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November 9, 2008. Content has not been altered.
Ask the Experts:
Carolyn V. Peters
Question: If my guild makes a quilt using a published pattern, can we use it as a fund-raiser/raffle quilt, or is this an infringement of copyright laws? Carolyn responds:
The answer to your question is in short, yes, you may use a published pattern for a raffle quilt. Moral rights, which are not actually part of the copyright law in the United States, make it appropriate for you to credit the designer in any advertising you do. Some states do have statutes that protect the rights of designers and artists may require you to give attribution to the designer.
The copyright law provides rights in a work for the author or designer of the pattern. Let's assume that a quilt has sufficient subject matter to have a copyright. Under the copyright law, functional articles cannot obtain full copyright status. Only the artistic or non-functional portion enjoys the benefit of copyright protection. Thus a quilt in and of itself cannot be copyrighted. However, a particular design, color scheme, and any other unique artistic part may receive protection under the copyright laws.
For example, if a designer makes a quilt that meets the requirement for a copyright, the copyright is granted for the quilt itself. A photograph of that quilt may also be copyrightable. But if that designer is in the business of selling patterns and in fact turns this new quilt into a pattern, complete with instructions, the pattern also enjoys copyright protection for the instructions and any illustrations that are expressed in the pattern. You, as the quiltmaker, purchase this pattern. Under the copyright laws, you are not allowed to make a copy of the pattern, except for your personal use. As the legal owner of the authorized copy of this pattern, you have purchased the right to make the article that is presented in the pattern, to sell or give away your authorized copy of the pattern that you purchased, and to sell or give away the article that you made from the pattern. You do not have the right to make copies of the pattern with the intent of distributing them to friends or guild members, or to mass produce an item from that pattern for resale for profit or personal gain.
Some pattern designers attempt to limit the implied copyright license by stating on their patterns, "This pattern is provided for personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes." However, as far as I have been able to determine, this language has never been tested in court, so provided you do not engage in mass commercialization from a pattern, I suspect there would not be copyright infringement.
Regardless of the notations in a particular pattern, a raffle quilt is for a charitable purpose and as such could be created from a published pattern without any copyright infringement issues. I would recommend that you give credit to the designer whenever the quilt is shown or advertised. Most designers appreciate the exposure to the quilting public. However, if you choose to ask permission from the designer, be prepared for a possible "No" answer. In that case, to continue showing the quilt and selling tickets for it could only create hard feelings.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The comments given above were prepared for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. This column is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship and should not be acted upon without seeking professional counsel.
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