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Last updated September 30, 2011

Angel Policies and Cottage Licenses

Angel Policies and Cottage Licenses are a figment of the imagination. They were dreamed up by designers and companies who want you to buy additional copies of their patterns, rubber stamps, etc. There is no basis in statutory law for these so-called licenses. In addition, we have not been able to locate a single federal lawsuit that has gone to trial over someone allegedly violating an Angel Policy or violating a Cottage License. No company has been stupid enough to actually take their baseless "policy" into federal court seeking enforcement or damages. An Angel Policy, like a Cottage License, is a load of crap. Do not believe them.

According to one web site:

An Angel Policy is a form of limited license that specifies how a product can be used and any specific requirements of the manufacturer or artist. Typically this outlines under what circumstances, if any, a purchaser can make and sell items created using a manufacturer's product.

Some companies have a very generous Angel Policy, which allows purchasers to work with the product without restriction and this includes creating products for resale. Other companies offer more limited commercial use of their products, for instance limiting the number of products that can be created from a single product. Some companies do not have an Angel Policy this does not mean that there is a 'free for all' when it comes to the use of their stamps far from it! It means that their products are sold for personal use only and not for commercial gain.


The above quote was taken from a web site that purports to list rubber stamp sellers who have "Angel Polices." Imagine Fruit Of The Loom putting a label on their t-shirts that said, "Only To Be Worn Three Times - Then Dispose". How many people would follow those instructions? How many would believe Fruit Of The Loom had the right to impose those type of use restrictions?

To begin with, a company cannot license what they do not control. We have not been able to locate a single federal lawsuit that has gone to trial when someone was accused of violating an Angel Policy or a Cottage License. That is because they are not enforceable.

We have discussed patterns in detail on other pages. Patterns as a rule are not copyrightable regardless of the claims of the designers. Take for example, Elizabeth Lee, at, has a cottage license form that you must fill out to get her "Cottage License". Except that Elizabeth Lee, the designer, does not have a single registered copyright. If her work is not copyrightable, and if she has no registered copyright, what gives her the right to "grant" a license, for a fee, for the use of her patterns? Because people actually believe her.

Many pattern designers and pattern web site claim you must purchase a new apttern for every thing you make. Why do they do this? To make money. There is no legal requirement that a person purchase additional copies of a pattern. You are free to make as many items as you wish from one pattern. Patterns and rubber stamps are sold, not licensed. They are tools for making things.

The same applies to rubber stamps. The rubber stamp industry appears to be the single largest industry perpetuating the myth that the manufacturer has the right to control how a product is used after is it purchased. For example, Stampin' Up! makes the claim:

All of Stampin' Up!'s images are copyrighted, which means that they may not be copied without permission.

But here is the problem. Stampin' Up!, like all other rubber stamp companies, are selling you a stamp with their alleged copyrighted images on them. This means that in the absence of a written contract between the manufacturer and the purchaser, use restrictions unilaterally imposed by Stampin' Up! are not enforceable Why not? Because you are using their rubber stamp as intended, to make images. Therefore there is an implied license to make those images, by hand, using the lawfully acquired rubber stamp, regardless of the design on the rubber stamp. That is, for the stamp images. Stampin' Up! grants a license to use digitalized images of their stamps which, in this case, is their right because they are selling you the rubber stamp, not a digitalized image. Assuming they actually have valid copyrights on their images. Many of the registered copyrights by Stampin' Up! are for promotional material, collections, books and advertising. While a collection of images may be copyrighted, the individual images in that collection may not be protected if they lack creativity. And we are guessing they are not creative enough.

In Mura v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 245 F. Supp. 587 - Dist. Court, SD New York 1965, Mura sued because the Captain Kanagroo show used several of her copyrighted hand puppets without her permission. The court rejected her claims, saying:

The puppets were sold by plaintiff without any contractual limitations as to use. See Buck v. Swanson, 33 F.Supp. 377, 387 (D.Neb.1939). The use complained of here was of the type for which the puppets were intended and was reasonable.

[emphasis added]

Rubber stamps are sold with the intent the purchaser make images from them. Without a signed contract stating otherwise, cottage licenses and angel policies are just so much hot air. The reverse raised image on the rubber stamp is not copyrighted because it is a tool and tools cannot be copyrighted. A rubber stamp cannot be patented.

The courts have recognized there are limited ways to express designs and images. Simple images have little if no protection. After all, how many different ways are there to draw a rose, the petals and the leaves? To allow someone a copyright on a simple rose design would be to grant them a monopoly on all designs using a rose. The courts uniformly reject that idea. Complicated patterns exhibit a greater degree of creativeness and are subsequently more protectable. But how complicated can a design be on a rubber stamp? Not very.

But a design does not have to be complicated to be protected. We have some rubber stamps (purchased at Hobby Lobby) of Peanuts characters. Even if these rubber stamps contained a warning restricting their use, the use restrictions would not be enforceable because they were licensed by Peanuts and United Media. No one bothers to ask you if you agree to the terms before purchase. And even if you said NO!, they would sell it to you anyway. A limited use contract cannot be formed under these circumstances.

Cottage Licenses and Angel Policies are nothing more than a pile of crap. Cricut, and Provo Crafts, who have a notorious Angel Policy, are on this web site as members of the Tabberone Trademark and Copyright Abusers Hall Of Shame.

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