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pattern designers and NYAC visitors, please help!

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!

example of a crochet granny square

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.)

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Comments

  1. nicolaknits says:

    The way I see it, you can write up a pattern of your own and publish it, as long as you are using your own words. It’s the words that are covered by copyright. If you look at something already made and reverse engineer it and write it up, it’s yours. In the US, it’s not enforceable for people to say that no one can sell an item made from their pattern. It’s the copying and distribution of other people’s patterns that is illegal. If I were to take a block from a book and use that exact block to make a new project, I would probably include that info in my pattern.

  2. Irene Porter says:

    Actually I do enjoy your writing. Tutorials and patterns are surely always welcome. Sorry I don’t know about the legalities, but I have bought patterns where it says items made from it should not be sold which is a bit worrying.

  3. I cannot comment on the legal questions, because I am not knowledgable on that aspect.
    Why do I visit your blog? Do I want free patterns?
    I visit because I LIKE what I see here. I like Free patterns as much as anyone – mostly because my budget does not allow purchase of a lot of patterns….though there are many ‘paid’ patterns I would LOVE to buy. I am not talented enough to design my own patterns, so must depend on others to do that. If I didn’t like what I saw here, I would un-subscribe in a minute! I always enjoy just a bit of witty writing as well – because in these troubled times, don’t we ALL need a bit of wit now and then?
    I want to THANK all bloggers who take the time and share their patterns and tutorials so freely with the rest of us. Really! I am so impressed with the patterns that are available – and all the tutorials – that enable the rest of us to improve our own skills. Without you and others like you, I’d still be trying to get past the plain, old chain! A heartfelt THANK YOU to you and all like you who share your talents and your work with the rest of us. It IS APPRECIATED!

    • Aww thank you Carol, that’s definitely a confidence booster I needed as I’m venturing into pattern writing! I’m really glad you enjoy this blog, and I’m working on a new pattern now to release soon! Again, thank you for your kind and encouraging words!

  4. Ditto!!!

  5. And another ditto!!! Thank you!

  6. I find that a lot of copyright information regarding crochet design is open to interpretaion especially as I’m not aware of anything ever getting as far as lawyers for indie designers. My line is always to think – am I taking something away from the person/publisher of the inspiration? If you think it is borderline then ask the original creator or just leave it alone. I frequently get asked for permission to translate my patterns for publication elsewhere. I always say yes because I actually feel this helps me – the person who translates it puts a link to me and vice versa. If someone can’t read my pattern in English but can in Hungarian, then I haven’t lost any web traffic, but they still get to use my pattern. And if someone stumbles upon the Hungarian translation and prefers it in English they can click through so I get more traffic overall. But when I find people selling my free patterns on Etsy I have to report it as they are stealing from me (my web traffic) as well as making money from people who are buying something I was giving away!

  7. Can’t help you with the legal stuff. Copyright is such a touchy subject. I love your blog and tutorials and patterns. You do a great job with all of it! ❤

  8. If I were you, I would contact some of the established designers for their opinions on copyrighting patterns. Th
    ey are very knowledgable. As for your blog, I enjoy many different blogs and different styles. It’s fun to get a variety.

  9. Georgiann Eikenbary (or just Ann) says:

    As far as I know, it’s okay to sell items made from someone else’s patterns; however, it would be copyright infringement to have those items mass produced either by you or some manufacturing company to sell. If you see a picture of something and can copy it, I do not think you can claim the copyrights to that pattern. I was sent a picture of crocheted shorts and I figured out how to make them and made some for my son and some of his friends. I wrote out the pattern in men sizes from small to extra large, but I feel as if I cannot claim the copyrights on this pattern. I would have to come up with an entirely different design to claim a pattern, which I plan to do, but just haven’t had the time!
    I once asked a noted designer if I could use only the flower in her square to put on top of a crocheted cupcake, and she said ‘no’, but I still think I could have claimed a copyright on this. Well, I can go back and change the flower enough to claim the copyright on it if I decide to. Some of this is all just a matter of common sense and remember to put yourself in the other designer’s place and ask ‘Would you want someone else to copy this part and this much of your pattern as theirs?’ I’ve designed three new stitch combinations which are kind of lacy looking, (and I’ve never seen these anywhere) and if anyone ever uses these stitches in their designs; yes, I would appreciate it if they would mention my name by the descriptions of those stitches. Perhaps I’ll just add my last name at the front of those stitches and that would take care of it.
    Thank you for all your free patterns, as we do get lots of good ideas from looking at others creations and that’s why there is no end to what a person can create out of a ball of yarn or thread! Love witty remarks, everyone needs a good sense of humor!

  10. I am a new follower, saw your blanket on Pinterest and liked what I see on your blog. Will check you on Ravelry also. As for your question, I am not an authority. However there is another blogger that comes to mind who would be a great resource for you. Sara Zimmermann, Repear Crafter Me, has many of her patterns on knit sites as well as Lion Brand. As for patterns, like everyone I seem to like getting more than I can even accomplish, like the free of course. I am willing to pay a reasonable amunt for a well written pattern however. I am more a knitter, but hope to do more crochet. Especially interested in using up my stash in 2016…on fixed income..I am an oldie but young minded goodie! Good luck to you..much success in the coming year..look forward to following along.

  11. Have you asked some other bloggers who write patterns? Lucy at Attic24 is a popular blogger & pattern writer – may be worth making contact?

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