Sunday, August 24, 2008

Intellectual Property

I have been looking into whether I should apply for the copyright for my quilts before I display them on my blog. I am finding that it isn't really necessary if you can prove that you made the image.

The thing is that could take some work. I have only saved some of my receipts from fabric purchases (only because I thought I might one day sell a quilt and need them for tax purposes) and I haven't always taken pictures of work in progress (lately I'm doing that because it helps to see color tones by looking at the image in black and white).

I would not want to have to get involved in a court case. It would take away all of the time I have for creating. So I attempt to use the U.S. Copyright Service's electronic office to copyright a quilt.

Reading the official questions and treating my work so formally is exciting, like I am taking myself seriously. I have technical problems and cannot complete the form that day.

Then I hear that my friend (a musician who has one year left of law school) sends all his songs and poems together as a collection of his work and gets everything copyrighted at once for one fee. I was told this is legit even if the songs and poems won't be published together.

That means that I should just keep creating things until I have enough for one big economical copyright claim.

I would welcome any comments from someone who knows above the hearsay.


Flea Puckett said...

My friend Ale sent me a website to check out & I thought it fit under this posting because it has to do with orginality of artwork. If you use fabric you made yourself then you can prove you made the quilt or product right? allows you to print any design you like onto high quality quilting fabric. I can imagine this being useful in many ways. The website says there is a weekly contest for favorite custom fabrics too, there have been some neat ones. Enjoy!

Elizabeth said...

Hi -- I saw your site via Marisa's Quilt Otaku site. She and I are friends through an applique group. I happened to just see this post from August re copyright - since it's several months old so I'm guessing you have sorted all of this out now but if not, I thought I might be able to provide a little bit of insight since I am an IP attorney ... My feeling is that registering the copyrights in your quilts is not necessary. Even without registration you still own a copyright in any copyrightable work. Keep in mind also that when you see a photo of a quilt on a blog, there are several aspects of copyright involved - (1) the photograph itself is copyrighted by the photographer, (2) the pattern might be copyrighted by the pattern designer (if unique enough), (3) the blog itself is copyrighted by the blog owner (subject to the type of third party rights mentioned above), (4) individual pattern designs on the fabric are copyrighted by the fabric designer(s) (but probably subject to the "first sale doctrine" and/or an implied license), and (5) the overall composition of the quilt might be copyrighted by the maker (if unique enough). Copying other people's photos onto one's blog or photographing pages of a book and posting them on one's blog are (likely) to be an infringement of that photographers/publishers copyright if you have not obtained permission to do so. Say, for example, Marisa sketches a pattern for an applique block, I photograph the block and send the photo to you, and you post the photo on your blog - Marisa owns the copyright in the pattern, I own the copyright in the photo, and you own the copyright in the blog post that contains the photo (subject to Marisa's and my ownership of the copyrights in the pattern/photo - you would need permission (a license) from both of us to post it in your blog).

You also need to think about what you are willing to enforce - the cost of suing someone for infringing something you have on your blog is almost never going to be worth it. Keep in mind also that the internet is worldwide, and although many countries have copyright laws similar to our own, many do not, or they do not have reliable court systems for enforcement even if they do.

I read a lot of quilt/craft blogs and I see rampant copyright infringement but in the majority of cases it is (IMO) innocent -- meaning someone posts a photo (that they usually find on another blog or elsewhere on the web) to show it off as inspiration, not knowing that in doing so they are infringing someone else's copyright. In some cases, the copyright owner might not mind this, or will even LIKE it, because it generates buzz around their work.

I do think that it's always going to be difficult to prove originality in a quilt pattern unless it is incredibly unique. It's much easier to show infringement when someone posts an exact copy of one of your photos on their website.

The internet has definitely posed new challenges to copyright concepts and this area is very much evolving. I do think the best solution is to just make sure you state on your blog how you want any content used/reproduced. As I said, I think in most cases (at least on the craft blogs I read) people copy things with innocent/benign intentions, so if you are just clear about how you want this done ("please ask for permission before copying or using any photos or content posted here," or "feel free to use patterns provided here but for non-commercial purposes only," etc.), people will comply. But keep in mind that once something is on the internet it is "out there" for millions of people to see and realistically (legally, practically) as an individual blog owner/quilter there is not going to be that much you can do to control what happens from there -- so if you have something that you really care a lot about as a work of art, you probably shouldn't put it on a public blog.

I hope this helps. It is a complicated area and there's no way I can explain all the nuances here, but hopefully this gives you an overview.