The Grumpy Quilter — or Copyright Policies (With Apologies to Steve Bender)

I receive Southern Living Magazine.  My wonderful mother (who truly is the wisest woman in all the world) gives me two magazines subscriptions each year at Christmas.  One is Reader’s Digest.  The other is Southern Living. I like Southern Living  for many reasons.  First is the fashion ads – primarily the jewelry (drooling over expensive jewelry  is another hobby of mine) and the second reason is the recipes (I gain ten pounds reading them). 

However, one of my favorite columns in that magazine is one called “The Grumpy Gardner.”  Steve Bender writes the column, answering questions that have been sent into him with great knowledge of all things involved with photosynthesis.  He even has a small side bar called “Grumpy’s Gripe of the Month.”  And sometimes, kind of buried tongue-in-cheek in his responses is the tone, “I can’t believe you just asked that question…did you not read the directions that came with your plants/sprinkling system/fertilizer?” 

I mention Southern Living, Steve Bender, and Steve’s grumpiness as a lead in to this blog.    Several weeks ago, I wrote about the Dumbing Down of Quilting and received a huge response to it – mostly in my favor.  But whether folks agreed with me or not, the one thing they did consistently tell me was that I was certainly passionate about it.  So, while I’m batting a thousand on the passion meter, I want to gripe talk about something else I’m passionate about in quilting and why it makes me as grumpy as Steve and it also angers me a great deal.

Sharing quilt patterns and books.

There.  I’ve said it.  I know at this point I may have made those of you who do this regularly upset with me.  But hear me out and we can talk about it in the future if I really offend you.

First, let me define what I mean.  I do not mean loaning quilt books or patterns out to your friends for them to use and then the books or patterns are returned to you.  I mean those quilters that scan or copy patterns and give those copies out to their friends.  If you want to get down to brass tacks about why you shouldn’t do this:  It’s illegal.  Plain and simple.  These works (or at least most of them) are either copyright protected or in the process of obtaining the copyritght, so any reproduction of these works for personal gain or not, is illegal.  Even if you’re only making one copy of a pattern for sweet Betty at guild and are not charging her one red cent for the copy, it’s still illegal. 

“But it’s only one copy…”  I can hear some of you saying that now.

I realize that it’s just one copy and sweet Betty from guild may be a widow living on a limited income.  However, that doesn’t negate the fact that you just distributed a copy of pattern that is under copyright protection. And that’s wrong. 

Will you get caught?  Probably not.  As I’ve said many times before, there are no quilt police and unless someone takes the time to contact the pattern designer or the book author and they, in turn, get their lawyers involved, you will probably continue to skate on the thin line of the wrong side in this ethical dilemma.

But let’s set the laws of copyright protection aside for a minute and consider the second reason that copying a pattern or book in any form is wrong – and that’s the ethics of the issue.  As a published author, here is where this issue hits me the hardest.  Let me explain.  It’s not easy designing patterns or writing books.  It takes time.  It takes talent.  You pour yourself onto the blank screen of a laptop and rework drawings (if it’s a pattern) and words until you get them just about as perfect as you can.  You research.  You re-write.  Then you upload it and send it off to an editor who proceeds to tell you what else you need to do to make your writing or pattern even better.  The editor returns it to you.  You make the corrections.  The writer or the designer goes through this process several times until they and the editor feel like the project is the best it can be.

And then somewhere in the print world, someone hits publish. Gears whirl, cyber space churns…then BINGO BABY … you’re published.  The craft world is similar to the academia world that I have my background in … it’s publish or perish.  If you don’t keep yourself out there in the public eye, showing what you know, that same public that adores you today may forget you tomorrow.  This process takes time, and for some of those writing and designing in the quilt world, this also takes money.  Many of our favorite designers have to self-publish their first projects in order to get their books and patterns out there.  At least in the beginning.  Then later larger publishing companies may pick them up and actually pay them as their going through the publication process.

Once the patterns or books are printed and the designer or author pays for them, they are usually delivered to the designer or author and they must sell them.  Some of them have direct lines into stores or websites.  Some of them use the products in the workshops or classes they teach.  Some of them trek across country, following the line of quilt shows that begin in January and end in October, setting up a vendor booth and selling to the crowds there.  Most of the time it’s a combination of all three.  These are people that are doing what they love and they’re trying to make a living at it.  Every copy they sell helps pay their expenses and puts bread on their table. 

And when you make copies of a book or pattern and distribute them, you’re stealing.  Yes.  That’s right.  That sounds harsh, and I mean it to sound that way.  You’re taking away potential income from that person who probably needs to it pay bills, buy groceries, and foster their next book or pattern.  Every copy that is illegally made without permission from the designer or author is taking income away from them. 

I get it that some patterns and books can be expensive.  I do.  But it’s not inexpensive to produce these things, either.  However, most patterns and books are reasonably priced.   The designers and authors make sure that their products are priced within most quilters’ reach so everyone can afford them, and more product will be sold.  If sweet Betty from guild needs that pattern, buy it for her. Make her day and use it as a tax right-off.   Just don’t steal from that hard-working designer or writer.

Let’s look at another end of this subject:  books or patterns that are out of print.  This is area is a little more black and white for me.  I’ve had the situation arise when I’ve seen a quilt that I really, really want to make.  The first thing I do is Google (what did we ever do before the internet?) the pattern and see where I can purchase it.  If I keep finding out it’s out of print, I try contacting the designer/author.  Sometimes this can be a fairly easy process – in today’s world, you can find people on Facebook and Instagram quickly if they have an account with either of those – or I may find them through another Google search.  I ask them if they have additional patterns for sale or where can I possibly find one for purchase.  If said pattern or book is available for purchase, that’s what I do.  However, if the author or designer is deceased or directs me to Ebay or Etsy, I have no issue with getting a copy of the pattern or book from a friend.  At that point, there is no additional income from the product going to the author or designer. 

Now I’ll posit this situation: What if you take a pattern, twist it a little bit, put your own flair to it, and enter it in a show?  How would you treat that?  It’s certainly not all your work – you didn’t design the pattern – but a large chunk of it is.  Take a look at this little quilt I made:

Those of you who are like me and are avid Esther Aliu fans, know that my quilt is very similar to her quilt, Easter Blessings, as shown below.

Esther Aliu’s Easter Blessing

I based this Springtime wall hanging on Easter Blessings.  I changed the border up, eliminating Esther’s Easter eggs so I could keep my wall hanging up from March through the beginning of Summer.  My plans are (if I can get this bugger quilted in time) to enter it in my Guild’s quilt show in August.  On my label and my paper work I will give Esther Aliu credit for part of the quilt by stating “Based on the quilt pattern Easter Blessings by Esther Aliu.”  I realize that this is a little thing, and it’s certainly not putting any additional income in Esther’s pocket from me, but it gives her credit where credit is due. In addition, someone else may like my wall hanging so much, they may want to make it.  With this extra credit on my label and paper work, that person now knows where to go and purchase it. 

This is a little thing, but it’s an ethical issue.  It lets the quilt judge know that the quilt isn’t all my original work and it gives recognition to the original designer.  Plus, it helps me sleep better at night knowing all my bases are covered. 

One last topic on this subject before I close out this blog.  I’ve discussed what is copyright and how to treat those patterns and books that are under that auspice.  But you and I both know that quilting has been around for a long time – hundreds, if not thousands of years.  There are quilt blocks and quilts that we have no idea where the idea originated.  I’m talking about quilts like Storm at Sea, Sunbonnet Sue, Double Wedding Ring, and Irish Chain.  Is there a way to give credit to the designer on these? 

Unfortunately, no in some circumstances.  These blocks and quilt patterns have been around so long that there may not have been copyright available for them in the first place.  And they’ve certainly been in circulation long enough that any copyright they may have had has long expired, which makes them part of public domain – they can be used freely without any thought of illegality.  My personal rule of thumb is this:  If I make a quilt using traditional quilt blocks and no pattern or book is purchased (or copied — for you out who are still going to pilfer copies from your quilting buddies), I don’t give any credit to anyone other than to myself.  I simply don’t know who else to give it to.  However, if I’ve purchased a pattern or book, the credit goes to the author and designer.  My quilt label and any paperwork will list them as part of the quilt process. 

I hope this has explained why honoring copywrites is so important.  And I hope it gives you pause the next time someone offers to make you a copy of a pattern or book.  Everyone has bills to pay and mouths to feed – even if it’s just their own. 

And I promise I won’t be so grumpy in the next blog.

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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