This post is a bit lengthy but please (pretty pretty please!) take the time to help me understand how this works. I’ll be endlessly in your debt!
I’ve gotten to the point where I can write up crochet patterns that I think look decent, but how do I know if they’re OK to distribute? There are some questions I have that I hope you can answer.
What can be copyrighted and what cannot?
I’ve heard that stitch patterns such as granny squares, shell stitches, catherine wheels, etc. are common stitch patterns that on their own cannot be copyrighted. When you put it together with other stitch patterns to make an item, however, it becomes copyright-able. Is that correct? What about more complicated stitch patterns that are in books that encourage you to use them for your own patterns? Can I write it up and share it? Do I need to give credit to the book? Obviously logos and trademarked images are out.
How far does intellectual property go?
You could argue that a combination of specific stitch patterns in a specific way was the idea of Person A, but does that mean that Person B cannot look at their finished item and make up their own pattern to be similar? An example here is a crocheted clutch that I (Person B) want to make, but the pattern is in French. I cannot translate it, so I cannot be sure of exactly how it was seamed, lined, etc., but just by looking at the finished product I can make my own that looks almost exactly the same. Can I write up that pattern and share it, giving inspirational credit to Person A?
How to put it together?
You could also argue that since crochet has been around a long time it’s hard to come up with a completely original work without getting inspiration from other projects. How loosely do you need to interpret patterns to avoid offending/upsetting anyone?
More on the legal aspect…
This article written by a lawyer explains some things, like the fact that you can probably sell items made from a purchased pattern, even if the pattern “prohibits” it (only the written pattern itself is copyrighted, and most people would support that it is unenforceable to try to copyright the items made from it, but there’s actually no precedent). Vague, right? A similar example from the article: “People use cookbooks and make things from recipes and sell them to make money at fairs.” Good point. But I don’t want to make other designers mad or start an online ruckus! What do you think?
The article also says “There is no mathematically quantifiable, legally bulletproof yardstick to determine when a independently protectable pattern has been created. You will want to consider not just the amount of material copied, but also whether the copied portion is important to the work as a whole. There is a legitimate argument to be made that borrowing a unique, albeit small, portion of a copyrighted work pulls the borrower more closely into the orbit of infringement. While copying is not always copyright infringement, no rational interpretation of the law can ignore the critical relationship between inspiration and creation.” Again, vague! Then how on earth do you avoid a sticky situation? Obviously I don’t want to offend my fellow crochet enthusiasts because I love our online community, but I’m scared to take inspiration from anything now. Even if I did manage to come up with a pattern completely on my own without looking at other items at all, what if someone else already made a similar thing?
Of course there are plenty of similar patterns available online (like Ravelry) — you can find a zillion granny square bags, for instance. What makes them different enough to publish separately?
Please help me by leaving a comment with anything you know about publishing patterns. I’d really like to start releasing some free patterns for you all in 2016! Actually that leads me to one more question:
Do you guys even want free patterns from this site?
What draws you to visit NYAC? Stitch tutorials? Crochet-a-longs? Free patterns? Project inspiration? My witty writing? (That last one’s a joke.)