Archive for the ‘copyright faq’ Category

Can I publish my own variations on an existing pattern?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

In other words, is it an infringement of copyright to republish an existing, copyrighted pattern, but with your own modifications?

Occasionally you hear about a \”ten percent rule\” or something similar–for example, if you change 10% of the pattern, or if you change five, seven, or ten things about the pattern, you\’ve done enough to make the design your own. Those rules are not reliable. In fact, there is no law that says that you will avoid copyright infringement by changing 10% or 30% or any other percentage of a work. This might be a \”guideline\” that is recited by other people as being common wisdom, but it is not the law and you can still infringe someone else\’s copyright even if you have changed as much as 50% or more (however you\’re measuring it) of a work.

Besides, what sort of \”things\” can you change? Colour? Yarn choice? Gauge? Do those changes necessitate any input on your part, besides some number crunching??Ǭ† Sometimes, you can\’t even find five things to change. Consider the sock or the tube top. Those designs can be quite simple, yet their patterns may be just as deserving of copyright protection as an Alice Starmore design.

An assessment of copyright infringement is not merely a question of quantity; it\’s a qualitative matter as well. There is no set definition of \’reworking;\’ there is no magic formula to calculate infringement. It\’s a subjective question: for you, for the potentially offended designer, for your lawyer, for a judge or a jury. In the end, the question of whether or not you\’ve infringed someone else\’s rights in a pattern or garment can only be answered by setting out the patterns and the finished garments side by side and deciding whether or not, overall, your version is substantially similar to the original, and whether the elements you did take were protected by copyright according to the law in the relevant jurisdiction.?Ǭ† The fact that you\’ve improved on the original does not mean that you\’ve made the pattern your \”own\”. The rewritten pattern, with your improvements or changes, is probably still a derivative work and not sufficiently original to you to avoid being an infringement.