Fair Use of Patterns

by Lambdafarm on March 7, 2011

As a logical follow-up to my last post on copyrights for woodworkers, fair use of patterns is important.  When we buy a pattern, or find one for free, the temtation is to think of that pattern as ours.  We paid for it or were given it so we can do with it what we please, right?  Well, NO.

The pattern represents as much work by the designer as your finished piece does by you.  Further, the pattern is protected by copyright laws just as a photograph is.  You are not really purchasing the pattern.  You are purchasing a license to use the pattern.  Big difference!

What does that license entitle you to do?  It depends.  Most patterns allow you to make copies for your use in making the item.  Both Scroll Saw Woodworking and Crafts magazine and Creative Woodworks and Crafts magazine have a notice in the masthead giving permission to make up to ten copies of each pattern for personal use.  Unless the license specifically says so, it is never okay to give the patterns to anyone else, or sell them.  That cheats the pattern maker of their royalties.

This next part is where it gets murky.  For scroll saw people, most patterns are licensed with the expectation that the user will make and sell the items on the patterns.  However, you do run across patterns that are licensed only for personal use and forbid selling the items made.  Other crafters, such as people who do needlework, are more likely to find this the case.  Technically, then, making a bunch of whatsits and selling them would violate this license and leave you vulnerable to being sued.  In practice, unless you are making something with a trademark on it by a big company (Disney is notorious for this) nobody will bother you for making and selling the item, at least most of the time.  If in doubt, ask.

If you do ask, try to get a written reply.  That will save you a headache if later the person who told you to go ahead has a change of heart.  Stranger things have happened.

Most of this information is academic.  We get patterns, use them to make things, and sell the things to buy more wood and patterns to make more things.  Respect the copyright of the pattern maker and have fun.

Disclaimer:  I am not an attorney and this should not be construed as legal advice.  When in doubt, consulting a lawyer will probably be cheaper than a lawsuit.

 

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