I was recently at a fiber show admiring a cute pile of baby sweaters at a booth. I was talking with the owner/knitter and she had so many gorgeous sweaters, in every color imaginable. Her work was lovely and knitters and non knitters were buying her sweaters, mostly as gifts. Mothers LOVE a hand knit sweater for their baby after all.
Then by our surprise, a woman walked by and said "That is my design. You can't sell those." Everyone at her booth disappeared, leaving the designer and knitter to settle this dispute.
This made we wonder about ownership, rights, and profit in the knitting world as well as the perception of it all. After delving into research and consulting the U.S. Copyright Office, I learned a lot about the process and wish that I could have gone back in time to that booth to save that poor knitter.
First let me say that I am NOT a lawyer nor do I work for the U.S. Copyright Office. I am a knitwear designer and my words and views in this article are of my own, based upon my experience and research with U.S. Copyright laws. Laws oversees vary from country to country.
Before we tackle the "selling knitted goods" issue, let's talk a minute about copyrights in general. How do you know if a pattern has been copyrighted? Copyright protection automatically goes into effect the moment an original work has been completed and fixed in a tangible form. After the pattern has been finished, it is essentially protected under copyright laws. So you should assume that all patterns floating around in print and on the internet are copyrighted. A pattern or any other type of work does not need to be registered, published or stamped with the (c) copyright notice in order for it to be protected. I do register my patterns with the U.S. Copyright Office, but it is not necessary. In the United States, a copyright lasts from the time the pattern or original work is completed until 70 years after the individual author's death or 95 years if the copyright is owned by a company.
Copyright laws offer protection to the author, artist, or to me as the designer. They prevent someone else from selling my patterns, or distributing them for free. Now we get back to "selling knitted goods." The copyright extends to the PATTERN. That is the tangible thing that I have created and have rights to. It covers the pattern, and all parts of the pattern like the photos, schematic etc. What it does NOT cover is the item that is made by using the pattern.
When you knit from a pattern, that thing that you create is, well, yours. You bought the pattern and the yarn, you knitted the item, it is yours. You may do what you wish with that item. You can wear it, give it as a gift or sell it. You can knit one sweater from a pattern or you can knit 100 sweaters from that same pattern. What you can't do, is claim the pattern or design as your own, sell the pattern to someone else or make copies of the pattern and give them away.
If someone gives you the pattern for free, that is normally sold to the public, it is a gift for you. It does not allow you the right to give it away to others for free as well. Copyright laws protect distribution of copyrighted materials in this regard. The same holds true if you receive a pattern as part of a kit. It is your pattern that you received for your use.
If you knit a sweater or accessory from one of my patterns, and you are fortunate enough to sell your finished item and make a profit, I encourage you to do so! It takes great skill and attention to details in finishing, to create a project that is "sales worthy." First let me say THANK YOU for purchasing one of my patterns to begin with. From the initial concept, to the finished PDF, there is a lot of work that goes into publishing a knitting pattern. In many cases the cost of the knitting pattern is less than 10% of the yarn needed to knit an adult size sweater, so the cost of a pattern is minimal. But it is everything to me, as the designer! So I am appreciative to everyone who has supported me and my designs by purchasing one of my patterns.
If you decide to give credit to Donna Estin Designs for the design on your finished, sellable projects, thank you. It is not necessary, but it's kind of you. But it's completely your decision. Sometimes the purchaser (mainly another knitter) is interested in who designed the garment. But if you're selling to the general public, they really couldn't care less who designed the thing that you made and sold to them, so don't bother.
I'm honored that you 've selected one of my designs to knit with the intent of selling the finished garment. I hope that I am able to help you create a niche business in this fabulous fiber world we all enjoy. Each of us play a roll in furthering the fine reputation of hand knits in the eye of the general public. Knitting is a skill that should be upheld and cherished. It is quite impressive! The more we are able to share the uniqueness and quality of a hand knit item to a broad base of the population, the more sought after hand knits will become. Which further increases demand for our time-treasured craft.
Happy knitting & happy selling!
U. S. Copyright Office 26SEP19 <https://www.copyright.gov/>
Krellenstein, Jason. "Ask a Lawyer, Knitting and Copyright." Vogue Knitting. Spring/Summer 2012. <http://www.vogueknitting.com/magazine/article_archive/ask_a_lawyer_knitting_and_copyright>
Hello! I'm Donna Estin, knitwear designer, certified master knitter and instructor. I enjoy designing artistic knitwear that is comfortable. I specialize in sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.