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Copyrights and the Sewing Industry

by Susan Wigley, Paragon Patterns

 

A major part of the joy of sewing is creating something new and different. If you are planning to sell the items you sew, it is imperative that you create your own original designs, no matter how small small your business is. Donít use commercial patterns unless you have permission in writing, because copyright laws protect them.

This issue of copyrights is an explosive topic in the sewing industry. In fact, the major pattern companies are aggressively defending their copyrights by hiring people to go to trade shows and craft fairs to search for violators. The fines for copyright infringement can be very steep, upwards of $60,000.00 in U.S. Funds. It definitely isnít worth the lawsuits, fines, and other legal problems that can result if you get caught.†

It is a direct violation of copyright laws to manufacture sewn products from a commercial pattern and claim it as your own design. Most pattern companies, including the small independent pattern companies, have strict policies that prohibit the use of their patterns for manufacturing.†

You can, however, sew custom garments for customers using a commercial pattern if you buy one pattern for each person. For instance, if you are making four of the same style of bridesmaidís dresses for four different people, you need to purchase four separate patterns, one for each bridesmaid.†

On the other hand, if you are making several pairs of slacks for one person, you can use the same pattern for all of the pairs of slacks for that person. Just be sure that either you, or your customer, provide a separate pattern for each person, and youíll be okay.†

Some pattern companies will allow you to license their designs for a small fee. Each pattern company has a different policy on this issue, so always ask for permission, be specific, and get the agreement in writing before you use their patterns.†

Itís also important to remember that these Designers make their living designing patterns, and it dilutes their ability to make a profit when you use their work for your business. Product development is a lot of work and often hundreds of hours go into developing one single design. So give them a break and be prepared to pay for the right to use their designs. Thatís only Fair.†

According to the United States Copyright Office in Washington D.C., copyright protection lasts from the moment the work is created, until 70 years AFTER the last surviving authorís death. For anonymous works the copyright can last between 95 and 120 years depending on whether or not the work was published. So itís possible that copyright laws protect even old designs from the late part of the 19th century.†

For more information on copyrights, you can visit the Library of Congress copyright office website at www.loc.gov/copyright, or contact an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights

Copyright 2002 Susan Wigley. All Rights Reserved.

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