

    On my site on etsy, I also have 4 free patterns which are available right in the listing. They show that you don’t have to be a talented crocheter or knitter to produce cute things, that take very little time to complete. And that is my total purpose in designing a pattern, I try to produce an item that is so simple, than even a young person could do it! And I include lots and lots of pictures so that even without the written instructions, they might be able to figure it out,.. but with the written instructions along with pictures, if you don’t understand one, then you usually understand the other! Or at least it puts a light on things!

    I have been designing and knitting and crocheting for years, and I don’t like a complicated pattern myself. Some of my neckwarmer/cowl patterns can be made up in 20 minutes!! That’s my kind of project… cause after all, we all have so much to do… so little time.. and that includes me. (But I always have one requirement when I design a pattern… I want the cuteness factor.)

    Check out my patterns, and see 4 cute things you can make for free on my site at
    http://www.Hectanooga.etsy.com.

  5. Klara says:

    Thank you, M.E.! Seems you have understood what the publishers have not grasped: The people who buy knitted items are not knitters themselves and so wouldn’t buy the pattern anyway. Meaning, neither the designer nor the publisher loses a cent when a knitter sells an item they knitted from their pattern.

    However, the publishers of the 1-skein books (and other pattern books) have lost me as a customer because of the copyright discussion (which crops up every now and then on every crafts-related website and it’s years since I’ve first been aware of the issue). Otherwise I might easily have spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on pattern books before finding out that I hate following patterns…

  6. Yes Klara, patterns just set my mind into a jumble!!! Especially the ones with abbreviations, it’s like hiroglyphics!! You read the line, and you wonder, “what the heck does that mean?” and so you go back and back, and then the frustration starts to build up.. and the wonderful, therapeutic, and meditative activity of knitting and crochet, become an irritation. And that is part of the reason unfinished projects remain in the depths of everyone’s knitting stash.
    (I found one myself from 25 years ago the other day, at the back of my closet, in a large box of small balls of yarn. Hmmm, poor thing,.. it never made it to fruition… and it did have possiblities, it was a black sweater, with several blocks of wonderful colors, like fuschia, royal blue, and red, on the front. Ah well, I took it apart, and put the balls into a bin for some future use!

    I want people to love knitting and crochet as much as I do.. so my patterns aim to be simple, easy, quick, and made for people to be able to make a profit from them. Because that is the final gratification… that you loved making it.. and someone else loves to have it,,, and then wants more and more from you! And my mind is full of patterns, so I think my purpose is to supply the whole world with wonderful patterns, so others will fill the world with pretties.

    I have sold patterns to people in Australia, France, Holland, Portugal, and the U.K. And I love that they can make an item designed by someone across the world, and they can make it the same day, by just a click of the computer by email! I send them the PDF file, and the same day, they have clear pictures, as well as written instructions for something they would not have had access to before computers!

    Oh,… well…. I shouldn’t go on and on! (Sorry about the length.)

    Keep checking my site at http://www.Hectanooga.etsy.com, as I will be adding new FREE patterns, and I am always adding new patterns, as soon as I finish the tedious task of taking step by step photos, and then different poses of the finished projects, and then creating the PDF files.

    Here is a little creative thing you can do with your computer. Has nothing to do with knitting or crochet…. it’s just a cute little fish: < Enjoy!

    Emi

  7. fran says:

    hi liz i have been a fan of your blogg site and find it a great source of information. i of course affilliated with you through all my ususal haunts and even advertise you in the above mentioned web page. i think your a great inspiration to us women and men out there. keep up the articles as i like to be able to have a one stop shop. fran.

  8. Liz says:

    Hi Fran, thanks so much for your comment – I’m so glad you find the information helpful and really appreciate your feedback! Yay for working at home!

  9. Marie says:

    Seems to me we are all guilty of breaking copyright laws.After all we all Knit 1 Purl 1 slip 1 make 1 ect ect to create what ever it is we are working on.
    We all own reference books to refer to when wanting a cable a trim or just a refresh on a stitch or technique we want to use,so although we are not using the same pattern form start to finish form a pattern book we are still using parts of what someone else has already created.

  10. lori says:

    I was to confused about copyright laws. Liz has made me see that I might like to go into the creative sharing. I design and had been afraid to publish without a publisher. Now I think I might be brave enough to try publishing myself. I design items that are crocheted out of recycled items. Including tambour on screen. Hope to set up a web site I still dont know how to do that but I am trying to get a store set up on makeminepink so this ought to be fun!

  11. Philippa says:

    Hi
    My Question is
    What do you do when you buy a pattern from a knitting designer ,
    only find the pattern is wrong
    I purchased a pattern and the whole thing is wrong.
    I have had to use bigger needles thicker yarn and change the way you increase so it will fit my doll.
    the same size as the pattern
    Is this then my own pattern?as i have had to change so many things.
    Thank you for your time

  12. Philippa says:

    Hi again sorry forgot to ask
    how do you become a knitting pattern designer?
    without coping some one else?

    many thanks for any information you can give me.

  13. Liz says:

    Hi Phillipa, thanks for your question – it’s a very tricky area and a difficult one to answer! I’m not a lawyer and I haven’t seen your pattern or the original so I can’t give you a “yes”or “no” answer. It is true that if you do enough changes to a pattern you can claim it as your own work, but I’m not sure what the exact percentages are that you need to change to make it different enough. There seems to be a “common sense” element to copyright – if it’s obvious that your pattern is a copy and you are trying to make money by riding on the popularity or reputation of the original, then the original creator may ask you to stop (an example is recognisable brands like “Thomas the Tank Engine” or “Harry Potter”). But a lot of needle work uses the same stitches and patterns, they are all built from the same blocks so to speak. If you become a designer, you will be putting those stitches, patterns, yarns, colours and techniques together in a unique and original way so the design is then yours. Hope this helps!

  14. Natasha says:

    Hi,

    I have recently bought loads of knitting patterns that I wanted to knit up and sell. How do I find out if the patterns are protected by copyright or are in the public domain please?

    Thanks.

  15. KS says:

    "According to my sources, the copyright does apply to the product created from a pattern because that is what the designer has created…"
    Both my undergraduate and master's degrees heavily emphasized copyright so I'm always interested to read how others interpret the law in areas such as this. I've yet to hear that a pattern copyright can claim to OWN item that was made from the purchased pattern (particularly if it's a useful item such as clothing). You're absolutely correct that copyright is tricky. With that in mind, would you mind citing your sources (or the exact copyright codes) here for those of us attempting to assess the authority of the information and read the exact sections of law being discussed?
    http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml
    -KS

  16. Liz says:

    Hi KS,

    An interesting question – my sources were online lawyers and advisors, and since going back to them the advice has changed. This is a very contentious issue it seems and no-one wants to stick their neck out! If you have more information for us, please feel free to add! Actually I believe the real issue is not necessarily the copyright, but whether it is even possible to enforce it in any meaningful way (unless you are a corporation with money to throw at legal expenses)

  17. Liz says:

    Hi Natasha, the easiest way is to contact the owner or publisher of the patterns and ask – many are OK with you knitting up and selling the items, they just don’t want you reproducing the printed pattern and re-selling that, but it’s always best to ask.

  18. Tabberone says:

    I have on my web site two letters from the Register of Copyrights that state patterns are generally not copyrightable. And even if they were, the Supreme Court ruled over 120 years ago that a dress made from a pattern was not covered by any possible copyright the pattern might have. 
    While patterns are generally not copyrightable, one could possibly still be prosecuted under common law for copying and selling the pattern as their own.

  19. Elly says:

    Any advice for myself as now I’m thinking about working on a blog similar to this?

  20. Superb posting! I 100 % consent with you.

  21. Heather says:

    Clothing is considered utilitarian, or "useful articles" under copyright laws and are therefore not protected under the Copyright Act. This means that you cannot copyright the design of an article of clothing as a whole. However, aspects of the clothing are copyrightable if they exist separately from the utilitarian aspect of the clothing. Examples: print found on fabric, or specific characters knit onto a sweater.  Bitlaw.com explains "useful articles" in more detail at
    http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/unprotected.html
    and for more copyright info related specifically to knitting check out Ms. Yarnaholic's School for Wayward Skeins at
    http://yarnaholic.wordpress.com/the-copyright-faq-for-knitters/7/

  22. mandybeau says:

    I design knitwear, that is totally orginal and offer the patterns for Sale, this way if others make them and sell, I am happy long as they leave me the small amount for the initial pattern.
    Seriously though, it is nigh on impossible to pull copyright restrictions and make them stick people are just soooo blatant.
    Anyone wanting to look at my patterns can find them on my Site. I also do sewing and other design work. I know that others have used them, and am happy to encourage this.
    My jerseys are all made from recycle wool it gives them a beautiful look.

  23. Amy says:

    Hi Liz!


    I visited your site for some information on copyright and original designs. I found the following bit of info you provided
    most relevant to my question. You wrote:


    "Obviously, you can’t just change a couple of stitches and claim a design as your own, but you can use the ideas and techniques in a pattern to create your own designs. Exactly how much different it needs to be to not infringe copyright is like asking "how long is a piece of yarn?". A lot of it is down to common sense and courtesy really"


    What I am getting from this is, it is Ok to  create a similar product, (say a crochet teddy bear for example) as long as it is not exactly like, or strikingly similar to a product already in existence. Common sense means being as original as possible in the creation of your own designs. I do amigurumi (crochet creatures). I work in the round in common multiples (6,12, 18) (5, 10, 15) (4, 8, 12,) etc. So I imagine it is possible to copy a pattern by accident too! 


    If you could give me some advice on these questions, I would really appreciate it!


    thank you,


    Amy

  24. Amy says:

    Hello Liz,
    I have worked out my question with an example that should clarify my question a little better. I hope it doesn't seem too silly, but I would really like to know about this one, as copyright can get tricky and some details can be surprising.
     
    I was looking for some information about avoiding copyright issues when creating crochet products, and thankfully
    I have just come across your website. I have begun to create my own original designs, and hope to open an etsy shop 
    one day where I can sell them. For now, I am interested in sharing a free pattern on my blog. I make 'amigurumi' crochet toys, so I work in the round for the most part.


    My question is, how can I avoid copying someone else's crochet pattern by accident? I imagine this could happen
    since crocheters work in common multiples ie: 6,12, 18, 24  or   5, 10, 15, 20 etc. when working in circles. 


    For example, let's say person A is selling a simple pattern for a black toy spider, with a round body and eight legs, and works in multiples of 6. They put the spider pattern up for sale in their shop. Later, they get an e-mail from person B who has spotted their toy online, and is upset because they have already created a spider using the exact same multiples, and since the patterns match exactly, person B suspects person A has copied them on purpose. In actual fact, person A has not copied person B, but was attempting to create an original pattern. Now, even though person A and person B have design two very different toys style wise (ie: different length of legs, different eyes, one wears a hat, etc) person B insists person A stole their idea.


    In this scenario, is person A infringing on person B's copyright, even if person A created the same pattern by accident/unknowingly? I have often heard that 'not knowing' is not an excuse that will stand up in many cases.


    I hope you can help!


    thank you,


    Amy

  25. Hennie says:

    Hi Liz, thanks for the info. I make and sell things to raise funds for my sons memorial fund, Supporting epilepsy) If I see a pattern I like, free or not, I message the designer and ask permission, so far I have only had one person refuse me, several who haven't replied, so I dont use their patterns to sell, just as gifts.
    Most people, I find have been nothing but helpful, and very supportive.

  26. Thanks for the informative post. I have a full line of knitting patterns that I am happy for people to use to make and sell items. It only seems right because my patterns are for handspun and exotic yarns, and each knitter becomes their own designer in choosing yarns, colors, and many of factors. Please give me credit when due. Of course, I do not want people to copy and sell the patterns themselves. See http://spincraftpatterns.com.

  27. Mackenzie says:

    Clothing can't be copyrighted. The pattern itself — the algorithm of knits, purls, k2togs, etc. — can be. The resulting item cannot be.   The closest thing to sticking would be a trademark.  For example, Burberry's signature tartan could probably be trademarked.  That's it.
     
    If clothing could be copyrighted, fashion wouldn't exist.

  28. JD says:

    After searching the web, I found this very informative blog, thanks.  My purpose in finding information on copyrighting is that I would like to design simple patterns for those who are beginning to put together garments, I am a teacher at heart.  I would make these patterns free to students and anyone else interested, however, if I don't get them copyrighted, I could be sued by someone who steals these patterns and sues me for using my own work.  I realize "policing" copyrights is costly and not available to independent designers, but being sued for your own work is scary.  Any opinions or suggestions?

    Also I would like to add that I do photo copy patterns from books and magazines as working copies to make notes on and adjust the pattern for size, etc., and it makes it easier to carry around in my knitting bag.   I don't feel this is infringement.  opinions?

  29. Trish says:

    I sell pattern books on ebay and I have noticed that there are other sellers that are selling what they are calling  Digitally Cleaned and or Restored Reprint of the original printed version of my collection. Vintage knit pattern.  They say they are from public domain and they are free of copyrights and that they can not be reproduced used in class lessons or duplicated in any media or electronic format to be resold or shared without written consent.  That their digitally cleaned and restored reproductions and or re typed  version is protected with all rights reserved.  I thought if it was public domain that anyone could reprint it or copy it.  Isn't this  wording saying it's ok for me but don't you reprint my reprints and sell them.  If they have the rights would they be in the public domain?  I'm  confused on this such wording.

  30. Jazz says:

    Hey, 
    Have read through everything and thought I would add what I know about copyright, as it is something I have to be very careful about once I get the shop up and running. When it comes to changing a pattern, article, book etc it has to be changed by AT LEAST 25% to be able to call it your own. If you use a different stitch, different needles and a different colour…its yours… so… let us say I have put up a copyright garter stitch scarf, using 5mm needles, in noro silk…. you then knit that scarf in stocking stitch, on 7mm using an aran weight… you have changed the pattern significantly enough to sell it. However, there is still a massive grey area… what separates all the different garter stitch scarves? How many times have you seen the same pattern but with a different name on somewhere like Rav?? The patterns I give away to people tend to be the ones I have found free elsewhere, with the credited designers name and url… and the copyright logo… but what my customers do with that pattern afterwards??? I do not know!!
     
    Anyway, that was my bit :)
    Jazz
    x

  31. Cedrick Rivlin says:

    I haven’t done any in depth painting or drawing of my own for a very long time as I often lack motivation and inspiration (not to mention energy)- I find it fairly full on teaching art and trying to motivate the 50 middle school students who move through my classroom each day. I just wanted to say that finding your websites, this week, and actually feeling invigorated by the passion you obviously have for your work and Art, has been the highlight of my Term. Thank you so much for helping to renew my motivation and becoming a huge inspiration to my own practice.Emma

  32. Adam says:

    Fascinating issues. I'm a crocheter and a lawyer with a focus in copyright (standard disclaimer: I'm not YOUR lawyer and this isn't legal advice but general information that should not substitute for consultation with an attorney licensed in your state, yada yada yada).

    In terms of the older cases on patterns, the copyright law has changed substantially since then, particularly with the U.S. joining international conventions on copyright that require protection for articles that have mixed utilitarian and expressive functions–e.g., architectural plans, although there is specific copyright law limited to those issues. I don't think there's any realistic question that a series of instructions to create something is subject to copyright protection, and that following those instructions leads to the creation of something that is derivative of the instructions themselves. (Copyright only requires that there be originality fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Presumably no one would suggest yarnwork is intangible or transient.)

    There are genuine questions, however, to what exactly in a crocheted piece is structural and what is functional; and what elements are scenes a faire, a term of art meaning elements of the art form that are traditional, obligatory, or common enough not to be protected by copyright. (For example, if we were talking about zombie movies, zombies wearing torn clothes and being attacked with garden tools would be scenes a faire.)

    Let's say for the sake of argument you're making a pineapple lace shawl (google it and you'll find patterns). Let's further assume for the sake of argument that this particular article has a specific author and is subject to copyright. That gives the author control over the elements of ORIGINALITY in the piece, and if you carried that forward into a three-dimensional object, it would cover whatever portion of the two-dimensional originality is embodied in the three dimensional object.
    But… what originality is there, really?

    The concept of a shawl is not original, obviously. The pineapple motif in crochet can be found earlier than 1923, the oldest date of creation that would still be protected by copyright (except for cases of foreign works published outside of the U.S. but never registered in the U.S., which is an unlikely scenario in this instance). Some number of stitches must be used to connect the pineapple motifs and the number of motifs that are connected must be related to the functional purpose of a shawl.

    While an aggregation of nonoriginal elements into an original whole can be subject to copyright protection, if the entire element of originality in the work is to pick the number of stitches in a row, I would posit nobody can copyright a number. On the other hand, this is a pattern consisting of very old elements in a functional object.

    Compare: amigurumi. There's no problem using the rounds other people use–these are indeed scenes a faire. But these are also patterns that almost certainly were created within the periods subject to copyright; they have little to no function, except to be dolls, so anything ornamental that makes them distinguishable from each other would be "originality;" and the decisions that go into an amigurumi design are often far more complex than selecting a number of times to repeat a motif.

    This is an immensely, immensely complicated issue, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  33. jodie says:

    so my  question is, If i see lets say a hat that is knit or in a picture or even on etsy? If  I make the hat crochet or in another form just by looking at the picture am I doing something wrong? I see a lot of people selling the same pattern on line but I have never bought a pattern i've looked at the item and than I see if i can make it. If I make it in my own way could I sell that as a pattern? Considering i didn't use a pattern i just got an idea from a picture? does this make sense?

  34. Richard Collins says:

    I was a little upset with Tabberone, she didn’t post a link to her website or the Supreme Court case that said a pattern did not cover the finished item Also the whole Copyright law was rewritten in 1976, hence the automatic copyright. I think there is an issue of usage though. Is the use that the knitter intends to do, contemplated by the copyright holder when they published the pattern?

    If Target or Walmart or Sach’s wanted to use someone’s design, they would have to negotiate a license, Using a reference book for k1,p1 is not an infringement because that design is public domain. The fact that a word is in the Dictionary does not give the Dictionary a copyright on the word; the exact definition is a different matter. The article “Fair Use” in Wikipedia is helpful, although it primarily contemplates published works, or exhibited art. The Design is what is copyrighted, not the just pattern. Also designs can be patented, or even registered as Trademarks.

  35. Stephanie says:
  36. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for this discussion. As a knitter who sell online on etsy, the question has come up a couple of times. I do believe I design everything I list for sale but do use a variety of stitch dictionaries as inspiration.

  37. Jill says:

    But my question is… What about duplicating a shape? Last night I found a free knitting pattern online for an unusually shaped scarf. I’ve been experimenting with this shape and then voila! There it was. The pattern literally states “selling items from this pattern is not permitted”. So now what do I do with the so similar design that I created? The found pattern is garter stitch and very open ended as to yarn weight… My design is lace and light and airy. But my piece looks very similar in size and shape!

    Thanks for listening… Any guidance would be wonderful.

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