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Jen and I face copyright questions on a daily basis — whether it’s a customer hoping to knit an item for sale at a local fair, an instructor wondering whether a published pattern may be used to teach a class, or wanting to make a “working copy” of a pattern to write on as we’re knitting on a project!  Copyright laws can be intimidating and confusing,  so we wanted to help clarify things!

© Interweave Press

Our example is my most recent pattern, which appeared on the cover of Interweave’s Holiday Gifts issue.  Currently, Interweave holds the rights to the pattern.  In their words, the “instructions we publish at Interweave are intended for personal use and inspiration only – not for commercial purposes.”  This means that even as the designer I am not allowed to sell the pattern on my own, or sell finished items made using the pattern.  I am, however, allowed to give finished cowls as gifts, teach classes from the pattern, and promote the pattern using their images.  So is Jen, and any other knitter, instructor, blogger, or shop owner!   These activities are considered “fair use.”  It would also be okay for me to make a copy of the pattern for my own personal use, such as marking off rows and writing down any changes I make as I’m knitting.  This is considered a working copy, and again, is strictly for personal use.  It’s important to note that designers don’t have to publish their designs in a magazine or even register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office for their work to be protected this way — as soon as the work is finalized, copyright is automatically granted!  Even if a pattern doesn’t say “copyright” or have the © symbol, it’s not okay to photocopy and distribute it unless permission is explicitly given.  In the case of selling finished items, copyright protection does not cover the utilitarian aspects of an item — but it does protect the artwork of that item, such as the snowflake design on my cowl pattern.

For more information, check out Interweave’s free booklet “Know Your Rights: Copyright 101 for Knitters”, available for download here.  Below are a few handy tips to help you stay within the “fair use” guidelines:

  • Teaching a class from a copyrighted pattern?  Make sure everyone obtains their own legal copy.  That may mean they purchase the book containing the pattern, pay for a download through ravelry, or in the case of knitty.com, download the free pattern themselves.  Do a little digging on the pattern or website to see if there are specific guidelines!
  • Using an image on your blog or website that you didn’t take?  It’s always a good idea to include a caption with attribution information, as a good-faith gesture towards fair use!  Sending a quick e-mail to ask permission is a great idea, too.
  • When in doubt, ask!  It’s so easy to get in touch with designers through ravelry, facebook, websites, and e-mail, and they’ll appreciate the gesture!

Please note that this post is intended to provide basic copyright guidelines and does not replace professional legal advice.