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.