BY WENDY SELTZER
Protect your rights as creator and remixer.
Craft, meet copyright. You’ve seen the free to take any of these as building blocks for your
recording industry’s file-sharing lawsuits own creations. Further, even copying of expression
but think copyright has nothing to do with may be fair use for purposes such as criticism,
you, right? After all, you’re into knits, not bits. Well, commentary, or educational use. Crocheting a pop
sometimes you’re right, but sometimes the lumbering art “replica” of a purse or piece of jewelry fairly
giant of the law gets interested in crafts too, and the puts it in a new light rather than substituting for
law, or proposed changes to it, could imperil your it. First sale lets you reuse physical items, like
hobbies. bolts of fabric you’ve bought, even if they include
Needlepoint designers have been infiltrating copyrighted expression.
exchange groups to stop the uncompensated But these exceptions don’t always stop copyright
sharing of patterns; eBay sellers face takedowns claims, as Tom Forsythe found when he photographed
when they advertise their handiwork for sale; and Barbie wrapped in enchiladas and blended into
fashion designers are lobbying Congress to extend margaritas. Mattel sued Forsythe for copyright
copyright protection to fashion designs. What’s a infringement, arguing that the photos “reproduced”
crafter to do? the Barbie image. It took years of litigation for
Copyright and craft have an ambivalent relation- Forsythe to vindicate his free speech defense: the
ship. Copyright is designed to “promote the progress use was fair as commentary on the dolls’ objectifi-of science and useful arts” by giving authors (and cation of women, and not infringement: the pictures
artists) a limited-time monopoly on their works. On would hardly replace the purchase of another doll
the one hand, crafters are artists who may benefit for the Barbie mansion. In the end, Forsythe won
from copyright’s power to bar others from copying. a million-dollar judgment against Mattel.
Yet on the other, craft may build upon found objects Where do you stand if protracted litigation isn’t
or others’ designs; artisans have always learned your cup of tea?
their trade by copying their predecessors, picking Your artistic works are copyrighted upon creation,
up a pen, brush, or chisel first to imitate, then to as soon as they’re “fixed in a tangible medium of
reinvent. Too strict an application of copyright may expression.” If you do nothing further, the law forbids
stifle the very creativity it is meant to promote. others from copying that goes beyond fair use.
To temper that threat, copyright exceptions are Readers can’t take the pattern and detailed descrip-supposed to give leeway for creative reuse. While tions you’ve posted and copy them verbatim, but
copyright limits copying of expression, it doesn’t can they make and sell the craft described? That
cover methods, functions, ideas, or useful articles. depends on the copyright in the crafted object: a
The proportions in a recipe, steps for creating a richly patterned sweater’s surface design could
particular type of stitch, concept of a “caution tape” be copyright-protected, but its shape would not
scarf, and shape of a dress are all fair game. You’re be. Further, if you’ve published a pattern, readers