Does Amy Butler have a say in how we use her patterns?

I have always been confused about pattern designers saying what I can and can’t do with things I make from their patterns. I think this is such a murky area, that like the tags on mattresses, people are afraid to act because they don’t fully understand that ripping the damn tag off is fully within their rights after purchase. I’m intrigued by this site, www.tabberone.com, that outlines case law and what is really covered by copyright law. Here is a particularly interesting part about Amy Butler, who has been listed in their Hall of Shame.

So, does anyone have experience with this? It does seem that if I use her patterns to make stuff, I should be able to sell it. But I’m still afraid. Anyone else? And yet, I wouldn’t hesitate to sell something I made from a Burda or Simplicity pattern, because I almost always alter the pattern in some way.

I’m curious how other crafters feel about this.

5 thoughts on “Does Amy Butler have a say in how we use her patterns?

  1. Well, that’s a tough one. Section 106 of US Copyright law (http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106 ) says that the copyright holder has the right to determine how her original work is reproduced, distributed, or sold. The original work is the bag, but it is also the pattern. So, she can decide who she sells the bag to, and who she sells the pattern to, and who copies the physical pattern (the actual pieces of paper). Once the bag or the physical pattern is sold, it can be re-sold without her permission. So you could put the bag (or the physical pattern) that she made, that you purchased from her, in a rummage sale or on eBay or whatever. You cannot make a copy of the physical pattern and sell or give it away. You could not make a copy of the bag and sell it or give it away, either. However, I don’t think it clearly explains what rights she retains when she sells a pattern. Here’s the key question: Is the product of that pattern a copy? If so, only she has the right to sell the copy (or even to make the bag!). According to everything I’ve been told about copyright, by selling the pattern, she’s only selling you the pieces of paper, and the statement on the pattern gives you the right to make it for personal use. If you make and sell the product, you are theoretically taking money away from her, because someone might have purchased the bag (or the pattern) directly from her if you hadn’t sold it to them.

    Personally, as a fledgling pattern designer I’m fairly flexible about some copyright issues on my patterns. The statement I put on my patterns say it can be used to create items for personal or fundraiser use, but cannot be used to create items for sale without prior written permission. If someone wrote and asked me for permission, I’d say yes in a heartbeat (and be terribly flattered). It also says that the pattern itself may not be copied without prior written permission. Of course I know that someone is going to buy the pattern and make copies for her friends; I don’t like it, and I think people need a good smack upside the head when they do this. But realistically, I can’t do much about it. It’s the product of my work and if they copy my pattern for a friend they’re literally taking money out of my pocket. However, it’s all but impossible for me to collect anything even if I were to somehow know when it happened.

    I checked out the website you provided, and the one thing that I do NOT like is that they didn’t provide a link to the actual copyright law. They have a link to the part about infringement, but not the description of what is covered by copyright. Seems a little like they’re hiding the one bit of useful information.

  2. And now, of course, I’m beginning to question my previous comment. The one thing that makes this difficult is the definition of “art.” A utilitarian object cannot be copyrighted, so clothing and, I would assume, bags cannot be copyrighted. (An artistic part of the bag that can stand alone, with the utilitarian aspect removed, CAN be copyrighted.) So now I would agree that you should be able to do anything you please with something you make from her bag patterns. I’m still ambivalent about quilts, however. Could the quilt top existing as an artistic piece without the utilitarian aspect? Sure, without the batting and backing, it’s an art piece, capable of being framed and hung on a wall. I think…

  3. Thanks for weighing in, Sandi! I love your blog, by the way :)

    It is a mystery…not just patterns but lots of things. Like if I sell cookies, and someone buys the cookies and puts frosting on them, then resells them, to me, that seems fair. They made an investment, added their own part, and sold the item for their own profit. I don’t expect a part of that profit, I already made mine. Likewise, if I was also selling the recipe, and that person turned around and sold my recipe as is, not cool at all. Shut them down. But if they replaced the oil with applesauce and changed the name, well then, what can I do? It’s not mine anymore. I call them smart, not corrupt.

    For patterns, I feel the same way. If you create a pattern, no one has the right to reproduce it (I mean the actual physical pattern) for their own profit if you’ve take the steps to protect it with a legal copyright. If I make a purse pattern and someone turns it into a messenger bag pattern, rewrites it and repackages it, well, then it’s their pattern. They may have improved on my design, and by all means it’s their creation.

    Lots of grey area in that spectrum, right?

    Good thing Amy Butler’s patterns are too confusing for me to follow! :) ha haa ha ha haa

  4. Thanks for the compliment on my blog! Yes, the whole copyright issue is confusing. A couple of things you might be interested to know: Just creating something in a concrete, physical format (making a quilt, making a bag, writing a recipe, writing a pattern, writing a book…) and putting “copyright YYYY by ‘name'” is considered a legal copyright. You do NOT have to register it. If you catch someone violating your copyright, you can make them stop. However, without registering it (for a fee), you can’t collect any money from them. Also, you cannot copyright techniques. So the One Seam Flying Geese Cathedral “Winda” block on my blog – not copyrightable. If I write up a pattern using that technique, my pattern can be copyrighted but someone else can rewrite the instructions in their own words and they’re in the clear. And of course, once you sell a physical item, like a pattern or a quilt or your cookies, that physical item can be resold without any restrictions. They just can’t copy it and sell the copies (or keep the copy and sell the original).

    Yeah, lots of fun…

  5. I am also very confused with why I can’t sell something I make from a pattern. I am not re-selling the pattern or claiming that is mine. I am just simply buying a pattern and making a physical thing to sell. Now in the link you provided it stated that a fabric item that is made from a pattern is uncopyrightable. So, this means that I can sell anything that I make from any pattern as a long as I am selling the physical item I made and not the pattern it self.

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