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
“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

Copyright Update

I loved reading all your comments about the issue of copyright in my blog post about Emily Cier v. Kate Spade–who does own that copyright?

A Passionate Quilter wrote:

For those of us who have been in the quilting world for more than a few years, the trend is very clear: fabric manufacturers have been marketing “designer” fabric. The emphasis is on ‘insert-designer’s-name-here’ latest line and quilts are being made, often exclusively, from that line. Fans, or devotees, can’t wait to get their hands on the latest designer’s line! Fabric manufacturer’s love and encourage this, However, does this not lead to the kind of legal questions now erupting? I think every quilter should be aware of these issues. Perhaps it is time for the quilt world to resist the lure of designer fabrics and start challenging themselves in the way they use fabric.

She makes a great point.  In a class I took once from Joen Woelfrom, she said she only bought 1/3 cuts of any one fabric as that forced her to use multiple fabrics across a quilt, visually enriching the surface.  Perhaps, as A Passionate Quilter noted, it’s time to return to this for so many reasons.

Yesterday Todd Hensley, CEO of C & T books posted on his blog the details of this copyright story.  It was interesting that things only got a bit heated when the legal profession got involved–not that I have anything against attorneys, I don’t–but I recognize that their job is to uphold the copyright law, and perhaps they push a bit harder on where the line is.

Dmdezigns wrote:

With regards to fabric, I see the designer’s point in this example, but again, it’s a slippery slope. If I have to be worried about how you’re going to react about how I’ve used your fabric, I won’t use it. . . . What does concern me is how we define publishing and whether or not that includes my blog.

I liked that she brought in the idea of blog publishing as a potential sore spot, although I try not to think about that when I’m writing.  Perhaps we quilters are just experiencing in our corner of the world the explosive change wrought by the advent of the internet.

So, to wrap it up with something quilty, here is my latest rose window block.  And yes, I noticed that I used Dena’s fabric exclusively in the fussy-cut sections of the center, but have reverted to my stash for the dark outer pieces.

(Excuse the business part of the pin wall.)

I would hope that there might be a Daddy Warbucks somewhere who could step in as a friend of the court, on the quilt industry side, and let a jury adjudicate this to its end.  I think of my Lollypop Trees quilt (a summer project) that uses Kaffe Fassett fabrics exclusively.  Or the blocks above.  Or my Christmas Star Quilt.  At this point, since I’m a not-for-profit quilter, I needn’t worry.  But if I were a published quilter, I’d for sure would think twice about using a complete line of fabrics from any one designer.