More Copyright: It’s My Quilt and I’ll Name It What I Want To


Okay here’s a tricky one for you copyright fiends, experts and fanatics:

1–Famous Quilter (who you have revered in the past) gives you permission to teach a class using a block of her own design, last published in a book in 1983, thiry-one years ago. (It’s my understanding that current copyrights remain in existence for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years, up from 25 years in times past.)

2–Famous Quilter then requests you name your full quilt after her block name, even though you have a tradition of naming your quilts after rhymes, famous and pithy quotes, and verses.  You demure, saying you use Famous Fabric Designer’s Fabrics and they don’t insist the quilt be named after THEIR fabrics, but that you would be more than happy to include the name of Famous Quilter’s block on your label.

3–Famous Quilter writes back and insists, saying if I won’t name the whole quilt after her block name then I can’t use the name anywhere, nor can I teach a class from it, and implies that I can’t even write about it on my blog. I can, however, call the quilt what I want to within the walls of my own home.

Okay, Copyright Enthusiasts–GO!

Is Famous Quilter within her rights to deny me naming rights to my own quilt?  Notice the only time I would be making any money would be if I were to teach a class.  (Which I won’t be now, even though I wrote up the directions for this block, right after Famous Quilter gave me permission, before rescinding said permission.)  Writing up the directions, buying and choosing the fabric for it, cutting it out, sewing it, quilting it, binding it would all be on my expense (not to mention the purchase of her out-of-print book).

Is Famous Quilter within her rights to deny my ability to write about it on my blog? In my defense, I thought I would be giving a boost to a design of hers that at this point is not very much in circulation. (I know.  I did a Google search on it.  It’s practically invisible, except on Famous Maker’s website, buried one level deep.)

Pedestal Lyon FranceHas Famous Quilter fallen off her Famous Quilter’s Pedestal?

The block is fabulous, but I won’t divulge the Famous Quilter’s name, nor the name of the block, nor tell you anything about the provenance.  Here’s a picture of the quilt as I first saw in another Equally Famous Quilter’s book, published in 1990, some 24 years ago:

No Name Block Quilt

This is NOT the correct name of the block, nor the correct name of the Famous Quilter.  Forgive me, but now I have a dilemma.  What do I do with:

NoNameBlockSketchPrototypeMy carefully drafted sketch?  And the sample block?  And the several days I took to do all this?  And what do I do with:

No Name Block Pieces

All the cut pieces for the making of a quilt which, according to her, I can only call it by it’s True Name in the confines of my own home?

I followed some Interesting Copyright Links and in red, in the middle of a post (Tabberone’s post on Quilting and Blogging and Making of Quilts) is this:

There is no such thing in US Copyright Law that gives a copyright owner the authority to impose restrictions upon the use of copyrighted material once it has been sold or given away by the copyright owner.

They also linked to an Article on the “Hot topic among quilters: Copyright” about a quilter from Iowa who was suing another quilter for “stealing” one of her designs.

I'll Call It What I Want To quilt_frontI went ahead and finished the quilt. (#133)

I recognize that quilters who are in the business need to earn their money, and I try to oblige, purchasing patterns that are unique and interesting.  (I do draw the line at purchasing patterns that are basically squares, as I’m not a beginner, I have quilt software and I can figure those out.)

I'll Call It What I Want To quilt_front detail

I truly believe Famous Quilter believes she is well within her legal rights to insist on my naming my quilt the name of her block, even though when I looked through her book, she had not followed the same naming protocols (which I pointed out to her most respectfully).

Some questions: Do copyright squabbles make us more strident in our need to claim our turf?  Or is this typical of a small business, working hard to protect their product (regardless if  I consider it moving past a reasonable boundary)? If you are a quilt designer, would you expect (insist) on the maker naming the quilt after your block?  Final Thoughts: if you comment (and I hope you will, especially if you are a quilter in business) please resist dumping personally on the Famous Quilter, but you are welcome to give me your opinion of this mess I find myself in.

I'll Call it What I Want To quilt_back

I'll Call It What I Want To quilt_label


Here are some more links for reference, if you ever find yourself corresponding with a Famous Quilter:
What I Think Is the BEST Commentary on the Issues of Copyright Facing Quilters (by Leah Day)
The more I read, the more I think Leah Day (and Austin Kleon) have it right: Attribution in our day and age is the grease that keeps the creative wheels turning.

Brave Little Chicken’s Excellent Series of blogposts on Copyright Law and Quilters
SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates)
Circular from Copyright Office
“Chapter One” from the Copyright Office–see sections 106, 106A and 107
Website of the Copyright Office–which makes me believe that some have said that we should have no copyrights on quilted articles, but use the Fashion Industry’s model
Raisin Toast’s Blog Post (reprint from Tabberone.com)
“Useful Articles” from the Copyright Office–Quilts are considered “useful articles”
AQS page on copyright questions for exhibited works
Copyright Quiz for Quilters
Tabberone’s Theft of Images or Text webpage

And finally, an interesting rebuttal of the claims I hear about all the time, again from Tabberone’s website

30 thoughts on “More Copyright: It’s My Quilt and I’ll Name It What I Want To

  1. I have little to add to the discussion except I am laughing heartily out loud at the ‘prima donna’ title in your label! That is PRICELESS!
    Cute quilt whatever you damn well call it!

  2. I’m thinking there is some lovely old settler, long in the grave, laughing at this squabble since she made that quilt block back in 1835 – is anything really new?!
    Anyhoo, I’d call the quilt “Prima Donna”, for obvious reasons, and move on – life is too short. As to the legality of it all, this whole debate wears me out – have read countless net articles and think it’s all a bit much. Like a good bumper car, when I hit a wall like this, I just go in a different direction 🙂

  3. LOVE your name for the quilt!
    I, too, think Leah Day has it right …and I’m going to look at some of your other (very interesting appearing) sources.

  4. Thanks for all the links. It’s easy to have opinions here, but I don’t know much about the law. HOWEVER my opinion: a designer may design and copyright a BLOCK, which does NOT mean she has a copyright on the quilt design. Even if the whole quilt consists of only those blocks, the quilt-maker has “designed” the quilt in the regard of choosing layout grid and fabrics. The block designer does NOT own a copyright on the quilt in this case. Just my humble and oh-so uninformed opinion. Frankly, I think you’ve been screwed…

    I’ll spend some time wading through all the material you linked. Thanks very much.

    1. — I would respond somewhat differently privately, and also since reading some of the material you linked. If you wish to visit about it you’re welcome to email me. Thanks again.

  5. It’s your quilt, your take on her block but with you time and energy sewn into it… as such you get naming rights. No question. Regardless of the law. That quilt is your baby.

  6. IMHO, she created a block (and thoroughly researched the records to see that it had never previously been made; i.e., Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia, Jinny Beyers same, etc.). She has a right to name the block AS SHE DESIGNED IT. I.e., value requirements for pieces, etc. She gave you a formal copyright permission to teach a class based on the block. If you developed your own teaching materials rather than using her book, she does not have copyright ownership over those materials. You do, but you must acknowledge her copyright to the block within said materials. If you make a quilt with the block, you have a right to call it what you want, provided that you give credit where credit is due, in any subtext related to the quilt, such as on the label or a wall tag in an exhibit, etc. E.g., “Prima Donna, by Your Name. Made using the ‘My Song’ (cr) block, designed by NAKSDn ASDsndk, in an original setting.”

    Taking it a step further. Perhaps she has designed the block and provided instructions on how to make it. You develop a new way of constructing the block, and write up those instructions to use in your class. You own the copyright to your instructions, not her, even though they are for her block.

    Naming the quilt has nothing to do with copyright, in my opinion. It’s your quilt, your name, as long as you properly acknowledge that you used a copyrighted block somewhere (not necessarily in the name). Think about a book that uses copyrighted poetry or lyrics or whatever, all neatly acknowledged on a page as part of or near the copyright page.

    Besides, what the heck are you going to call a quilt made up of 25 blocks copyrighted by 25 different designers.

    I’m not an attorney, and I haven’t studied this issue recently, so all of this is just my opinion. Yes, give credit where credit is due as an ethical issue as well as a copyright issue. But again IMHO, this designer is cutting off her nose to spite her face!

  7. The only link I took time to read was the rebuttal link. Someday I may read the rest. I recently listened to an MQG webinar on copyright (don’t remember presenter’s name). She gave her interpretation, which was more permissive than anything I had heard before. She also said that most quilt related questions were in gray areas, and though she might consider something permissible, it was open to other interpretations and lawsuit potential. In the Q and A her bottom line seemed to be, How much are you willing to invest in defending your use?

  8. So am I right in thinking the block is the same as the one that was published again in 1990? If at all possible I would ask the send designer if she encountered any difficulty when publishing this. I think we are running out of original blocks now and two people can design the same block at different times in different places completely independently, but you have admitted to the inspiration from Famous Quilter which makes things tricky.

    I write quilt patterns and personally I don’t care what people decide to call their quilts, I do appreciate it when they say that it’s from a pattern by me, and maybe reference the magazine they saw it in. Especially for personal use, I really don’t care, but I do like a little blog plug if the maker has a blog of course!

    If someone was re-selling my pattern as their own though I’d be angry that they were profiting from my design. In the class situation you discuss, if I had named the block I would want that to be retained, but usually I name the quilt instead of the block, so I would want that to be retained in the event of that. As a block designer, I think the name of the quilt depends on the colours, the layout of the blocks, etc so I wouldn’t insist upon that, but as I say, I normally design a whole quilt. I’d probably feel a bit detached after all that time though (I’ve not been alive as long as that pattern has been around!)

  9. All I can think of is that its like having a baby using the Lamaze method and then being told you have to name your baby Lamaze!
    Anywhoo, pretty much what I think has already been said, Famous Quilter has absolutely no right to tell you what to name your quilt. This is definitely a new one for me.
    Makes me wonder if Famous Quilter isn’t as famous as she used to be and is holding on teeth and nails, or why the such strong insistence. Also makes me wonder if she is ‘online’ and witness to the fluidity of design and inspiration in the blogging/pinning community. (because you must know we are all dying to know who she is!)
    For the most part it seems that you did all (and maybe more) that was required to teach the block and She is asking for something that goes beyond.

  10. I try to stay up on the copyright laws and had read several of the articles you reference. Thanks for the additional ones. Agree totally with comments made and am still chuckling.

  11. lol, I really must know what Famous Quilter’s real name is 😉 Great post. Love your sense of humor over the whole thing and the resources you provided. Thanks for some interesting reading.

  12. I agree with Brenda. I also think Famous Quilter is trying to hold onto something she should of let go of long ago. Like a 50 year old wearing a mini. There was a time and a place and it’s not now.

  13. So having been on the “famous” quilters side for a while I have a shall we say “unique” perspective here. Recently I have been forced to deal with this issue at a very personal level. I was not going to pursue anything,because I know enough to be dangerous about copyright, but my husband knew that I was upset. He happens to have a client that is a copyright/patent attorney and we went to see her.
    Copyright is so interesting- it does protect the actual words of the said patten but not the design itself. The design must be patented. This must be done before publication of the design for overseas protection and within a year of the publication within the U.S. Of course copyright infringement can occur but it really has a different standard that most believe. As for derivative work made from the said copyrighted material. The “change it 20%” is really just a industry curtesy, not actually a legal standard.
    Copyright is really just a first step for which a person can sue. There are actually many. You can sue for trademark infringement, trade dress, patent infringement, and the list goes on. All of that is best left to the lawyers.

    One of the things that bothered me most about my case was that she was using my “name” all over the place, riding my coat tails. But alas, because she had actually bought my pattern, she has every right to use my name in the “correct” manner, when referring to my pattern, under the law. You can not slander! it is never protected!

    But here is the most interesting thing that I learned from my chats with the lawyer- a pattern piece, even one within a copyrighted document is a “usable” item and therefore NOT copyrightable! Unfortunately for both sides of this issue this debate will continue for quite some time. Until the law starts to recognize quilts- no matter what they look like, art or functional- as more than a “usable” item a quilt pattern in all reality is just not eligible for much protection under the law.

    Now for the IMO addition. On your particular case, I think it is unreasonable for her to have this position. Even my case was different because she was claiming it was her own design, she had bought my pattern and started the “its not a copyright infringement” argument even before I knew hers existed. Evidenced by the three pages of argument within her “pattern”. You sought to receive her permission to teach a class, which by the way is also completely unnecessary under the law, because even if you copied her actual pattern pieces- a usable item, not protected- unless you copied the directions of the book and handed them out you are within your rights. You can even freely use her name because you own the book! Given that you do not slander her!
    You are also totally within the rights to call your pattern/quilt anything that you want! Even in public! A name is a ‘trademark” type of item and even if it is a recognizable trademark- such as Nike or Target, it must be “recognized” by many and you have to have been using it for 5 years!
    I am personally in for kindness in this matter! You didn’t need to ask permission, she shouldn’t have revoked it and become hard nosed about it. As evidenced this just creates “hard feelings” among so many on both sides of the camp.
    I think it is best suited to use the published copyright intent. Give credit to who you have found as the original designer of the work, even though it may not be that person, it is for you. Elizabeth’s block was probably designed many years before! Try really hard to be humble in your dealings, people have a personal investment in their “artwork”. And most of all, if you find yourself in a matter like this, try very hard not to take it personally, and not take it out into the open. ( this is not a jab at you, as much as a personal reminder to try to keep my mouth shut on my matter!) An argument can be made for injustice on both sides because it really feels personal to both sides. The one thing I have really learned though all of this is that the “bystanders” always take one side or the other, and their comments can become so very personal and at times wholly spiteful. That does hurt, and robs you of your creativity.
    Because of my name on this post account, I am sure that some will go look up the controversy. It really isn’t that hard to find. But please remember, even IF the intent was to hurt the original designer, and I am absolutely this is not the case on Elizabeth’s part, words on the internet hurt others, and just perpetuate the “hard feelings” that occur in matters like these. This issue will continue because the law is an ever changing thing. There have been some efforts to address these specific issues, according to the lawyer, but at the present time none have been successful. So we are left to this mass of true and mis information, with no real resolution.

    1. sewdemented, I’m just coming back to quilting after a while away, but I hope was I was saying is not in conflict with what you know about the law. I think what it comes down to mainly is courtesy, rather than rights, in many of these kinds of instances. I don’t know who you are or how to find out. but it sounds like you were shafted. I have no idea who Famous Quilter is, and I don’t really care.

      What I was trying to say, is if there is a reason to, give credit. What does it ever hurt? It may make your quilt mean more to someone who receives it; they may value it more if they know it has a history of sorts, even if no one else ever sees it. A hundred years from now when some researcher is studying the quilts of the early 21st century, they’ll appreciate the information. If you are going to display a quilt, or a block. in public (and the internet is certainly public) share your inspiration. If it’s a pattern, put “made from the Santa’s Bag of Goodies pattern by “Unfamous Quilter trying to get a start or whomever”. If you didn’t make the pattern as designed but used elements from a quilt you saw in a magazine that you could easily draft, but which is unique and creative, say “based on a design by . . .” If you use key elements/technigues/design structures you used in a class from “such and so” that became a key part of your approach, why not put “influenced by the work of Famous Quilter.”

      I think the more credit you give away, the more you will be recognized yourself. Not always, there are bad apples. But most of the time, people new to something follow the example of those with more experience or those they admire. So be a good example.

  14. At the risk of sounding less than mature and decidedly unacademic, Famous Designer can suck it.

    It is ridiculous to claim credit for everything and insist that people name their quilts as dictated by the above-mentioned narcissistically inclined designer. You were acting well and graciously within reason, still giving the due credit to said designer, but you did the work and you have earned the right to name your creation. If she suggested a way to achieve pregnancy, pioneering a new process to do it and creating miracles along the way, she certainly couldn’t insist that every baby born of said-method should be named after her. Plus, it’s not entirely her pattern – these block patterns have existed for decades or longer and it really bothers me when people claim copyright on general or folk knowledge, ideas from the collective common. I seem more and more things that make me lean toward copy-leftism every day!

    Stick to your guns.

    Also, what happened to sewdemented was really unfortunate because her pattern was so great – it was original and involved a lot of work to put together. I’ve made her bag several times and it’s amazing but that was a totally different case and blatant theft! This incident of yours is not at all.

      1. Yeah, but there’s letter of the law and then there’s spirit of the law… And of course, some people can’t get a grip on what’s the decent thing to do or way to behave.

        That bag is so awesome, by the way! It holds EVERYTHING. Love it!

  15. Sadly I would just move on. You have made the quilt, sort of enjoyed the process and now you know what type of person the block designer is. I think it would be a service to the quilting community to know who this person is so we can avoid her work at all cost.

  16. My husband is a a patent attorney and he isn’t allowed to give advice to non-clients, but I did help him study for his copyright class when he was in law school and as far as I remember she is out of line. Copyright law is difficult to enforce in the first place and this seems like a big stretch. I don’t think you could teach a class about the block and call the block a different name, but when you put the blocks together to make a quilt of your own design (as long as you aren’t duplicating a quilt from a pattern which already has a name) you have created something new and can call it what you want.

  17. Good for you, keeping Famous Quilter’s name to yourself, and keeping the focus on the situation.
    Poor Famous Quilter. It seems she is out of touch with the modern quilting community, and she has missed out on a chance to see her block, and possibly her book, enjoy some free updating and advertising. And now she’s ruined this block and her reputation in your eyes, instead.
    And she’s tainted the pattern-using process for all of us, who consider the projects we make our own. Yes, we’re happy to give attribution for a pattern, and even to name fabrics chosen in its use. But I’m leery of using a pattern if I think the pattern writer could reach out of the pages and control what is now my creation.

  18. Oh my! I, too, thought of the long gone frontier woman who developed blocks before copyright on quilting was even a thought in anyone’s mind. And how many people over the years have used or created the same block.Then I thought of one of the first college classes I took 35+ years ago. We had to do research. The prof. stressed how important it was that we give credit to any ideas included from our research sources. I wrote the paper in my own words, but I had so many footnotes telling where I had found that informational idea that I got a D. I did not realize it was quotes that were to be footnoted! We are exposed to visual ideas. How many of us sketch blocks, see something in our environs and then come up with a quilt and maybe utilizing something we saw in a book, etc. Quilters should be able to title quilts as we wish. There have been times I have added: Inspired by so and so’s pattern, blah, blah. Maybe more so that the viewer may be led to that designer’s work.

  19. Try to do the “right thing” and here you are in a mess. I LOVE your label. LOVE LOVE LOVE the name of the quilt. I have a hard time with forgiveness, and I would probably burn FAMOUS QUILTERS book. I made a banner last week and someone asked if they could “share” the photo. Fine with me….ultimate compliment I think. 🙂
    I love your work. And I agree with Vicki…really; all these blocks have been “done” for a century! Even the one in my icon…it was a unique block my friend Kristin taught to me; but certainly not something that had not already been somewhere else.

  20. such a complicated question. I’ve had issues with copyright too, but not nearly as complicated. Naming rights? what? strange….

  21. Wow…I can’t believe this…but it was fascinating to read all of the comments your post generated. Have you seen the Schnibbles quilt Hook? It is pieced with a similar (looking at least) block.

    Thanks for sharing all of this.

  22. Thank you for your post, it is interesting to read about people’s experiences – especially when there is so little actual “case-law” on copyright. And I respect your decision to keeping the Famous Quilter’s name to yourself – very classy. A similar thing happened to me about a year ago, and left a very bad taste in my mouth. It’s so disappointing to find that someone we’ve admired is, in reality, petty, grasping, and self-absorbed to the point of not even caring how they much they hurt their own image by their actions. How much more elegant is it to be gracious and generous? In the end, I stood my ground, and that person realised she had no grounds to keep trying to bully me into submission. Very unpleasant.

    Sewdemented has outlined the main issues about copyright / design law with clarity – I’ve studied this in some depth. Although some things might be viewed from a different perspective: perhaps rather than “riding my coat-tails” by using her name, the other person was genuinely trying to attribute credit? I guess each situation turns on its own facts. The other commenter is also correct: you don’t need to ask permission to run a class.

    The only thing I’d add is that “there is no property in a title” – so if someone calls a block or quilt by a particular name, then there is nothing to stop anyone else using that name, too. (Think of all the books and songs that have the same name!)

    Quilting should be about community, and sharing, and camaraderie – let’s hope that this spirit manages to win through, despite over-inflated egos.

    Good luck!

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