Posted by JaneMiller on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
What's a quilter to do? We buy fabric for the express purpose for which it was intended, that of making it into something else. We make it into something else, we sell it or give it away; sometimes we publish a photo of it, either on the internet or in a book. Common practice. Been doing it for years. No problem. But apparently it may be a problem if we don't give the fabric designer credit. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, there has been recent legal activity between Kate Spain, a fabric designer; Emily Cier, a quilter, pattern designer and author; and C&T Publishing.
I don't want to go into the details of this fight, which have been discussed exhaustively elsewhere. If you're unaware of the details, go to http://www.trueup.net/2012/fabric-and-the-law/a-fair-use-exercise/ for an interesting exercise regarding exactly—I use the term loosely, because there isn't any exactitude involved—what we supposedly can and can't do. Then scroll down to the end of the article for links to the viewpoints of the participants in this particular fight which, as you might imagine, vary. By the way, don't expect to come away with any answers because mostly you'll find gray areas.
So this lament is really about the loss of our quilting innocence and how creativity is stifled by commercialism. We've all heard tales of pattern designers who don't want buyers to sell the products made from their patterns, and there's been a rumor for years that another, better known, fabric designer prevented items made from her fabric from being sold on Etsy—who knows if that's even true. So in fairness, Kate Spain is not the first person to take what some might think are extreme measures to protect her copyright. And, still in fairness, if she had just let it slide, my limited understanding is that her designs could then have become part of the public domain, thus losing their copyright altogether and becoming available to anyone for any use. Still, this does seem to be the latest in a long, increasingly restrictive line of assaults on quilters' creativity, and the shock is because it's from such an unexpected quarter. We always thought it was safe to use the fabric we purchased to make other things—that after all is the purpose for which it was created. In fact, we all know that there's stiff competition among manufacturers for that extra 1 percent of the market. It's not as if they think we plan to hang that 3 yards on the wall as art or to just put it into our stashes to admire it now and then. (Okay, that might be what actually happens, but it's hardly ever the original intent.)
Maybe we should take this dilemma to what seems to be its logical conclusion. What if I use Martha Stewart paint in my dining room—do I have to paint a note in a corner giving her credit? What if a photo of the room is published in an article about my quilts? What if it's on the outside of the house? What if I were a professional painter? And how obvious does that note have to be? It wouldn't really be so bad if a normal person could understand the rules, but that's not the case at all. Recently someone sent me a link to two patterns being sold on Etsy, both French Braids and both using that name in their titles. I will be the first to admit that I did not invent the French braid pattern; I have always said that it was a traditional pattern. However, it was never called French Braid until it was called that in my first book, French Braid Quilts. When I sent this information to my publisher, I was told that there was no copyright infringement, which would be fine with me if I could just understand the rules! Where is logic when the same quilt with the same name is not a copyright infringement, but using fabric for the purpose for which it was made is?
Several art quilters I know are saying they will henceforth only use fabric they dye themselves—that's great for them, but I don't dye and don't intend to start. And I'm not even sure that they'll be able to do it anyway. Other quilters have remarked that they will stick to whole-cloth quilts from now on, but even they say it with a smile. If you read Kate Spain's blog, a link to which is in the article cited above, you'll find some guidelines. But—no offense, Kate—do I really want to trust a fabric designer for legal advice? It's not as if she has an unbiased view. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly the person to trust because presumably she would have the most restrictive view. But she clearly makes a distinction between putting a photo of a saleable item, made from her fabric, on Etsy, and putting a photo of the same item on the front of a pattern for sale. Apparently I'm required to give credit to the fabric designer for the latter, but not for the former. And that's just Kate Spain—what about other designers? Do they agree with her standards or does each one get to enforce his or her own opinion of copyright law? And if so, what individual can afford to fight them, especially if (s)he is an artist, and thus probably not in a financial position to assert even the most obvious of infringements?
I realize that I'm lucky. I rarely make a quilt using only, or even primarily, one line of fabric. In fact, for the past few years I've been concentrating on making quilts from my stash—in effect, scrap quilts—so I haven't had to worry about the overuse of any one fabric or fabric line. But now instead of reveling in the joy of designing a quilt, I'll be looking over my shoulder to make sure that I don't use too much of any one designer's product. It's a shame that, as is often the case, the enforcement one set of principles diminishes another's enjoyment of a different set.
Ironically: © 2012 Jane Hardy Miller
3. Charlotte (03 April 2012 at 5:57 p.m.)Seems to me that a designer would love the publicity. If I see something I like, believe me, I will find the fabric. Isn't that the point of it?!!
2. Amy (03 April 2012 at 4:09 p.m.)Amazing. Confusing. Maddening. And well-written.
1. Denise (03 April 2012 at 3:56 p.m.)unbelievable!And this is just in USA. If they can look over seas... Hugs, denise