Copyright Connundrums


Over the last couple weeks, there has been a great deal of buzz on the Internet about quilting and copyright issues. The basic problem is that Kate Spain designed a line of fabrics that were used in a book by Emily Cier. The book is called “Scrap Republic.” C&T Publishing, the publisher of this book, also makes tote bags. They chose to use a photograph of a quilt, made with Kate Spain’s fabric, on a tote bag. They did not receive permission from Kate Spain, the fabric designer, prior to printing the tote bags.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Rumors on the blogosphere say that Kate Spain contacted her lawyer and was suing both Emily Cier and C&T Publishing for copyright infringement. Kate Spain, however, says that no lawsuits were filed. C&T claims that, once they realized they’d made an error with the tote bag, they tried to contact Kate Spain to resolve the situation. They also stopped distributing the tote bag.

I’ve been following the blog posts and, as you know, there are two sides to every story. C&T seems to admit screwing up by not giving Ms. Spain credit for the tote bags. And Kate Spain seems to be delighted to have people using her fabrics in their quilts. So, honestly, I’m not sure where the truth lies in this controversy. I’ve enclosed links to both blogs if you’d like to make your own decision.

However the question of copyright leaves many of us confused. As a quilter, here are some of my questions:

1. Who owns the copyright to my quilts? I’ve been looking at fabric as a creativity tool (much like modeling clay or colored pencils). My first quilt was made entirely with fabric designed by Mark Lipinski. Do I have to give him partial credit for that quilt?

2. How do you keep track of the fabric designer? I often buy fat quarters with no selvedge edge. I have no idea who designed the fabric and it would be impossible to give them credit.

3. What happens if you mix fabrics? I just made a quilt that had more than 100 different fabrics that were black and white. Do I need to credit all the designers? Some of them? Just the designer of the border fabric?

4. Why doesn’t this issue come up in garment making? When you see someone interviewed on the red carpet, they are asked: “WHO are you wearing?” The dress designer is given credit, but you never hear them saying who manufactured the silk in the garment.

5. This can get really silly. Do we need to credit the thread company as well? Sometimes the thread makes a huge difference in the success of a quilt. Or how about the cotton manufacturer that provides the raw fabric to the mills?

To me, it seems only logical that the fabric design is copyrighted. Of course I should not scan my favorite quilt fabric in order to make mugs and mailbox covers. However, once I’ve paid for the fabric, I feel that the artist has been compensated and I can freely use that fabric in my creations. In my mind, it is the same situation as a designer making dresses — s/he has purchased the fabric for their design and is not crediting the fabric’s  manufacturer or designer.

Here are two views of the controversy between Kate Spain and C&T Publishing.

Check out this link for more information on fabric copyrights.


2 responses »

  1. If you find any answers please do share. It seems that entering quilts made from commercial fabrics into shows is actually illegal (we give the show rights to photograph and reproduce the quilt). Making patterns designed to be used by multiple fabrics from multiple designers or manufacturers is out as are books or patterns where you can’t track and credit every fabric in every sample. Of course it also makes it impossible for us to share our images on the internet especially with sites like Facebook, who have the right to use any uploaded image.

    I am working on the view I will need to design and print all my own fabrics if I want to carry on designing and entering shows :( I liked buying fabric, but if I can’t use it what is the point?

    • You raise good points. This is definitely one hot topic. Frankly — and this is just MY OPINION — I can’t see much changing in the quilting world because of this case. If quilters continue to practice our hobby, which is cutting up squares of copyrighted fabric into small pieces and sewing them back together, then it is impractical to keep track of the fabric in our work. The designers would be severely limiting their market if quilters didn’t have permission to freely use their fabric.

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