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Copyright and Quilting

Originally Posted - 3/4/2015
Updated - 6/30/2019

Quilting and copyright can be a confusing rabbit hole to go down on the internet.  I don't think any of us want to violate copyright laws but if you don't know what you can and can't do you might get in trouble.  We all want to share our creations but there are things we need to do to protect not only ourselves but the designer of the pattern and even the long armer that we used to quilt our quilts.  We are going to cover what you can and can't do, break some myths about copyright and the internet, and give you some tips on what you can do if you find a violation.

I don't want you to get in trouble with copyright infringement.  Learn what you can and can't do and how you can help.

This post may contain affiliate links.  Purchasing items from the links cost you nothing more and adds a few pennies to the fabric budget.

Copyright is something I first learned about in high school.  I was the editor of the school newspaper and with that job came not only publishing articles but photos as well.  The photos were copyrighted and if another publication wanted to use those photos there were steps that they had to go through to get them.  When the internet rolled around copyright laws had to expand.  The Digital Millenium Copyright Act allowed for things published digitally to be covered by copyright laws.  That means this blog and the photos on it are copyrighted.

So what does this mean for quilting?  Well, there are some myths out there about what is copyrighted, what can be copyrighted, and what can be done with photos of quilts.   My goal in this post isn't to scare you away but to arm you with the knowledge of what you can and can't do in quilting so that you are infringing on anyone's copyright.

What can I do with the physical pattern?
You can make copies for your own personal use.  I know I like to mark on my patterns but I don't want to ruin the original so I'll make a copy and put all my notes on there.  I'll mark what colors I'm using.  If a pattern has multiple sizes I normally mark out any info that belongs to the other sizes so I don't get confused. You can sell the pattern as long as you don't keep a copy for yourself.  

What can't I do with the physical pattern?
You can't make a copy of the pattern and give it to your friend, your guild, your blog audience or anyone else.  You also can't post the detailed instructions of that pattern in a public place or to anyone else.  It's not OK for me to buy someone's pattern and then tell you everything you need to make that quilt. 

Why can't I teach someone how to make the pattern?
You can.  The thing is that everyone you are teaching needs to own the pattern.  You can't require someone logging onto the internet to purchase the pattern before viewing your tutorial.  I can teach, for example, one of Bonnie Hunter's patterns to a local group as long as I require everyone in my class to purchase the pattern.  I can't teach the pattern on my blog though because in order to teach I have to give measurements and that's violating Bonnie's copyright.

Quilt designers make their money from their patterns. This can be via sales of the pattern or from ad revenue on their websites.  If you want to share the pattern with friends give those friends a link to purchase the pattern or the blog post the pattern is in.  Don't pass along the pdf file either even if it was a freebie for signing up to someone's newsletter.  Send your friends the link to the post and tell them to sign up for the newsletter.

Did you pay someone to teach us the blocks on this site?
No, the blocks themselves cannot be copyrighted.  It is why the majority of my blocks are different sizes than what you see elsewhere.  Since the blocks are made up of basic geometric shapes the block is not eligible for copyright.  What is copyrighted though are my photos, videos, and instructions on how to make the block.  

I made a quilt what can I do with it now?
Whatever your little heart desires.  You can photograph it and share those pictures.  You can enter into a contest, as long as the rules say you can.  You can sell it.  You can give it away.  You can toss it in the trash.  Please don't toss it though!

Some patterns may say that you can't sell the end product that that is not true.  Designers can put anything they want on the pattern but the law is not on their side.  In order to require that you do not sell your finished product, you must have signed an agreement to that BEFORE you purchased the pattern. The link to Tabberone below explains it much better than I could with statues and cases that set the precedent. 

What can't I do with the quilt?
You can't claim the design as your own.  If you are asked you need to be truthful about who designed the quilt.  Give credit where credit is due.  This includes your quilter.

Have more questions about copyright and quilting please refer to these sources:

Please keep reading for some myths that have been circulating in Facebook quilting groups.

If you are just starting out in quilting be sure to join our new quilters email list.  You'll get a handy project guide as a thank you gift for signing up.  You'll also get emails that are loaded with tips, tricks, and ideas for your next project.

Before we go there's been a lot of issues in quilting groups on Facebook in the last few years and a lot of myths have been being shared in those groups.  Spammers have been overrunning quilting groups the last few years and I have tried to combat them to the best of my ability.  One way to combat them though is to educate those of you who read my blog.  What these people are doing is using photos of quilts that will grab people's attention, they'll caption it with something like, "Aren't these colors great?" then they'll do one of the following, they'll post a link to a website that doesn't have the pattern, they'll respond to comments with the link, or they'll say to comment for the link.  The picture isn't theirs to use, it is someone else's hard work.  The link takes you to a website that is loaded with ads and there may or may not be a link to the pattern.  If it is a link to the pattern it will be to the pdf version of it.  So let's breakdown the issues.

These sites somehow get loads more hits than the original designer's site.  I used a program that estimates their ad income based on their hits.  The estimate was $10,000 a month.  Most of us are making a fraction of that if we are lucky.  It is literally taking money out of the pockets of designers who are giving you patterns for free. People can't find the link on the site so they never make it to the designer's site or they are sent to a pdf that doesn't help the designer out either.

The photos are copyrighted by whoever took the photos.  The photography DOES NOT give up copyright posting them on Facebook, their website, Instagram or anywhere else.  You can't use a photo that you found on the internet as your own.  You need to make sure that the photographer is OK with you using it.  There are usually some rules you have to follow like saying who took the photo and a link to that person's site. You absolutely can not use it to promote your spammy site.

What can you do?  Report those posts to the admin of the group.  If you know whose picture it is or who the pattern designer is, reach out to them with screenshots of the post.  The photographer and the designer have the ability to file DMCA takedown notices that will help to get the site shut down.  Don't share the post!  This is theft so if the designers get screwed over too much they will stop sharing things online for you to use.

Learn what you can and can't do with quilt patterns plus learn what you can do to help keep quilt designers in business.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Many patterns from quilt designers say explicitly that the items made from the pattern may not be offered for sale.

    Certain fabrics with copyrights, i.e. Disney, Green Bay Packers, etc. are also listed as not for use as items to make to sell. I've read myself blue over the laws pertaining to end-use, but even if you believe you have the right to do it, a law suit is pricey. I've seen people shut down quickly. One key may be in the way you advertise your item. I think this is a very grey area, and not every quilt you make is legal to sell. Just be careful.

  2. Thanks for the common sense summary!!

  3. Good advice for quilters - thanks for sharing at #HomeMattersparty


  4. Great advice!
    Thank you for joining us at TOHOT!

  5. Great advice for copyright laws and quilts!

    Thanks for linking up with Welcome Home Wednesdays! Live every Wednesday at 7AM CT.

    liz @ j for joiner

  6. Julie-A designer attempting to extend the protections of copyright laws by adding language doesn't actually change the law. It is explained in some of the links here. They only get the protections outlined by the law, unless they get you to sign an agreement in writing saying you won't reproduce the item for sale. Clicking a box on a pop-up is proving to not be sufficient even for software developers. Authors want to restrict use but really have no legal standing to do so.