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Copyright and Needlework

(DISCLAIMER: Please be advised: I am not a lawyer! The following information appears here as a service to stitchers, and to help educate anyone who cares to read it about how copyright law applies to needlework. If you have specific questions, always contact an intellectual property lawyer.)

Copyright Law exists to protect the value of creative work. All creative work.

FACT: If you don't own the copyright to a needlework pattern, then you have *no right* to duplicate the pattern. By *ANY* means.

Only by obtaining permission, in writing, from the copyright holder will you be in compliance with copyright law. If a pattern has been in existence for longer than 70 years, and no one has filed for an extension of ownership, then it may be "in the public domain". But never assume! Other ownership rights may be in place that exceed the life of the copyright... like 'trademarks', for example.

Needlework patterns often contain a statement by the copyright holder that a "working copy" may be made for the stitcher's personal use only. To be in compliance with copyright law, this copy must be destroyed when you are finished with it.

These are some of the most commonly asked questions about copyright and needlework:

Q: I'm not selling the copy of the pattern; I'm just making it for a friend. I'm not making any money from it, so that's OK, right?
A: No, it's not. Whether or not money is being made is not the issue. Copyright law is the issue: the copyright is still *owned* by someone, and therefore, it's not legal to make the copy without the owner's permission.

Q: I bought the pattern and I can do what I want with it! (Not really a question, but a common assertion, nonetheless.)
A: As long as you don't make a copy of it (other than the previously mentioned working copy if permission has been granted), yes you can. Copyright law and its protection still applies. You can do whatever you would like with the pattern: give it away, sell it, trade it, fold, spindle or mutilate it. Just don't copy it!

Q: I'd like to make several items from the same pattern for a fundraiser/charity. I'm not personally profiting in any way. Is that OK?
A: Not necessarily. It's always best to ask the copyright holder. Personally, I do freely give such permission, (as does Leisure Arts for the designs of mine that they own ONLY!)

Q: I want to sell my finished stitching on eBay (or where ever). Is that legal?
A: Yes, as long as you purchase a new pattern for each item you make. Needlework patterns sold to consumers are intended for personal use (unless specifically stated in the publication!), not as vehicles for making income. When multiple items are made from the same pattern, and these items are sold, it is considered commercial use. Which means you will need to negotiate with the copyright holder for usage rights...or a 'license'. An aside: When income is involved (and it doesn't need to be very much), the long arm of the IRS *will* reach out and find you!

This is one of those "tricky" scenarios: when people make *multiple* stitched pieces from the same pattern, and then sell them for profit. If this is what a stitcher is doing, a new pattern should be purchased each time the design is stitched.

This creates an uproar every time a designer says it but before you get all up in arms, please read on...

If a person sells designs they've stitched from patterns to which they do not own the copyrights, that person is trying to make an income (make money). Call a spade a spade, please! If something (in this case, a hobby) makes a certain amount of money for you during the year (off the top of my head, I'm not exactly certain what the amount is, but it's not very much!), it's income, and is recognized as such by the Internal Revenue Service. And there is nothing at all wrong with trying to make income this way, *as long as the rules are followed*. And this includes honoring copyright law.

Look at it this way: If you are planning to create several stitched pieces from the same pattern with the express intention of selling them: You are manufacturing a product. A pattern would be considered 'raw material' in the manufacturing process: something you would need to buy in order to make a finished product (unless of course, you own the rights to use it). So, it would be considered to be on par with fabric, floss, etc. You must purchase those, correct? They don't just magically re-appear; you must replace them each time you wish to start another project. In this context, the same applies to a pattern used over and over.

When designers receive royalties on sales of their designs, what is happening is the publisher is paying (actually the consumer is paying, the publisher does the accounting and writes the checks) the designer for the use of that design, and every time the design is sold (or used), the designer is compensated for it. Or broken down further, if a designer self-publishes, what you are doing is paying a designer directly for use of that design when you purchase it. Of course, once you purchase a leaflet, it is yours *physically* to do with what you wish (burn it, trade it, use it to paper the parrot's cage)...but that use ends when you use the pattern to make money for yourself *repeatedly*.

(To be honest, I can't imagine anyone seriously considering trying to make much money this way: there are many much easier and less time-consuming ways to generate $... but that's just me...)

If someone is stitching the same pattern numerous times, but not selling the finished design (therefore not making money from it), then there's not a problem with a design being stitched as many times as you'd like without purchasing a new pattern. It's much like reading a favorite book several times for your own enjoyment. The issue becomes clouded a bit when the multiple stitched items are used to make $, even though the $ is funneled elsewhere, as is the case when giving it to charity. There is still $ being made, so permission from the copyright holder should be sought.

Rule of thumb: If you're making money (or planning to make money and then give it away!) from something someone else owns the copyrights to, there are strings attached! Protect yourself and find out what they are! Copyright infringement (a felony) carries very harsh penalties should you be convicted...please don't jeopardize yourself (a conviction will stay on your record forever) or what you own (you could lose everything) through willful infringement.

Q: What if a pattern is out of print? Surely I can make a copy then?
A: Just because a pattern is out of print doesn't mean the copyright has expired! The copyright is still owned by someone. So, no, it's not legal to make a copy. Try to find the owner and ask permission.

Q: What if I can't find the owner of the copyright of a pattern?
A: If the pattern is less than 70 years old, then you're out of luck. If the pattern is older than 70 years, then there's a very good chance it's "in the public domain". But, be warned: this may not actually be the case!

Q: Some people say they are copying and sharing patterns because under the "Fair Use" clause of the Copyright Statute, it's OK to do so. Is this true?
A: Sorry, no. People who think this protects them are sorely mistaken. They really need to read the *entire* subsection. "Fair Use" is explained very well here.

Once again, please contact an intellectual property lawyer if you need legal advice about copyrights!

There is no reason for ignorance of copyright law: if you have access to the Internet, you have access to the information you need to educate yourself!


The US Government's Copyright website:


and the entire USC 17 at:

The Stop Piracy Blog:

The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse:

An excellent site with tons of copyright, trademark, publishing, etc. information

The Girl from Auntie:


© 2000-2013, Teresa Wentzler.  All images and information on this website owned and copyrighted by Teresa Wentzler, PO Box 176, Montoursville, PA 17754, USA. All rights reserved.