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April 6, 1012. Content has not been altered except to remove extraneous material. While we provide the abouve URL you cannot view this forum until you are registered with the web site.

Simplicity Patterns
and Its Copyright Misinformation

The following was posted on the Sense and Sensibility Forums on July 27, 2009. Someone emailed Simplicity for information on using their patterns to make and sell articles.

Hello Becky,

Thank you for writing. Simplicity is covered for a period of ninety-nine (99) years regarding the copyrights for our patterns and the law is as follows:

Patterns are considered printed matter and are covered under copyright laws. On most envelope backs we mention "To be used for individual private home use only and not for commercial or manufacturing purposes". Treat them just like you would books or videos---you can share them with anyone but once you start making copies, and especially if you are selling those copies, you are clearly violating the rights of the author/designer.

If you are sewing as a seamstress, the legal interpretation is that the customer requesting the garment owns the pattern and you are only selling your work or skills as a seamstress.

If you are sewing clothes in mass production, for the retail or wholesale market, no matter how small the volume, you are selling the design-which in this case belongs to Simplicity. You would therefore be in violation of the copyright laws. I hope this explanation is helpful.

Susanne M. Smith
Consumer Service Associate
2 Park Avenue
New York , New York 10016[b/]

To clarify the email, I assembled a Q&A below for you:

Q: How long are copyrights attached to a sewing pattern?
A: 99 years. So if you have a pattern that is from 1910 and before, it is free of all copyrights.

Q: I'm a seamstress and my best friend would like me to make a dress for her and she is willing to pay me. Am I violating the pattern's copyrights by doing this for her?
A: No. But you should price the garment only by the time you spent sewing and the talent you put into it. Consider the sewing pattern to be own by your customer; you are just the hands that used the pattern.

Q: My cousin is getting married and she is requesting me to make all the bridesmaid dresses. Would I be committing copyright infringement if I do this service for her? Wouldn't it be considered mass producing?
A: No. But you need to buy a separate sewing pattern for each dress you make. For example, if you need to make five dresses using Simplicity #1234, you need to buy five #1234's.

Q: I am planning on using Simplicity #1234 to make about 20-50 dresses to sell in my shop. Is this ok?
A: No. This would be considered mass producing. This is the same for, other internet vendors, and boutique shops. If you are planning on making garments to sell at a church or school bazaar, you might want to contact the pattern company to request permission.

Susanne M. Smith starts with a lie. Corporate copyrights are for 95 years, at best. But as we have noted, Simplicity does not register its patterns with the US Copyright Office. Unregistered works cannot be litigated in federal court.

Simplicity patterns was founded in 1927. Anything published before 1923 is in public domain. Patterns published before 1978 that were not registered with the US Copyright Office are in public domain because registration was required to have copyright protection. If the pattern was registered and it was published before 1963, and the copyright registration was not renewed, it is public domain because the copyright expired. If the pattern was registered and it was published before 1963, and the copyright registration was renewed, then the copyright expires 95 years after first publication. There are some minor exceptions to these but this covers almost all corporate copyrights. The US Copyright Office estimated that 85% of registered copyrights were not renewed.

Except that as a general rule, patterns are not copyrightable. Circular 31 by the US Copyright Office says why:

What Is Not Protected by Copyright

Ideas, methods, or systems are not subject to copyright protection. Copyright protection, therefore, is not available for ideas or procedures for doing, making, or building things; scientific or technical methods or discoveries; business operations or procedures; mathematical principles; formulas, algorithms; or any other concept, process, or method of operation.

[emphasis added]

Lie #2 by Susanne M. Smith was that patterns are considered printed matter. They are considered useful articles and templates and as such not copyrightable. And even if they were copyrightable, the copyright does not cover any article made from the pattern.

Susanne M. Smith did get the copying part mostly correct. You have the right to make a copy for your use. However, should you give the pattern away or sell it to someone else, you should destroy any copies made for personal use.

Lie #3 by Susanne M. Smith is that there is NO legal interpretation concerning using a pattern yourself or as a seamstress. It does not matter legally who bought the pattern and who supplies the labor and materials. Remember, they just sell patterns. YOU are supplying the time, energy, tools and fabric to make the article. What in the world make them think they have the right to tell you what to do with the article you make from their pattern? Arrogance. Nothing more.

Lie #4 by Susanne M. Smith is the claim Simplicity owns the clothing design. They sold the pattern. That sale removes control from Simplicity of how that copy is used by the purchaser. It is in federal copyright law and it is called the First Sale Doctrine. See also Galiano v Harrah's, 416 F.3d 411 (5th 2005), copyright law does not allow one to copyright "clothing designs" in which the artistic and utilitarian qualities are indivisible.

Lie #5 by Susanne M. Smith is the claim that you are violating copyright law if you are sewing and selling clothes made from a Simplicity pattern. If the pattern is registered, the pattern copyright does not cover any article made from the pattern. Period.

Lie #6 by Susanne M. Smith is the rehashed incorrect statement about the life of their copyrights (Q&A #1).

Lie #7 by Susanne M. Smith is the rehash of Lie #3 above (Q&A #2).

Lie #8 by Susanne M. Smith is false claim that one must purchase a pattern for EVERY item they make. Patterns are reusable and there is nothing in the law that allows Simplicity or any other pattern designer/manufacturer to set such a limit.

Lie #9 by Susanne M. Smith is actually two lies wrapped into one. The first sub-lie is saying that you cannot make additional copies of the article. Mass producing is not infringement as long as you have one working copying of the pattern and are doing it yourself. One person is not mass production. A shop with multiple employees and multiple copies of the pattern is, in our opinion, probably infringing even though there is no registered copyright.

Sub-lie #2 is the "suggestion" that you have to contact the pattern designer to sell articles at a school or church bazaar. Not required by ANY law.

Wow! Nine lies in ten paragraphs. The above email from Simplicity is a lie. As are the magazine articles by McCalls on copyrights. Lies.

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