Public Domain Patterns

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems way too many people are building websites based around “vintage” or public domain patterns without regard to copyrights and other niceties.

Too many crafters are simply assuming that the original copyright holder did not renew their copyright. Patterns published in the 1940s and 50s are not necessarily out of copyright. It all depends upon whether or not the original copyright holder filed for an extension.

Posting a disclaimer like, “As far as I know this pattern is out of copyright but if you know differently please let me know.” at least shows the website owner has considered the pattern may still be protected. Problem is that disclaimer offers zip, zero, nada protection for the site owner or anyone else who might wish to sell items made from that pattern. Having a disclaimer is not a free pass for copyright infringement. Site owners can still be forced to remove the infringing content or even be sued by the true copyright holder.

A recent submitter to Crafty Tips seems to have employed a hybrid approach where they are placing usage restrictions on each public domain pattern or pattern with a questionable copyright status. Normally, I would have happily added their site as it does have a nice selection of different, mostly public domain patterns. The whole ‘maybe it’s still in copyright issue’ didn’t bug me as much as the strange attempt to restrict usage. Some of the vintage and public domain patterns are identified as “free for personal use” while others are identified as being free for both personal and commercial use.

Granted, had the site owner used her own picture or made a number of rewrites to a pattern truly in the public domain, they could claim some level of copyright on the work. The pictures look like they were originally published with the pattern and there is no indication that the site owner made any changes to the original pattern.

When I post vintage and public domain craft patterns on The Crafty Tipster like the vintage sweater shown in this article, I always give credit to the original designer (if known) and the original publication information. Technically, if a vintage pattern is truly in the public domain, such attribution is not required. I do it to both honor and respect the original designer as well as to ensure that anyone outside of the US has the information needed to ensure that the pattern is also in the public domain in their own country or any country they may sell the finished item in.

Only if I include a picture of an item I made or if I have made a number of changes to the pattern itself, am I creating something new that I can copyright – even then I provide the original designer’s info. The collection of patterns as a whole can be copyrighted but an individual public domain pattern that has not been changed remains in the public domain.

The vintage pattern site, for now, is lingering in my submission queue. Part of me wonders if I am simply being too picky. The pattern designer in me doesn’t like the attempt at adding usage restrictions to something the site owner does not own. Granted, the legality of usage restrictions on patterns is a bit muddled but I see it as disrespecting both the original designer and the spirit of copyright law.

What are your thoughts? Do you care if someone posts a vintage, public domain pattern and claims some level of ownership? Do you think the original designer should always be credited regardless of copyright status?

A few suggestions for further reading...

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