How copyright and fair use applies to digital designs

Copyright and fair use of digital designs is a very interesting, though sometimes controversial topic that most people try to avoid because they don’t want to find themselves on the wrong side of it. Or they’re too scared to talk about this because let’s face it, some forms of copyright breach have somehow become socially acceptable, but it is still against the law like:

  1. Buying a music CD, copying it to a flash drive and giving it to your pals at work
  2. Buying a book, reading it and then passing it along.  There is a reason that you pay more for a Kindle book with sharing options!

The issue of copyright is a sensitive one, but unfortunately, it is one that must be addressed.  I first want to say that if you have any questions about the use of my patterns and designs, please contact me so that I can clarify.  We all know that assumption is the mother of bullshit.

Butterflies in my garden is a design set that makes a beautiful quilt

What constitutes fair and honest pattern use and what is a breach of copyright?

Myth:  When you purchase a design, you own that design, and you are free to share it with friends or try to sell the design to someone else.

The design is in fact intellectual property, and you buy the right to use the design, but at no point does the design become yours.  When it comes to digital products you’re purchasing a personal use license.  I don’t sell commercial licenses – I make and create for individuals who want to be creative.

Personal use is fair use

This means that you use my patterns and designs on your own projects and quilts.  It is the whole reason for buying the designs, so kinda obvious right?  Feel free to use my patterns, patchwork blocks, and digital designs in your quilts and personal projects.

All my digital designs are available in multiple file types, and if I don’t have the file that you use, I can create it for you at no additional cost.  

Odd personal use

There are a few different ways that you can still use my digital quilting designs for personal use that may seem a bit unusual, but are starting to become a trend:

  • You don’t have a computerized quilting machine or your own embroidery machine, but you can rent one or use your friend’s.  This is a bit of a blurry area, and I understand that.  You may be tempted to ask your friend if you can use their machine in exchange for the design you’re using – this one is NOT OK. But, if you buy the design and gift it to the person who’s machine you are using, that’s a wonderful gift, as long as you don’t keep a copy of the design to use again later.
  • If you rent a machine, that’s fine, you can use my designs, BUT you must not leave the design file on the machine when you’re done.  The design stays with you, not the machine.  Only you have the license to use it.
Custom printed quilt top
Stevie is a custom printed quilt top

Quilting Service

Of course you can use my digital designs to quilt for customers.  But consider it a tool like the pins, the sewing machine or scissors.  

You buy pins to baste the quilt, but you don’t charge your client for the pins, because they’re not going anywhere.  The same applies to my digital designs – you’ve purchased the design, and you have a licence to use it.  Your client doesn’t pay for the license to use it on their quilt.  I know, it’s about to get blurry so let me try to shed some light.

Here’s the sequence of events:

  1. You browse through Lavender Quilting Farm’s online store, and you find a design you like.  Wonderful!  Go ahead and add that design to your shopping cart, and checkout.  Of course, pay for the design, but if the design happens to be free, all of this still applies.
  2. Perfect, you’ve got your download link, and you download the designs to your computer.
  3. Somewhere you’re going to transfer this design to your computerized system or machine, and the method will vary.
  4. Now you have my design in your library of designs that you can offer to your clients to finish their quilts or embroider on their dish towels or whatever – it’s now a tool like your scissors or pins or machine.

You charge your client a rate per hour or a rate per inch/meter.  That’s where your charges should stop, unless you charge for binding or adding embellishments.  The important thing that I need you to understand is that you cannot apply a cost for the use of my design, because you didn’t buy a commercial license, so you cannot make any money by charging for my design. 

Do you pay me every time that you use the design?  No, you don’t.  So it’s not fair to your client to charge for the design.  You will need to recoup the cost of the design through your services, in the same way that you recoup the cost of replacing your basting pins when they bend or go blunt.

Selling the system

If you decide to sell your computerized system, what happens to all the digital designs that you’ve purchased? 

  1. Remember that you cannot sell my designs, so you can’t resell them in any manner (not as an add-on to the system, or separately)
  2. If you’re upgrading your system, you simply hold on to the designs and use them on the new system.
  3. You’ve decided that you’re not going to do the computerised quilting thing anymore, so what to do with all these designs?  I ask that you keep them with the system that you’re using them on, not charge the new owner, and let me know that the designs are being transferred. 

I can hear you saying “Why on earth do I need to let you know?” Well, you see, I keep a close eye on where I see my designs pop up.  None of my designs are available anywhere else (except OPW, but I keep a track of them on there too), so if I see them pop up and I cannot tie them back to the person that purchased them, and who thus has a license to use them, I can and will ask how these designs came to be on that quilt or project.  Don’t underestimate the size of the quilting community.  People talk and sooner or later the knowledge that my design has been used inappropriately will reach me.

Fuzzy Wuzzy is made with your embroidery machine

Immediate copyright no-no’s

  1. Selling copies of my design files to other people.  This is very unethical, and completely against the law. Same goes for printing my patterns and selling the printed pattern.
  2. Sharing my design files with other people – Lavender Quilting Farm is not a library.  Even a book club buys a book for each member of that club – the same applies to my designs.  Again, this is against the law in the same way as copying an entire book is against the law.
  3. Using my designs in a class setting is an immediate no-no.  There is a separate agreement for this.
  4. Trying before you buy. I know, this sounds weird but allow me to set the scene:

I had an interesting situation with someone who happened to run machine embroidery classes.  We had an arrangement that she could use my designs for her classes, and all I required was that each person in the class acquire their own design/s.  I thought that I was clear on this, especially since I charged a discounted rate for these customers. 

Imagine my surprise to find out that she had given the attendees the design to make the project during the class, and then asked whether they would like to buy the design.  Why would you buy something to make an article that you just made?  You just made the project, and the files are on your machine.  Ethically, yes, each of those attendees should pay for the design files. But they believed that the design was part of the class, and now that they’ve made the project, they’re not likely to make the project again, so why pay? 

Yes, this is a true story, and totally unacceptable.  I work very hard to get designs digitized and tested.  Time is valuable, and digitizing is not something that everyone can do.  It’s a specialized skill, that takes a lot of time, hence I charge for my products!

In a Pickle is a quilt made with your embroidery machine

Mass production of items is a breach of copyright

First, let’s look at what mass production is.  In my mind, if you are making more than 10 items to resell using my design, we are looking at mass production.  And resell is not only limited to craft markets, but also to class use.  Why?  You are making money from my intellectual property.  

Please contact me, let me know what you want to do, and let’s come to a mutual agreement.  This is to everyone’s benefit, and you’re not running the risk of ruining your reputation when people find out that you’ve acted unethically.  I am also a small business owner, and I know how difficult it is to stay afloat, but it’s nothing that hard work and dedication cannot fix.  Acting unethically can ruin your business and your reputation.

In a classroom environment there is another bit that may be unclear and that is using my designs as a kit in a class setting. 

For instance, you want to teach people how to paint with inktense pencils.  The kit you want to include has a wholecloth quilt and a tin of inktense pencils.  You cannot use my designs to create that wholecloth for each of your students.  Big NO!  

Essentially, what you are doing is using my expertise in design to teach a technique.  Or you’re using my printable to do the same thing – again, it’s not a library – you’re reproducing my design.  You wouldn’t teach people to knit without each of them having their own wool and knitting needles, or do you expect them to give you both back at the end of the day? 

As soon as you use anything that you have made from my designs to teach anything, you need to enter into an agreement with me.  Let’s talk about it.  I’m not a crazy old hag that isn’t going to consider what you want to do, nor am I going to attempt to replicate what you want to do and teach it myself – that’s exactly what I don’t want you to do!  Everyone in the chain should be treated fairly.  This is ethical business.

This is Flower from my book Every quilter’s guide to whole cloth quilting

Change a design and sell it as your own

There is a general myth that you can take someone else’s creative exploits, be it a drawing or a clothing pattern, and change it 10% (or 20, 30, 40, 50).  People believe that in this case you haven’t copied anything and you’re not breaking any copyright laws.  Surprise!  This one ain’t true

As soon as you change someone else’s work by whatever percent, turn it into something that you’ve made, advertise it and sell it as your original, my friend, you have broken the law, and I can sue the socks off of you.  This is bad for both of us:

  1. Your reputation is going to be ruined
  2. It’s gonna cost everyone a load of money and only the lawyers will be smiling

Avoiding copyright breach

Here’s what I do to avoid this:

  1. Use clipart only from recognized clipart for digitizing artists
  2. Draw my own from scratch
  3. Stay away from other designers’ websites UNLESS I find out there is a possible copyright breach which has only happened once since Lavender Quilting Farm has been around and it was resolved amicably

There is so much creativity out there, and it is very easy to get lost in “looking for inspiration”, so Pinterest for Lavender Quilting Farm is fed from my website by code – I don’t go on there anymore because I do not want anyone to be able to come to me and tell me I’ve copied them.

A few positives

  1. If you are interested in learning to digitize your own designs, whether it be embroidery or quilting, reach out to me.  Believe it or not, I’m a decent teacher and I love seeing other people learn and grow.
  2. If you have any questions related to copyright, I can point you to a lovely podcast called Just Wanna Quilt.  You will be both surprised and appalled at some of the things they’ve uncovered.  They have some lovely projects going too.

Finally, all I ask is honesty and ethical business practices.  We are entering a very difficult time in the world’s economy and we are going to be tempted to do stuff like sharing.  But please, when it comes to digital work by artists like myself and many others, you are quite literally taking the food out of my kids’ mouths.  This is my only income, and it’s about to get super tough.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.  

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