Quilt Copyright Myths


Copyright is getting a lot more attention among Quilters these days. Shows often require a copyright statement on a quilt. Quilting Contessa discusses the key myths.

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Quilt Copyright Myths

Copyright is getting a lot more attention among Quilters these days. Larger shows now often require a copyright statement on a quilt. Many myths and misconceptions exist.

Quilt Copyright Myths


As a professional librarian, I’d like to highlight some of those myths and misconceptions. Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. Some of the concepts noted below are simplified and do not contains all specifics on the subject. If in doubt, don’t do it!

C And T Copyright Example


1. Myth: if you don’t make money from it, it isn’t a violation.

Making a profit from someone else’s ideas is definitely a no-no. Most folks know that, but some think that it’s OK to use someone else’s ideas if you don’t accept money. Not true! There’s a concept called “public performance”. If you make a quilt that was somebody else’s idea and display it without giving credit, that’s a public performance and it’s a copyright violation.


2. Myth: if you change the format, it isn’t a violation.

There are parts of the copyright law that discuss changing the format of a work, but you don’t need to worry about that. You will be better protected against copyright violations if you don’t think about this. If you see a photograph, or painting, or other visual art that you would like to make into a quilt, just ask the creator for permission. You’d be surprised how often they are thrilled to give permission. With today’s communication methods, you can text, email, message, or whatever on the Internet and receive written permission.


3. Myth: if you found it on the Internet, it isn’t a violation.

Wrong! Many pictures, clip art, patterns, etc. that appear on the Internet are copyrighted. You must look at the statement on the Web site. Or course, many are not, but that is also usually noted quite clearly on the site.


4. Myth: if you pay for the pattern or book, you can use it in any way you wish.

Most books have clear copyright statements on the verso (back of the title page). Publishers of quilting books have become quite savvy, including precise statements about what you may and may not do. There are detailed statements that include display by non-profit groups and how to label the quilt. Look at some of your pattern books. Do they include a comprehensive statement on copyright?


5. Truth: Never mess with Disney.

This one is true! Disney has the most widespread program of copyright enforcement known to quilters. Best advice – just don’t! If you want to make a Sleeping Beauty quilt, its best not to use the Disney version of the character. Even if the fabric has been licensed for personal or private use, that doesn’t mean that you get to sell the quilt or use the quilt for public performance. Personal and private mean just that – only you may use it!


6. Truth: there are patterns in the public domain.

Patterns known to quilters from time immemorial, such as Log Cabin, etc. can’t be copyright without significant changes as to make it a new work altogether. Also, if the copyright has expired, the work moves to the public domain. You hear folks say, “life of the author plus 70 years”, but that’s not the whole story. Time periods are different for anonymous works and in other countries.


7. Truth: government sources can’t be copyrighted.

In the United States, works published by government can’t be copyright in most circumstances. (Always check for a copyright statement.) The idea is that you as a citizen of the US have already paid for the work and therefore shouldn’t have to pay again.



Copyright is a huge and confusing topic, but there are many good resources available to help you. If you need extra help, and can’t find an easy to understand answer on the Internet, you can always ask at your local public library!

Copyright photo is an example from C&T Publishing (used by permission on 3/26/2019).


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Information some people attach to a quilt that may contain the your name, name of the quilt, town, year and pattern used.
Log Cabin
A quilt pattern in which narrow fabric strips, or logs, surround a center square to form a block. These may be pieced from strips or sewn onto a foundation of paper or fabric.
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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