Saturday, July 30, 2011

Copyright Question...

I know copyright is a very complicated and touchy area to address. My question is copyright issues with quilting and quilt blocks to be specific.

I want to start a section of my blog with little tutorials on how to make certain quilt blocks. I want to show how to make the simple older blocks that are not copyrighted. I read some where on the Internet that anything over 95 years old is not copyrighted. Then I read some where on the web that anything before 1978 is ok...such a confusing topic.

Does any one know the best source, book or website for dating and copyrighting quilt blocks. I know Barbara Brackman has a book and a site, but I need a site with dates of the blocks, so I know that I can use it without any copyright infringements.

I also wanted to know how current designers copyright quilt patterns using certain blocks. Seems like you see the same block or pattern and it's just arranged differently in the quilt. Does that little change of sashing, borders, fabric, placement, size etc constitute enough of a change to call it a "different pattern"

Any help would be appreciated,


  1. Let us know what you find out. Check this out:
    A legal response to the issue of copyright.

  2. Oh my goodness, this topic is a quagmire, so good luck. I read the article in McCall's Quilting which is addressed on the link that Cheryl gave you. The article was confusing and frightening and made me wonder how on earth anyone could use any pattern without contacting the designer. Some designs, as you mentioned, are merely "borrowing from vintage quilts" or rearranging the same blocks, used by others.

    Here is another link you might read, but I have no idea if it is valid.

    Good Luck

  3. For a good basic overview I would suggest

    I would also suggest that you contact your local public or college library. Librarians are good resources for this. While we are good resources we will also tell you that we are not lawyers, so we will help with basics, but for official interpretation of the law you should consult a lawyer.

  4. In the library world, anything published b4 1927 is not copyright protected. So, blocks published in sources prior to this date would be "traditional." let me find the copyright chart for you that I used when I worked.

  5. Karen, I used to be on the Quiltart digest, and boy do these gals know their copyright stuff. I'm not sure you would need to contact them, but their digest is a wealth of information. You can find them by going to or send an email to

  6. From Cornell:

  7. Not 1927, anything published before 1923.

  8. Check out this site at the University of Texas-it was the best I found when researching copyright issues for a local museum.

  9. Stanford University has a fantastic copyright resource here:

    Basically, anything created before 1923 is in the public domain (no copyright). Items published before 1978 may or may not be in the public domain depending on whether they were published with a copyright notice and whether the copyright was renewed. To be absolutely certain you'd have to do extensive research.

    BlockBase is a software program by Electric quilt that contains the blocks from Barbara Brackman's book, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. The notecard for each block lists the various sources and, in some cases, the year of publication. The Ladies Art Company published hundreds of blocks and are easy to date. If you can find the block number it will tell you whether it was published before 1923. Any LAC block number of 500 or lower was published before 1923.

    Obviously there are a lot of other quilt block resources. Jinny Beyer's book, The Quilter's Album of Patchwork Patterns, also provides publication dates of over 4,000 blocks.

    Keep in mind that there are two different copyright issues here. There's the block or quilt design itself, and then there's the written instructions. If you write instructions for a public domain block, the rights to those written instructions belong to you. Someone else can write instructions to the same block, but they cannot copy your instructions word for word.

  10. Thank you for bringing up this question! I have often wondered the exact same thing. You have such knowledgeable followers! I feel like I actually LEARNED something today...not just got inspired!

    Deb from

  11. I am not a lawyer, quilt pattern designer, or affiliated with any company that has anything to do with quilting in anyway whatsoever. That being said... *wink*

    Unless someone comes up with a quilt block that has never been seen before, I would think quilt BLOCKS... esp "traditional" blocks... are not copyright-able. Photos, pictures, and written directions would be copyright-able.

    If you select a traditional quilt block... say a "Churn Dash"... and come up with a step-by-step tutorial... I'd say you're okay. Other than fabric selection and measurements... one Churn Dash is like every other Churn Dash.

    Someone would have to prove the "Churn Dash" block was their sole property to get you for copyright violation.

    If you go to say:, and use the measurements and/or the directions, photos, or pictures found there... that would not be a good idea.

    Once you move from "quilt block" to "quilt pattern/design"... then that's another kettle o' fish.

    But since you want to do tutorials for traditional quilt blocks... I don't think you're safe as long as you write your own directions and take your own photos.

    Hope this makes sense.

  12. Complex issues. It arises every time we have a quilt show.

    We consider traditional blocks not copyrighted (define traditional), so any quilt made with these blocks does not need to have a copyright search/permission. Quilt patterns that are published in magazines/online that you either purchase or are free, permission is considered given for non-profit personal use with acknowledgement to the source and the designer.

    Techniques are not considered to be copyright i.e. string quilts, fabric painting, thread sketching, cutting a block to re-sew it like the disappearing nine patch or stack and slash etc. However, if those techniques were learned in a workshop or from a book, acknowledgement is considered appropriate.

    I will watch with interest what you find out.

  13. WoW!!! Just reading the answers is mind boggeling!!! This is going to be an interesting subect to follow.... I would say 'have fun' but the more truthful thing to tell you is "don't go crazy figuring this out!!!"

    (and as I have read somewhere before - no block is a 'new' block - someone, somewhere has already done it.......)

  14. I agree with the others that this is a loaded subject and one that is likely to generate much enthusiasm. I would love to see more people educated about what really is covered in copyright law and what is not. It drives me crazy when people try to tell you you can't sell things made from their patterns/ tutorials when really they have not right to do so. Best of luck to you!
    p.s. keep us posted.

  15. Yikes Karen! And to think, you just want to help out some folks with some simple tutorials! I hope you are able to find the definitive answer, and you are able to do them, without any worry of infringement issues. Sounds like a very nice, and generous idea.....and you are so good at showing step-by-step instructions, so I just know your tutorials are going to rock! Can't wait!

  16. Sandi over at Piecemeal Quilts addressed this recently in one of her skill builder posts and she provided somelinks that might be useful to you.

  17. Sorry about that, should have read through the comments before posting a comment. I now see that Sandi already commented.

  18. Copyright gets me a bit riled sometimes - people can be very precious in situations where the material is simply not able to be protected by law. Unfortunately copyright protection bears no relation to the amount of effort involved in the creation of material, and that can be hard to take. Use your common sense about which blocks are traditional and you won't go wrong.

  19. I don't understand how a 'technique' can be copyrighted - but then I'm not a lawyer. Is HST's copyrighted???? I wonder if different 'componets' from a block can be taught without the copyright law??? Oh, Karen, at this point I say "Good Luck" but in my mind I think "just go for it!"

  20. Hi Having run a craft shop selling handmade items belonging to myself and others you begin to realise very few designs are original...most things are copied (unwittingly) in some fashion or another! I believe it is very difficult to copyright craft/handmade items as everyone's interpretation is different. An exact copy with the same material etc is infringing on the copyrights, but if you are using other fabrics notions and such like it is then your personal design. If you are writing instructions it needs to be in your own words. You need to give credits to the designers, you can also link to the originators eg books, websites etc. The one thing you cant do is sell patterns unless they are genuinely your designs. I am in the UK but I would imagine the same rules apply worldwide!
    Good luck, I know these things are like a minefield!!!!
    Wendy x
    Take note of other peoples sites you will see the same instructions repeated, whether its patchwork, crochet cardmaking....the list goes on x

  21. This is such a difficult subject. I do agree with some posters who recommended the local library. If you have a college library near you, especially if they deal with pre-law or law they may be able to give you much more information than what is offered on the web. I have found in some of my own research some very conflicting answers on such subjects.

    Though this does not answer your question directly it will give you clearer answers on the dates and length of copyright laws. Hope this helps!


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