I often get questions from people regarding the “Creative Commons Attribution” mark that I place on my free printable doll clothes sewing patterns. The following question was submitted to me last month, so I decided to share my answer in today’s blog post:
Question: “Hi. As a copyright issue, am I right in thinking that it is only unacceptable to reproduce and sell patterns from a website? I am often asked to make and sell dolls clothes in my craft work; however, the copyright laws seem confusing, and I am unsure whether I can do this [legally]. Can you advise, please?”
Disclaimer: As you read this article, please bear in mind that I am a doll clothing designer, YouTuber, and writer; I am NOT an expert at giving legal advice. But hopefully this blog post will give you some subtle insight into how copyrights work in the word of sewing patterns.
And anyone who IS an expert in this field, feel free to leave a comment correcting any errors you see here….
A while back I added this question and its answer to my FAQ’s page. Here’s a link to that FAQ.
But please be advised that laws differ from one country to the next. I live in the United States, and my patterns are clearly marked with a Creative Commons Attribution mark. This is unique to my patterns, but may not apply to other people’s sewing patterns.
A Simplicity pattern with a copyright mark reserves the right to reproduce those patterns in any form (including electronic form), so people who scan Simplicity patterns and sell them online are effectively breaking copyright laws in the United States.
The patterns themselves can be sold second-hand in the US, without breaking any laws (i.e. you can legally post them on Facebook for sale, post them on eBay for sale, or sell them in a yard sale or second-hand store), but reproducing them for multiple sales is a big no-no.
As far as selling your own handmade items which were made using commercial patterns, it’s not a big deal if you’re doing so on a small scale. So, for example, if you make a dozen purses using a McCall’s pattern and sell these at a flea market, I don’t think anyone is going to hunt you down for a lawsuit.
However some of these commercial patterns do state that you’re not really supposed to do that. What they’d rather you do is this: contract with their pattern company to use a pattern for mass production.
This is how big clothing manufacturing companies do business. They will contract a pattern from McCall’s (or another pattern company) to create 5000 shirts that all look alike, perhaps in varying colors and fabrics.
They use the same pattern in multiple sizes and mass produce these, often having them cut and sewn overseas and then shipped back to the US or the UK or another country, where they are then distributed to department stores like Target and Forever 21.
If one of these mass-production wholesale clothing companies were to take a pattern from a pattern manufacturer, and mass-produce 5000 shirts using that pattern without first contracting for the rights to that pattern, I’m certain that a lawsuit would follow shortly thereafter. And that’s why patterns often say “To be used for individual private home use only and not for commercial or manufacturing purposes.”
Officially, we’re not supposed to use commercial patterns (i.e. those produced by McCalls, Butterick, and Simplicity among others) to produce a bunch of products that we plan to sell.
However, they’re unlikely to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in a lawsuit against you, if your profit in selling a dozen purses on Etsy is less than two or three hundred dollars. The big pattern companies wouldn’t benefit financially from such a lawsuit.
Since I’m a librarian in my day job, I can tell you that the United States Constitution actually has a clause that provides security for inventors and artists through the use of copyrights and patents. It’s Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, in the US Constitution.
Our United States Founding Fathers “believed populating the public domain with inventions further promoted progress, because other inventors could use, learn from and improve upon the inventions” (FinancialPoise.com, “Mickey Mouse, the Founding Fathers, and Copyright Law.” 12 Feb. 2020).
So the idea behind this copyright law is to give artists (like pattern designers) and inventors the legal right to their creation for a limited time, but after that limited time, the copyrighted material enters the public domain so new inventors and artists can use earlier works to help them invent and create new and better versions of that invention or creation.
This setup is designed to help the US economy.
A Creative Commons Attribution mark, like the one on my doll clothes sewing patterns, puts a new twist on the copyright concept. I encourage people to use my patterns for commercial or other purposes, but the “attribution” piece is asking everyone to share information about my website whenever they use my patterns.
This benefits me financially because with each new visitor to my website, I earn a few more pennies from the ads that show up on this website.
So people can use my patterns to create doll clothes for themselves and their family; people can use my patterns to make and market their doll clothes; people can even use my patterns to help them design and sell their own patterns. However, in doing so, they are also supposed to promote my website and/or YouTube channel.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
Last Halloween I walked into a Barnes and Noble and found a human-sized version of my Halloween candy bucket for sale. MY Halloween candy bucket! The manufacturer very obviously used my pattern to mass-produce these candy buckets. I looked at the tag on the candy bucket, and it said “Made in China.”
What it should have said is, “This Halloween candy bucket was made in China, using a pattern found on ChellyWood.com.”
It’s my understanding that in China, there are no patent or copyright laws, and as such, Chinese companies do not honor the patent or copyright laws of other countries. So Barnes and Noble contracted a Halloween candy bucket with a Chinese manufacturer, who then downloaded and enlarged my Halloween candy bucket pattern, mass produced it, and sold it to the American public without ever giving a nod in my direction.
Yes, I could sue Barnes and Noble for the sale of these products, but lawsuits are expensive and time consuming. And since the products were made in China, where no patent or copyright laws exist, there’s no guarantee that I will win a lawsuit. After all, I’m just a little small-town librarian with a tiny online pattern website and YouTube channel.
So there again, I’m left asking the same question that McCall’s and Simplicity must ask when they find people selling handmade purses on Etsy… Is it worth the time and money to sue?
And that’s what I understand about copyright laws and how they pertain to patterns for handmade products, but as I’ve said, I’m not a legal expert. So please take this blog post with a grain of salt and do your own research if you have concerns regarding copyright laws.
I’d like to thank Carol for this fascinating question. Hopefully others who follow this blog will enjoy the information.
And once again, if anyone knows additional or contrary information on this topic, please leave a comment to add to or correct what I’ve said here.