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I put this page together because I saw a very big need for crocheters to understand more about their obligations with copyrighted patterns and what the copyright laws are. Although these laws are public knowledge, many have shown by blatant copyright abuses on the Internet that they don't understand what is copyright abuse and what isn't. I'm trying to help crocheters learn more about this before they find themselves in trouble.

A popular term online for distributing patterns is "sharing".

On email lists and bulletin boards, I've seen crafters write about patterns still under copyright protection (even newly published) "Do you share?" I'm sure they didn't realize that what they're really saying is "Will you break the law by giving me an illegal copy of the copyrighted pattern you have? Will you place yourself in jeopardy by giving me that copy?" (There are also people who do know, who choose to ignore copyright laws.)
 
 

Can you "share" copies of patterns (this includes scanning, photocopies, emailing, posting to Bulletin Boards, any manner whatsoever)? The answer is NO if the pattern is still under copyright protection. The designer has the exclusive right to say how his/her patterns are distributed. You should never distribute any pattern that's still under copyright protection in any way without the designer/publisher's written permission (crediting the designer doesn't make it all right for you to distribute those patterns without permission - you have to have the designers or publishers written permission. Seek written permission each time for each pattern per individual designer or publisher. The designer or publisher may also choose not to give that permission and that is their right.)

(I didn't make this up ... it's the law; it's public knowledge. See links below to US Government Copyright Web Site.)

The answer is YES if the pattern is no longer under copyright protection or if it is your own original pattern (by law, only the designer has the right to decide how his/her patterns are distributed.)

How can you tell if a pattern is under copyright protection or not? These guidelines will help:

Works created 1978 or later -

After 1978 - A work is copyright protected from the moment it is created, whether a copyright notice appears on it or not. Most people place copyright notices on their works, as there are advantages to doing so. But don't assume that a work is in the public domain if there is no notice on it. Research carefully.

After 1978 - A work is in the public domain only if the creator places a notice on it that he/she is placing it in the public domain. If this notice isn't there, then assume that the work is under copyright protection.

On works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for author's/designer's lifetime plus an additional 70 years after author's/designer's death.

Expired Copyright -

Statutory copyright period has expired on works first published in the United States before the year 1923, placing these in the public domain, so it's ok to make copies of those works.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (P.L. 105 - 298) enacted October 27, 1998, extended the term of copyrights for an additional 20 years (works that were already in the public domain, when this Act went into effect, remain in the public domain).

Works published before 1978 that did not contain a valid copyright notice may be considered to be in the public domain. (Works published after 1978 do not need to have a copyright notice to be under copyright protection.)

Works published before 1964 in which the copyright owner failed to renew his/her copyright. (How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work: see US Gov. Site at http://www.loc.gov/copyright/circs/circ22.html; some research can be done online; otherwise in Washington, D.C. or pay them to do the research.) A renewal registration could have been made during the 28th year of the first term of the copyright for works published, with copyright notice, before 1964.

On works copyrighted between Jan. 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 the copyright term was automatically extended to 95 years by the Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 (renewal registration not needed).

Before 1978, the copyright term = 28 years.

The above are the basic guidelines for determining the duration of copyright protection, however, some time periods may require further research on your part to determine if a work is still under copyright protection or not. You can find most of this information online at the US Government Copyright Office web site. Under "Publications" heading: ( http://www.loc.gov/copyright) Circular 15 ( Renewal of Copyrights), Circular 15a (Duration of Copyrights) and Circular 15t (Extension of Copyright Terms) will be helpful.

Works created after 1978:
It's important to remember that all works created or published after 1978 are definitely under copyright protection at this time, whether they are registered with the Copyright Office or not and whether they have a copyright notice on the work or not. Keep in mind that this includes designs, patterns and other works that are placed on the Internet. (Research the separate guidelines for copyright protection length of works created before 1978.)

(The exception to being copyright protected are those rare cases where the author/designer has declared on the work that he/she has placed it in the public domain.)

When someone asks you to "share" a copy of a copyright-protected pattern

It's up to you to make your own commitment to honoring copyright laws. I know it's sometimes not easy to say "no" to someone if they ask you for a copy of a pattern you have and you know that pattern is still under copyright protection. Sometimes just telling them the year that it was copyrighted is enough for them to realize it's a pattern you can't give them a copy of. You could, instead, tell them who the publisher is, give them the publisher's address and (if you know this) where they might be able to purchase an original copy for themselves. If on the Web, give them the URL to go to for themselves.

But it's out-of-print ... If out of print, there are still Bookstore sources for locating such books; see http://crochet.about.com/msub2.htm for links to Hard-to-Find Needlework Books (free search service), Powell's Books (used, out-of-print) and Wayne Pierce Wonderful Books-By-Mail (used, out-of-print). Auctions such as Ebay are another possibility for places to purchase out-of-print books. The fact that it is out-of-print does not make it legal to distribute photocopies or any of the other manners of giving away illegal copies. Copyright protection still goes by date of copyright. In print or out-of-print has no bearing on copyright protection - go by the copyright date.
If they don't know enough about copyright laws yet themselves and they don't fully realize that they're asking you to commit an illegal act by sharing a copy of that pattern, so they are persistant, feel free to point them to this page, telling them that this page will explain why you can't give them a copy of that particular pattern. URL of this page is http://crochet.about.com/library/blcopyrightguide.htm

Consequences

Think about it. Anyone who says on a public bulletin board that they're sending a photocopy of a copyrighted pattern, asks someone else to do that or commits any other copyright abuse on the Internet is doing it right out in the open for everyone to see, including the designer or publisher of that pattern. The fact is, that if a publisher catches you "sharing" copies of their patterns still under copyright protection, they can charge you with that and take you to court. The amount of the fine that the judge orders you to pay may be less if you didn't charge any money for the copy you distributed but it would be a fine, nonetheless. Maybe you think you'll never get caught. Think again. There are plenty of staff of publishing companies online and more all the time. Besides the moral issues involved with taking profit away from the publishers and designers by illegally distributing their patterns, you have to decide for yourself how big your piggy bank is and whether you want to take a chance on being one of those people paying a fine for illegally "sharing" copyrighted patterns.


http://whatiscopyright.org see section: "Copyrights and the Internet"
Law about copyright: an overview
Digital Theft Deterrance and Copyright Damages Improvement Act
Copyright: No Electronic Theft (NET) Act
The Copyright Website
Sharing Charts With Friends
Copyright Myths Explained
U.S. Government Copyright Office
International Copyright Information


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Disclaimer: This is not intended to be legal advice. If you feel that you need legal advice, contact a good copyright lawyer. The above are the basic guidelines for determining the duration of copyright protection, however, some time periods may require further research on your part to determine if a work is still under copyright protection or not.
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