A Little Chat About Copyright


Recently I came across this pattern being sold by a brick-and-mortar quilt shop. It’s my Cross-Terrain quilt pattern, a free pattern that was published on the Moda Bake Shop blog in October 2011.

I did not authorize the shop to sell this pattern, and the Moda Bake Shop didn’t authorize it either. In spite of this, the shop was selling a pattern that uses my photography of my quilt, my step-by-step instructional photos, and my text. The name and website of the quilt shop appears on the front and back of the pattern. My name is only mentioned in very small type on the last inside page. My blog, my blog address, and the Moda Bake Shop blog are not mentioned anywhere. The shop was selling this pattern for $4. I didn’t see a dime of this money, nor did Moda.

I’m sure you all know this already, but this kind of thing? IS NOT OKAY. Reproducing and selling someone else’s pattern is illegal, even if that pattern is available online for free. In this case, I think the shop was well aware that what they were doing was wrong, so I’m not going to waste my breath admonishing them for their illegal and unethical behavior.

But I will try to enlist all of you in the fight to stop this sort of thing.

It was a remarkable coincidence that I even discovered this problem. And if I happened to stumble upon my own pattern being sold illegally, it occurred to me that this kind of thing is probably happening everywhere. My printed patterns are in, ummm, limited distribution at this point. : ) So it’s very possible that there are more illegal copies of my patterns out there than there are legal ones—making more money for the unscrupulous folks selling them than I could ever hope to make myself. And if this is happening to me, I guarantee it’s happening to other designers as well. It’s hard enough for us designers to make a living at this without someone blatantly stealing from us. But we can’t be everywhere. So we need your help.

How can you help? Please just keep an eye out for obvious fakes like this pattern. If you come across a pattern that you recognize as being designed by myself or another blogger, please check it out and contact the designer if you think there’s anything fishy. Or at the very least, don’t buy it!

Here are some ways to recognize an unauthorized pattern:

1. The designer’s name, company, and/or website are nowhere to be found, or are not obvious. As I said, my blog/company name was not found on this pattern.

2. The cover design doesn’t match the cover of the designer’s other patterns—or there’s no design at all. Most designers have some sort of company logo or branding. If you don’t see that logo, chances are the money isn’t headed their way. An example of my current “official” pattern cover design is above. (And by the way, I would never, ever, EVER use the Comic Sans font, under any circumstances! Are you kidding me? That just added insult to injury!)

3. The printing is low-quality. This one’s trickier, because some designers do copy their own patterns or print them on a home printer and sell them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s the designer herself doing it. But personally, as a former graphic designer, I’m a sucker for good printing. : ) So my hard-copy patterns will always be printed in full color, on high-quality glossy paper. They will never be obvious photocopies or home print jobs.

4. Ask yourself if this is a store/location where the designer is likely to sell patterns. At the moment there is exactly one store in the entire United States that sells my hard-copy patterns, and it’s just ten minutes from my house. : ) So if you’re not buying it from Material Matters in Theinsville, Wisconsin, it’s not legit! (Although if you own a shop and are interested in carrying my patterns, I would love to hear from you!)

In the case of my Cross-Terrain pattern, the real victims here were the shop’s own customers, since they were paying $4 for what was essentially just a printout of a free internet tutorial. So please help us combat this problem. If you recognize my or any other designer’s quilts on a pattern that doesn’t look “official,” please contact the designer immediately and let them know when and where you saw it. I, for one, promise a free pattern of your choice to anyone who informs me of a legitimate case of theft like this one. Thank you all!

Edited to add: The Moda Bake Shop does encourage shops to make its patterns available free of charge to customers, in shops and as part of classes. I’m completely fine with that, as long as the pattern remains free and my name and blog address are prominently included.

As I said in reply to a comment below, the bottom line is, if a shop is making money from a pattern, the designer and/or publisher should be as well. Any other scenario is not okay. Thanks.

93 replies
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  1. rush
    rush says:

    why isn't someone suing the offending shop? if the chances of getting caught is low, aren't the chances of getting sued even slimmer? what are the chances of getting a settlement that is significant enough to benefit the harmed parties? i can't imagine the feds raiding a neighborhood quilt store!

  2. Anne
    Anne says:

    Thanks for sharing this experience in your post. This past year I published my first couple of patterns with plans to expand this year so this is a good thing for me to be aware of. I work very hard designing, sewing, writing, testing my patterns as I'm sure you do and it's very discouraging to think people just don't understand or appreciate all the work involved. Worse still when they think they can do what they want with something just because it's online. I think too many people actually expect everything to be free these days because of the internet. Makes it hard to make a little money for your work. I love your patterns and your style. Keep designing.

  3. shilsenbeck
    shilsenbeck says:

    Lee thanks for sharing this. We all need a reminder about COPYRIGHT and plagiarism. The latter is claiming to have created something, when in fact you stole someone else's creation. That is not the same thing as violating copyright. Copyright is the right to copy, and it needs to be actively protected. That means labeling your work with a copyright notice (i.e. (c) SG Hilsenbeck 2013). In all the discussion, I did not see any mention of presence of a copyright notices. There are rules about what constitutes a valid copyright notice, and without such a notice, it is my understanding that you have not retained your copyright. Inclusion of a copyright notice does not prevent you from making your work available. You can assign the right to copy to others, for example, by stating in your notice that the material can be freely copied for personal use, but must not be altered in any way, and must not copied for commercial purposes. I don't sell patterns or make designs for a living, but I do give copies of my designs to others, and the document I create always includes a copyright notice.

    • Lee Heinrich
      Lee Heinrich says:

      Even if you do not include the copyright notice, you still retain full copyright (and legal protection). Adding the copyright notice is actually more of a visual reminder of who retains the copyright and may help to strengthen a case in court against infringement. This document offers a great overview of copyright in the U.S.: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf

  4. rush
    rush says:

    i just thought of another question…who holds the copyright on this material? you or moda? what can moda do, since they are the big corporation?

    • Lee Heinrich
      Lee Heinrich says:

      This is a great question. I did not sign a contract transferring the rights to Moda, as I routinely do with magazine patterns. But at the same time, the infringement is clearly on the Moda Bake Shop blog, since that is the only place this tutorial has legitimately been published. So I think this is a gray area. I'm really not looking for Moda to take any action against the shop or anything of that sort – the shop promised me that they would take it off the shelves, so I'm taking them at their word, and that's that. I just wanted to make sure people were aware that this kind of thing is out there and to be on the lookout for it. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Jenniffier Kramer
    Jenniffier Kramer says:

    I am so sorry to hear that. I have taught classes using patterns by designers but I have always given credit where credit is due. Since I usually teach new quilters, I also always share all the free places to get patterns including moda bakeshop. If I am using a moda bake shop pattern I use the print function and make it very clear that that is where the pattern came from. I am so sad to hear that they would do something like that. I hope you said something and I know that I would say something to any one that did something like that.

  6. Lee Heinrich
    Lee Heinrich says:

    Wow Lee! That really is horrible. I am so sorry this happened to you. I hope that at the very least you can prevent them from continuing to do this and in the best case scenario have Moda advocate for you. I worry about this too and hope that I never stumble across a similar situation.

    Have you ever thought about registering your copyright? It might not be worth it for a free pattern, but maybe for the patterns you sell. From what I understand, if you do register with the government and have a similar situation occur, there are protections put in place to help you make a stronger case in court and possibly have your legal fees covered by the infringing party (if they are found to be at fault). It might be something to consider, especially as you grow as a business.

    • Lee Heinrich
      Lee Heinrich says:

      Thanks so much, Jenelle! I haven't done a lot of research into the issue of registering my copyright. But my understanding is that it really just gives you a stronger case if/when you sue someone—and I highly doubt I would ever bother suing anyone, at least not at this point. I'm sure the dollar amounts we're talking about here are so small that they'd be thrown out of small claims court, LOL. And up to this point, what I've made on ALL my pattern sales combined probably wouldn't even cover my legal fees if I were to sue someone. In this case, it's really more the principal of the thing that I'm concerned with, rather than the dollar amounts. But copyright registration is something I might revisit in the future if I think my business warrants it.

  7. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    a few years ago, when I first started making things again and before I discovered blogland and free patterns, I bought a pattern for a knitted bunny from ebay. A few months late I came across the patter for free on the Lion Brand Website. I emailed them, and the shop that had sold me the pattern. Know what she said? "I never said the same pattern wasn't available for free". I was stunned. I reported her to ebay.

  8. ChristaQuilts
    ChristaQuilts says:

    I am very glad you blogged about this so other people can be on the lookout. As to the shop in question – they did finally take down my "borrowed" graphics that they had "found" on the internet, LOL!!

    And yes, I'm interested in carrying paper copies of your printed patterns so I'll be in touch 🙂

  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    In response to the print out sheets that you find in local quilt shops from Moda. They are legit, and yes, you can download them from Moda for free as well as getting them from your local shops too. The difference in these sheets vs. the bake shop tutorials is that Moda is promoting them. I will guarantee that the sales rep for Moda has these patterns on their list to show off to the shops. I have seen these patterns at my local shops and at the Fat Quarter Shop, which Fat Quarter Shop sells these patterns for a $1.00 or .50 cents. I will go on to say that these printed patterns are not part of the bake shop. These printed patterns are promotional patterns from Moda to give the consumer ideas of what they can do with the new and upcoming fabric lines. If you notice Moda's fabric designers names are on these patterns and not someone like Lee or myself. Do I think its highway robbery that these shops are selling these printable patterns for $6.00 or more? Well, hell yeah I do!
    As for the bake shop patterns, it does not hurt to take the time to get to know the Chefs list and who is on it. It does not hurt to know what designs that have been produced and to keep in mind when you do go into a shop whether it is brick and mortar or a virtual one do make a stink about it and then let the designer know.

    Oh for the record this is posted at the very bottom of the Moda Bake Shop:

    © 2009 Moda Bake Shop
    The individual designers featured on this website ultimately hold the copyright for their projects and designs posted on the Moda Bake Shop. All patterns are to be used for personal, non-commercial use only, unless given explicit written permission from the design owner to sell finished products made from their pattern tutorials featured on the Moda Bake Shop.

    Guess that shop didn't see that!

  10. becky
    becky says:

    I am very glad you and a couple others have posted this alot of us appreciate all the hard work,tutorials and encouragement you provide and do not like a bad apple to ruin it for all of us Thank-you for all you do Becky D

  11. Regina
    Regina says:

    Wow, this is very interesting. I live in Wisconsin and have purchased a printed pattern that I later found out was offered for free online. The next time I was in the shop I mentioned that I had found the pattern for free online and a staff person told me the price, $4, was to cover the cost of ink, paper, and their time.

    I was completely ok with that answer but now I see I should have been up in arms.

  12. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    I am so sorry to hear about this. It is such a great pattern. I have a simply color jelly roll and yardage to make this. Just need to find the time 🙂

  13. Kelli
    Kelli says:

    First off–anyone who would pay $4 for a cheaply printed pattern in a Comic Sans font obviously does not know about the online quilting community. It is a shame that the quilt shop in question thought they could pawn bad workmanship like what they did to your pattern off on unsuspecting customers. With all of the free tutorials like MBS and all of the beautiful quilting magazines, and all of the great patterns for sale on sites like craftsy, threadbias, etc–it's a wonder that anyone would spend $4 on what this shop was trying to pass off.

    Bet they felt dumb when the actual pattern designer called them on the carpet about it…I hope you told them you were most offended at the attempt to ruin your pattern with cheap printing and comic sans font use more than anything…

  14. Denise in PA
    Denise in PA says:

    Wow, that really stinks!! I did a double take when I saw this post. I just last week downloaded your Cross Terrain pattern from Moda Bake Shop (after doing a Google search for quilts using the Terrain line) and am making it as a wedding gift – in fact I am starting the quilt tomorrow! You better believe I will be linking to your site and the Moda Bake shop!!

  15. Terri Faust
    Terri Faust says:

    So sorry that this happened to you! $4 isn't going to make or break a quilt shop, and I would think they would grab more attention to their kits if they advertised free pattern included.

    I have a blog, and I love to give credit to the pattern designers and link to their own sites. I also think that if you are going to buy a pattern online, why not buy it directly from the designer so they can be the one to profit?

    Also through my blog I have had a couple people email me and ask if I would send them a copy of a pattern I used. I directed them to purchase the pattern themselves but still can't get over the nerve of some people.

    As individuals we need to make a real effort to give credit where it is due, and do not make photocopies and hand out to our friends, quilt students, or anyone else who asks.

  16. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I'm sorry to hear that someone's copying your patterns. Please don't forget that Patched Works does carry your patterns, so there is more than one shop in the country that has hard copies for sale. I would hate to have people think we're scaring you too.

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