Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations

There’s a new skirmish in the quilting community. Apparently the admin for a Facebook group used tutorials and patterns created by other people, without attribution. When challenged on it, she kicked the complainers out of the group and made the group private.

Stealing is wrong, and though I don’t know the details of this story, it sounds like the admin did the wrong thing.

A couple of bloggers/quilters I respect have written about the incident and how to avoid copyright infringement. (See Sam Hunter’s post and Lori Kennedy’s post.) I’ve written about it, too, with some different links and thoughts. Since the last time I posted about it was a couple of years ago, I’ve updated that information below to provide it again.

Do you remember Robert Fulghum’s famous essay? “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” begins like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.20.28 PM

The essay was published in Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I am using this excerpt based on “fair use” rules for copyright.

Honestly, we don’t share everything, but I know bloggers and crafters are incredibly generous. Mostly we don’t hit. And as to messes, what happens in your studio should stay in your studio!

But there are three things here I think we should take seriously. One is playing fair, and one is not taking things that aren’t yours. And when we do mess up, we should apologize.

I see two separate areas of trouble when it comes to playing fair and giving deserved credit. One is for bloggers, and the other is for quilters and crafters. Obviously the two groups overlap.

Sometimes, in enthusiasm to share cool stuff and brilliant thoughts, bloggers use work that is not their own. Using information from other people might include photos, words, charts, tables, logos, or illustrations. The easiest violation is with photos. I wrote some about this earlier this year.

Are you sharing photos of someone else’s work? (This happens a lot after quilt shows.) Did you give them credit? There are both ethical and legal concerns on this. Legally there are copyright rights to the photo itself, and also to the creative work being photographed, such as a quilt. I am not the best person to speak about the legal issues, but I know enough to be very careful about sharing photos of anyone else’s quilts. In fact, unless I am linking directly to a picture someone else posted, I pretty much don’t do it anymore. (Some photos are in the public domain, meaning there is no copyright protection. Those can be shared freely. Still, information about the creator and the owner of the work should be included.)

Ethically, using someone else’s work without crediting is taking something that’s not yours, and it’s not playing fair. Ask yourself how you would feel if a photo of your quilt appeared in various blogs, but the bloggers didn’t have the courtesy to credit it with your name, or a link back to where they found your glorious quilt. Or even to ask permission to use the picture.

If you’d like more information on posting other people’s content appropriately, see a really helpful post from HubSpot Blogs. It is on citing sources and not stealing other people’s work on the internet.

When it comes to creating tangible (rather than digital) work, there are other ways to take things that aren’t yours. Here again, there are obvious (I hope!) examples of wrong-doing, as well as others that might seem more grey.

First, a lot of people see no harm in copying a pattern that someone else purchased. If your friend buys a pattern and you want to make the same thing, you can just make a photocopy or scan of hers. In fact, your whole bee or swap or small group can have copies, too, right? But there is harm, as it deprives the creator of pay for their work. Imagine working — many hours of effort — to create a product for sale. Imagine someone taking it without paying for it. That is stealing, plain and simple.

Sam Hunter wrote about this better than I can. When a friend-of-a-friend stole one of Sam’s patterns rather than paying for it, it created a sticky situation, to say the least.

And remember, this isn’t true just of patterns that you buy one at a time. It also counts when you didn’t buy your own book or magazine patterns, but photocopied someone else’s instead.

Now comes the harder part, the grey area. Now also comes the caveat. I am NOT an attorney and am not providing legal advice. Most of the information provided below is based on two posts by Jen Bernstein. [Links below.] She is an attorney, but she also is not providing you legal advice. If this is an area of concern for you, please retain your own attorney. 

The design (what a quilt or project looks like) and the pattern (instructions of how to make it) are separately copyrighted. So let’s say you see a quilt and don’t want to buy the pattern. Instead you spend time figuring out how the block is made, how many of them there are, and how big they likely are based on the size of the original. You draw it all out in EQ7 to get your layout and fabric requirements. Ta-DAH! It’s all good, huh? Well, maybe not.

Depending on how closely “your” design matches the original, you may have infringed on a copyright. For more information, see Jen Bernstein’s guest post “Can You Copyright a Sewing Pattern?” on Abby Glassenberg’s While She Naps blog.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That’s the legal part of this. Now I’ll return to the ethical part: play fair. To me that includes acknowledging others for their inspiration and contribution.

That might mean literal acknowledgment in blog posts and Instagram and pins, or on labels. Some people say when you label your quilts, you should include the pattern and designer’s name, or the source of inspiration. I’m not likely to put that stuff on labels (I design my own quilts), but I agree with the intention.

Or it might just mean having an attitude of gratitude when we create. None of us is the first ever to make a quilt. That happened thousands of years ago. Regardless of how original we think we are, how fresh our designs, we were inspired by something.

Even if we are “self-taught,” likely that means learning from online sources or books, which someone else wrote and made available to us. We should be proud of ourselves and our work — we do amazing things! But we can be humble enough to feel gratitude for those who came before us, and for those who work by our sides.

28 thoughts on “Giving Credit and Avoiding Copyright Violations

  1. Cynthia Norman

    My question is “How come there is not the name of a quilt or designer/creator of the quilt in movies and films.”?

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m not really sure what you mean. If a quilt appears in a movie, the production company would have (should have) obtained any needed releases for using it, just as they would for other original artwork.

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due | Created by Bella

  3. Created by Bella

    Reblogged this on Created by Bella and commented:
    Remember my post from last week, where my work was stolen off of Pinterest and is now being used to sell patterns ( Well, I have heard back from Pinterest and they removed my pin, from my Pinterest page, because they mis-read my letter and they thought that I stole the image. I have since shown my letter to several other people and they all thought that I was very clear and concise and the support staff must not have actually read the letter, they just looked at the pin link. Oh well, lesson learned.
    This experience however has brought an outstanding article to my attention and I thought my readers could benefit from reading it. So without further ado, here is a blog post from Melanie of CatBird Quilt Studio :

  4. Jan

    Plagiarism will always be with us.
    The expression an beal bocht means “poor mouth”.
    In Ireland, it is said about people who pretend to be poor
    whilst having all the trappings of success.
    A common theme among pattern/fabric/knitwear designers.
    Lets be realistic we cut up bits of fabric sew them back together
    into, hopefully, beautiful useful items. We enjoy the process.
    Designers do the same.
    Their not working on a cure for major illnesses or finding a formula
    that would enable us to live in peace with our fellowman.
    As soon as designers become well known in the quilting business
    some of them become divas. They have the “because I’m worth it attitude”.
    Melanie there is no such thing as an honest business person if they were
    honest they wouldn’t survive.

  5. Jan

    Melanie, We get inspiration and ideas from everywhere. If people are afraid to create
    by something they see, then museums and art galleries should close down to protect
    the artist work.
    Have you read Leah Day’s article on copyright or Kate Spain v Emily Cier?
    Stealing is wrong, but is it wrong if a starving person steals food?
    Every time we cut a piece of fabric and make a quilt block if our foremost
    thought is “I’ve to keep an account of where I got the idea from” we may as well give up.

    I wouldn’t use Batiks in my quilts when I see the horrific conditions
    in which this fabric is produced.
    As far as I’m concerned the big fabric producers are STEALING peoples health.
    Of, course this is happening in third world countries, and after all we are very
    selective in what we consider to be an abuse of Human Rights.
    I don’t see fabric designers, who are of course profiting from this
    abuse, protesting about this type of theft.
    Thanks, to my convent education I’m very scrupulous.
    A lot of pattern designers in the world of quilting and knitting
    are experts at an beal bocht. This is an Irish expression.
    Have a look at to see what it means.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I am NOT talking about using ideas and inspiration. I am not talking about using a cook book to prepare meals, or a pattern to create a quilt or sweater. I’m talking about using a pattern that was not considered “free” and you did not pay for. I’m talking about passing someone else’s work off as your own. Some people seem to think that if it is online, it is theirs to use as they choose. That’s similar to the idea that if I lend a tool to a neighbor, he can keep it. No. It is still mine. I still own it. As to the link you provided, I don’t know what you want me to find there. I’m not going to dig for it, so if you’d like me to understand the term, you’ll need to explain or give me a better link.

  6. Mary.

    I find this topic very interesting. As a self- taught (still teaching myself) quilter I look everywhere for inspiration. The generosity of quilters who make their patterns available for free
    is much appreciated.
    The issue of copyright is a very thorny subject.
    I’ve come across patterns which are not in anyway “original”
    yet are popular and sell for a lot of money.
    The only thing the designers has done is to cut the pieces of fabric
    larger than the original size for the blocks.
    I have never seen them giving credit or referencing the source of the block/pattern.

    What about cookery books? Do we ask the cookery writers/chefs
    for permission to use the recipes?

    In no way am I saying that people shouldn’t be paid for their work,
    of course they should.
    However, if people want to protect everything they see as their property
    or whatever, they shouldn’t be putting it up on the world wide web.
    I came across a youtube video titled ; Why Quilts Matter.
    About 5 minutes into the video one of the ladies seems to have a jaundiced
    view about the world of quilting. I’m beginning to understand why.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      The real issue is not in using patterns or designs that are designated as free. The issue there is in taking advantage of the “free” aspect by using them for one’s own advantage, or passing them off as your own. Believe me, it happens. Suggesting that people who put things on the web should assume they’ve given up all rights to it is wrong. I own my own work, my own writing, my own pictures. Regardless of my generosity in sharing my knowledge and my designs (take a look around my site, if you don’t know what I mean,) if someone uses it without my permission, in particular to represent it as their original work, they are stealing from me. Stealing is still wrong, regardless of the venue.

  7. KerryCan

    Quilting is such big business now and so few people seem to design their own quilts. Your caveats and points are very helpful but I can’t help but wish we could dial the clock back 50 years or more and work as our foremothers did, sharing traditional patterns and not worrying so much . . .

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You would have to go much farther back than 50 years! Remember that Mountain Mist published patterns in the 1930s, and the Ladies Art Company included “400 pieced quilt patterns in its 1898 catalog.” Quilting has been a business since the first quilts, if only because of the fabrics, not patterns. As to worrying so much, I think it’s worth it to pay attention, not for legal reasons, or business reasons, but simply to do the courtesy of recognition. Thanks.

  8. Cjh

    Once you own a book or published work (pattern), you can sell it. It’s yours. That actually would also apply to giving it away.

    As to putting a pattern designer’s name on a quilt label, would we not also then need to add the names and companies of all the fabric designers included, machine and notions designers or manufacturers, friends who gave input, etc.? It could become a virtual “term paper bibliography” and perhaps the idea becomes a bit extreme. On the other hand, crediting the maker, the quilter, and indicating the recipient and date are all appropriate for a dedication or commemoration label.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for the link to the Supreme Court case summary. I hadn’t seen that before, though the ruling makes sense to me.

      As to putting stuff on labels, I am not a purist on that. Your recommendation in last sentence is my typical listing. I do know that not everyone lists the quilter, if it is different from the “piecer.” For shows, especially, I think that is unacceptable.

  9. Created by Bella

    Thank you for posting this. It is important that we always ask permission and we need to ALWAYS give credit where credit is due! It takes just a moment to send an eMail to someone asking permission to post something and generally only a few dollars to purchase a pattern that will financially support the designer. I find it interesting that quilters will spend thousands of dollars on their “stash” then steal a $5.00 idea or design. Thank you for posting this Melanie.

  10. snarkyquilter

    I agree with what you say, but wonder about where one draws the line between inspired by and copied from. Sometimes I see a quilt that sparks ideas and I make a quilt based on those ideas. I try to give attribution to the source(s) but don’t feel I’ve copied the original. I’m darkly amused at quilters who will buy $30 specialty rules, but balk at a $10 pattern. This makes me wonder about how to view quilt patterns resold at my guild’s sales, since the pattern developer gets none of the proceeds.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      We are inspired all the time, by any number of sources. I don’t think we can be held accountable for all that. But when copying, or nearly copying, we should cite the source. My Fire & Ice red and white quilt was specifically designed after another quilt. I think I said that every time I talked about it. On the label I wrote which quilt it was, using IQSCM’s item designation. No one will ever wonder where I got the ideas for my quilt because it is clear. AND if they bother to look at the antique, they will also see all the ways I changed it.

      As to resales, I mentioned in my comment response above that I don’t think that’s a problem legally. I don’t know about ethically, if the pattern is still easily available. ??? Grey…

  11. Donette Beimborn

    I agree with you, I also wonder about all the quilt shows that have sales where people sell their unwanted books, patterns, fabric, and other items. Most of the time they are pretty old.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I don’t think resale is a problem. While the designer/author/publisher would certainly prefer you buy new (if possible,) with resale there is one owner and one user at a time. I do buy used books, more often than new. There is a huge, seemingly legal market in them. Libraries sell them, Amazon does… I assume that’s okay. Thanks for your comments today.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I thought I’d responded to your comment but must have done something wrong, as it didn’t appear! But yes, we should all treat each other the way we’d want to be treated. The world would be a better place if we did. Thanks much.

  12. katechiconi

    I’ve had people ask me in the past if I’ll give them a copy of the pattern for something I’m working on. Most of the time, I’m able to reply that it’s my own design, not a commercial pattern, but on occasion it has been a template from a book I’ve bought. In this case, I’ve said no, and sometimes this has cause resentment at my ‘selfishness in not sharing’. My response has always been that a) the design is copyright and b) I bought the book! If I buy a ruler or other special tool for quilting, should I be expected to share it? I think not…

  13. Cindi Lambert

    With regard to the photos of other people’s quilts, I have taken pictures of quilts I have entered while at whatever show and other quilts can be seen in the photo. I do not feel this is any type of copyright violation. First of all the people who made the quilts submitted them to the same show I did. If I am standing back trying to take a picture of my own quilt and quilts on either side can be seen, I feel they entered the quilt and they know people will take pictures. I do not necessarily have any interest in the other quilts but if they end up even partially in my picture because of the setup of the displayed quilts, to me that is not a violation. Now if I were to take pictures of these other quilts themselves then I really have no right to publish them anywhere. By the way, when I am asked where someone can find a pattern of a quilt I have made, I never share the pattern but do share where they can buy it. I feel someone designed the pattern and is selling it and therefore it would be wrong for me to supply someone with my pattern.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      There are so many grey areas in all of it. I’m not a lawyer or expert on this in any regard. It sounds to me like your intention is to play fair. If part of another quilt is in your photo, that seems pretty incidental to me. And sounds like you are just right on the patterns. I think as long as we are AWARE of the issues and are TRYING to play fair, we’re doing okay most of the time. But there are people who are ignorant of the concern and there are people who just don’t care. And that is where a lot of the problem lies.


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