Tuesday, April 17, 2018

On Copyrights

As regular readers know, I am in the process of making a quilt whose working title is “Lattice Birds”. It’s a bird block that will alternate with a single Irish Chain to eventually become a queen-sized comforter. With my heightened interest in pieced birds, it’s no surprise that both my Pinterest and Instagram feeds are filled with bird quilt images. And I discovered an interesting controversy last week on Instagram regarding bird patterns.

Way back in January when I introduced my bird quilt project to my readers, primarily the ladies of the Rainbow Scrap Challenge group – our January monthly color was blue, the main color in my quilt – I cited the sources (with links) of my design. Here is a link to my post so I don’t have to repeat it all here.  But I will recap. I needed a 10” bird pattern to dovetail (pun intended because I love them so) with the Irish Chain blocks. I bought Margot Langedouc’s Feathers pattern (8” finished bird) AND found a source online for a 12” bird (I call it the blockhead bird, HERE). The diagram is free, although they charge for the pattern. The reason I’m bringing this all up again is that I do want to clarify:

1.    The bird quilt I’m making is for my own personal use. So whether I use someone’s pattern verbatim or merely as a jumping off point (called “derivative art”), it doesn’t matter.

 2. I recognize that the design elements I changed do not constitute a “new” pattern that I have any rights to. Again, the changes are derivative – based on the original birds. Yes, my birds have shorter tails, the wings are rounded (thanks for that great tip, Sally), the beaks are prairie points set into the seam rather than pieced in. And I like those changes more than either of the above patterns. But they are cosmetic, not substantive.

The fact that Margot was the first to publish a quilt pattern with directions featuring this bird gives her copyright protection. And that is why it was hard to believe that Linzee Kull McCray (@seamswrite on IG) published an identical bird pattern with the addition of piecing that formed small medallions between the birds. She claimed it as her own, and Moda was set to begin distribution. Linzee even acknowledged that her pattern came out months after Margot’s. But to most of us, it was obviously derivative (like mine), not a unique pattern. Well, IG’ers came to Margot’s defense and put pressure on Linzee. To Linzee’s credit, she did the right thing and pulled the pattern. Crisis averted this time.

Anyway, all of this is to say that if you have asked for pattern information on these birds (and several of you have),  I have referred you to the links in my second paragraph above. I don’t own the pattern and have never claimed to.

And while we are on the subject, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve also been doing a block I call “Linked Squares” that I found on Pinterest last fall. The link to the original picture source (a community board on the Missouri Star Quilting Company website) was broken. I tried for weeks, even months, to find a source for this pattern. In the meantime, I figured out the block for myself, in measurements I wanted, and have been making a few each month.

Late in March I was searching for something with the word “Celtic” in it and DID find the pattern, so I want to refer you to it. The pattern is called Celtic Family Ties, and can be found on the Quilting Company website here.  You’re welcome.

Most of us, at least most of my online quilting friends, don’t quilt or make patterns in order to formally publish and make a profit. Yet, when their patterns are shared, it’s usually with the understanding that they will be for personal use. We should all be respectful (and I am speaking as much to myself here as anyone else) to give attribution where we can. If we're creating for our own personal use, we avoid a lot of messy situations. 

Have a great week, and I’ll see you back here on Saturday.


  1. Thank you! It's a touchy subject which needs to be brought up frequently.

  2. The internet causes a lot of copyright issues in all methods of being creative from needlework to beadwork to art and so much more. I left some beading groups because their were ongoing arguments all the time. I love your little birds and the adaptations you have made to the pattern which made it so much more cute. Sadly some could make changes like that and claim the design as their own. It's hard to think they didn't know better.
    xx, Carol

  3. Thanks for this post, Cathy. Very important subject! I retired from owning a small publishing company, so intellectual property issues are near and dear to me.

  4. As a retired public librarian, I know the difficulties of explaining copyright all too well. Bonnie Hunter also recently did a post regarding copyright and her Addicted to Scraps column in Quiltmaker Magazine. Thanks for giving everyone a reminder.

  5. The issues surrounding copyright are certainly complex. I had someone ask me recently why I insist on taking my own pictures of the barns I'm creating when there are hundreds (thousands) readily available online. Their argument was 'who's to know'. Well, I would. I've been asked to share how I create my barns and some aspects I will, but the basic 'how to' is not mine to give. There is also the argument that if you change an original pattern in a couple of ways that it is now yours. Not so. But when it comes right down to it, is there really anything new under the sun? Could not every single pattern out there have it's origins in something someone else has already done? It's an argument that, I suspect, will be debated for all time to come.


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