Copyright Law: Crochet & Knit Patterns & Designs

Copyright Law: Crochet & Knit Patterns & DesignsI would like to take the time to share some information about copyright on crochet and knit patterns with everyone to help other designers, as well as, to help people who may not know or realize when they are in fact infringing on a person’s copyright.

Copyright, in the US, is immediate from the time the work is produced in a tangible form. You do not have to register for copyright for your work to be copyrighted. You do have to register if you wish to proceed with suing the person infringing upon your design, but a lack of official registration does not mean that the item is any less copyrighted and can’t be officially registered with the copyright office at any time.

Also, just because you change a few stitches or use a different technique (i.e. crochet vs knit, for example, converting a crocheted design to knit) does not mean you may not be infringing on that person’s design if your creation is “inspired by” or visually looks to be the same and that design is considered to be a unique design. Unique designs produced by a pattern are just as much copyrighted as the pattern itself.

The U.S. Copyright Office has also included knitting and crochet patterns in its list “Works of Visual Arts” indicating that the patterns and designs qualify for copyright protection as a visual work. Unique toys and stuffed animals may qualify for copyright as a soft sculpture if they are determined to be a unique design. If people are copying the design without purchasing a pattern from the rights owner then the copies are an infringement on the copyright.

There are things that fall into the public domain or fall under useful items, where the design produced from a pattern is not copyrighted, the pattern however still is. These items are ones that have either been deemed to have a useful use, i.e. clothing, kitchen items, such as potholders, etc. So you can not copyright the design for a cardigan or a skirt, however, copying the text/images/charts from the pattern to create it, is illegal. Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Public domain means that the copyrighted works have been in production for 70 years since the creator’s death and are no longer copyright protected.

Copyright law does not protect ideas, methods, or systems. However, Copyright protection does extend to a description, explanation, or illustration of an idea or system. Copyright in such a case protects the particular literary or pictorial expression chosen by the author. But it gives the copyright owner no exclusive rights in the idea, method, or system involved.

Intellectual property includes works, processes, symbols, and designs that were created or are owned by a company. To enforce the ownership and right to use intellectual property, the business owner must register it at the United States Patent and Trademark Office or the United States Copyright Office. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

According to the United States Copyright Office, Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office indicates that a trademark protects “words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.” This means that a company must register a trademark for its business name, slogans, logos and other items that essentially brand the product or company. A U.S. trademark generally lasts as long as the trademark is used in commerce and defended against infringement.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office indicates that a patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. Patentable materials include machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions. The duration of patent protection depends on the type of patent granted:
Design Patents – 15 years from issuance for applications filed on or after May 13, 2015 (14 years from issuance if filed before May 13, 2015)
Utility patents and plant patents – 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed.

Just to be clear, characters such as comic book characters or Disney characters are trademarked and that trademark is maintained and transferred.

Source: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#mywork
Source: https://www.copyright.gov/registration/visual-arts/index.html
Source: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ40.pdf
Source: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ31.pdf
Source: https://www.etsy.com/help/article/263
Source: https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2014/10/08/copyright-in-knitting-and-crocheting/
Source: http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml
Source: https://www.copyright.gov/title17/


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2 comments

  1. Sue Eshelman says:

    I’ve read a lot about the fashion industry and I’ve found that because clothing is “utilitarian” they have no protection against knock off companies selling exact copies of their clothing. So long as they don’t copy the designers label and claim it is authentic they are doing nothing illegal. While I have seen a few true works of art in crochet and knitting (by that I mean a sculpture or other item with no use except to look at and admire) most of us make utilitarian items. So what makes us different?

    You say “Also,just because you change a few stitches or use a different technique (i.e. crochet vs knit, for example, converting a crocheted design to knit) does not mean you may not be infringing on that person’s design if your creation is “inspired by” or visually looks to be the same and that design is considered to be a unique design. Unique designs produced by a pattern are just as much copyrighted as the pattern itself. So again, what makes us different?

    The U.S. Copyright Office has also included knitting and crochet patterns in its list “Works of Visual Arts” indicating that the patterns and designs qualify for copyright protection as a visual work. Unique toys and stuffed animals may qualify for copyright as a soft sculpture if they are determined to be a unique design. If people are copying the design without purchasing a pattern from the rights owner then the copies are an infringement on the copyright.”. However, I open my latest Mary Maxim catalog and I see “Vera Bradley inspired quilted bags” on page 50! Again, what makes us different?

    All crochet designers seem to interpret copyright law to mean you can’t look at a shawl they designed that someone you see may be wearing and go home and make something like it because you are able to see how it was made yet I see real world evidence that this isn’t true every day in advertisments that say “inspired by” or”in the style of” or “compare to”. What makes us different?

    I am totally confused. Unless you can point me to specific case law that shows where this has actually been enforced on a few occasions then I have to believe the real world evidence I see. If the attorneys for Vera Bradley can’t do anything to protect their product line then how the heck would a small designer who probably doesn’t even have one attorney, let alone an army of them?

    This is the reason I don’t share pictures of anything I have designed and stay away from publishing patterns. The laws seem to be either unenforceable or they are being misrepresented by designers who hope people will take them at their word.

    • Heather Boyer says:

      I don’t think you fully read or understood my article. This paragraph here explains exactly why bags, shawls, sweater, skirts are not protected under copyright law. And why you see “knock-off” items of similar design.

      There are things that fall into the public domain or fall under useful items, where the design produced from a pattern is not copyrighted, the pattern however still is. These items are ones that have either been deemed to have a useful use, i.e. clothing, kitchen items, such as potholders, etc. So you can not copyright the design for a cardigan or a skirt, however, copying the text/images/charts from the pattern to create it, is illegal. Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Public domain means that the copyrighted works have been in production for 70 years since the creator’s death and are no longer copyright protected.

      Also, just because it appeared in the Mary Maxim catalog does not mean it is not illegal. Making a bag that looks similar to Vera Bradley bags may not be illegal because it is a useful item, but using their name to promote the knock-off likely is or it could just mean they got permission from Vera Bradley to use their name or design something similar.

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