Association of Machine Embroidery

Copyright; Dull But Important Subject

Copyright is one of the least understood laws in our business. There are very few written down, black- and-white "commandments" that pertain to what we can and cannot use.

For a copyright to be valid, it does not have to be registered with the Copyright Office, although it may be. All that is necessary is for there to be a small "c" contained within a circle (8), the person's name, and the date.

If you buy a pattern or use a pattern printed in a magazine, you may do so for your own use; but you may not make the article or use the design for profit without the permission of the owner of the copyright. You also may not make copies of the pattern to give to your friends. Doing so deprives the originator of the work of profit that he or she has a right to expect from the work.

Sharing a method or design learned in a class or workshop is acceptable as sharing. It is just that. However, if you plan to teach something you have learned from another teacher or book, you should ask permission. This is only common courtesy, and most people are more than willing to share with you and are very appreciative of being asked. Even so, a teacher should always work up her own classroom materials.

There are many copyright free designs which we are free to use or adapt to our field of needlework. Many of the Dover books contain copyright free designs. Refer to the individual book's copyright page for specific or limited use of the designs.

Designs which we buy are meant to be used. We are free to adapt them and use them in many different ways. However, nowhere is there any statement such as the common one that we hear: "If you change something 20 percent or 30 percent, or whatever, then it is not a violation of the copyright, and you can call it yours." This just is not true, and there is a court definition of infringement found in "The Protection of Literary Property" by Philip Wittenberg that makes this clear. After all, if we put a Mickey Mouse head on a kangaroo, it will still be Mickey Mouse and would constitute an infringement.

The copyright issue seems to revolve around the definitions of infringement and fair use. Fair use of a work is defined in Section 107 of the Copyright Law and, like most laws, is subject to interpretation. The best interpretation of the whole copyright issue is to use common sense, the Golden Rule, and if in doubt - don't.

With the increased use of automatic embroidery machines, please be mindful of copyright laws that apply to digitized designs. There are a number of embroidery companies that produce embroidery designs that allow the purchaser of the design to embroider the design onto home decorator items, craft items, etc., to sell. These are called "stock designs." The purchaser of one of these designs is granted a license to sell the end product but is prohibited from selling the design itself to another individual.

Designs created by designers such as Debbie Mumm, Laurel Burch, Sue Box and others, limit the use of their designs, in most cases, for personal use by the purchaser. Some designers allow limited and specified uses of their designs. These limits are clearly stated on the CD case or printed material. If the design from the designer has the signature as part of the design (such as Disney designs), then copyright laws state the signature must be embroidered.

If you are in doubt about how much freedom or restrictions there are with a design, it is best to contact the company or designer. Under no circumstance are you allowed to copy the design itself and sell or give that copy to another person. This will violate the copyright laws. If you design and digitize your own embroidery design then you are free to do as you please with your designs. If you sell them, you should plainly state any limitations on the use of your design on the packaging.


California Association of Machine Embroidery - C.A.M.E. - Professional Web Design