Selling Handcrafted Items From Patterns

Perhaps one of the hottest conversations over on Craftster.org lately has been about selling handmade items that are made from someone else’s pattern. “Not for commercial use” is the phrase many pattern designers use when they want to prohibit crafters from selling items made from that pattern. But, is such a restriction fair, enforcible, or even commercially smart?

Is it Fair?

The pattern designer took the time to design and test the pattern (at least we all hope they tested it) and it would only seem fair that they don’t want others to profit off of their hard work. But, when this pattern is being offered for sale – are they not being paid for their work?

Is it legally prosecutable?

When it comes to crafts, with the exception of some new product, there just are so many ways one can crochet, knit, or sew something. Sure that pattern for the skirt with the diamond hemline is cool – but, is it truly the first design to implement flowing points instead of a straight hem?

How do we decide who came up with the idea? How do we know that a Butternick pattern is truly original and not actually designed after some small unknown designer made the design first?

After all, there are just so many ways to crochet a bunny. I could sit down and crochet a bunny right now without a pattern. If it happened to look like someone elses, could they sue me?

Is it commercially smart?

Someone likes a pattern enough to purchase it and then decides to sell what they made – are they not indirectly promoting the original designer?

No clear answers, only more questions…

As would be expected, the discussion was quite divided as to opinion. It was fairly apparent who were patten sellers and who were pattern users.

Think about it. I sit down and create a crochet bunny. I think it’s cute and offer the pattern for free on my website. Someone else, sits down and creates a similar bunny and decides to offer the pattern for sale. And yet another person, sits down and creates yet another similar bunny and decides to sell their bunny and not offer the pattern. So, who owns the design? What happens if someone takes my free pattern and starts selling either the pattern or a bunny made from that pattern?

Exceptions? Are there any?

Some say that an item made on commission should be exempted from the no commercial sales restrictions. Technically, with a commissioned item, the payment is for the actual construction moreso than the design. Don’t you think?

Some argue that if the item is substantially different then it would no longer be considered the original designer’s work. But, who decides what percentage constitutes enough? And who calculates whether the changes are 10%, 20% or more? Is anyone following this guideline going to actually decide their redesigned item does not meet the standard?

The Law

What makes crafts so special is also what makes things like this so terribly difficult. Anything dealing in the subjective is hard to define who owns what. Added to that is by their nature there are only so many ways to make something and quite often 2 or more people independently come up with similar designs. And since most professional crafters are small business owners, how many actually copyright and trademark their designs – and the further question could be should they be able to?

The biggest problem is that there is not really any clear cut and decisive laws that govern crafts and who owns a design or concept.

My personal take on how things should be…

I truly believe credit should be given where credit is due and put forward the following suggestions that could honor individual copyrights as well as allow folks to make and sell hand-crafted items from the patterns of others.

All patterns for sale should allow at least one finished good to be crafted and sold from that pattern. The pattern designer has been paid for their work and should not be entitled to prohibit anyone from using that pattern in whatever manner they decide – the customer has paid for it. There should be a one pattern – one item ratio for all finished goods made from patterns.

Again this is my opinion, though one that might fall under ‘If I were queen for a day.’

Additionally with,

Free Patterns

  1. Pattern designer should clearly state if pattern is free to use for commercial work or the quantity a crafter could make to sell (no mass production and no more than xx number per year).
  2. Pattern designer should clearly state if the pattern is used for commercial work whether or not it must include a label stating, Original Design By ….
  3. Pattern designer should identify a price for the pattern to be used for commercial work if they wish to limit other crafters from profiting from their work without any compensation in return.

Patterns for Sale

  1. Pattern designer should clearly state their policy on making the finished item commercially available – again, I think one pattern – one finished good is fair to everyone.
  2. If the pattern is able to be used for commercial sale, the pattern designer should identify whether they want a ‘Designed by…’ label.
  3. Perhaps the pattern designer could offer tiered pricing; a lower price for personal use and a bit higher for commercial use.

What do you think?

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