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Much information and misinformation has been written about copyright law.   
This article is intended to promote understanding of the basic copyright laws and principles within Australia as they pertain to the needleworker, and is not a substitute for the actual laws.  Copyright law is complex, and varies from country to country so it is always best to check the laws applying to the country of origin. 

In general terms, anyone who creates an original needlework item or pattern owns the copyright to it.  The copyright relates to the wording of the instructions and any diagrams or photographs of the work and of course to the work itself.  Within Australia, the word copyright does not need to accompany the pattern or work.  There is no registration process for copyrights here - copyright is automatic the moment any original work is created.  Usually, within Australia copyright is held for the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years if created prior to 1st January 2005, and after this date it is held for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years or until 70 years after it was first published.  There are exceptions to these rules however, and each work must be assessed individually.

There are some needlework patterns in the public domain - i.e. free from copyright.  These are either very old (in most cases Victorian era or earlier) or have been donated to the public domain by the designer.  In the latter category, this is usually stated within the pattern and there may be conditions attached.  Generally however, it must be assumed that unless stated in the pattern, works are not in the public domain.  Because a copyright clause is not essential, it can't be assumed that a work which doesn't carry one is in the public domain.  This applies to publications on the internet (like websites) as well as on paper).

The copyright owner of a needlework pattern has the right to reproduce it, have it published, teach from it, sell it, make items for sale from it, and be attributed as it’s designer.  Any person who buys their own copy of the pattern, whether from the copyright owner directly or via a publication (paper or electronic - i.e. the internet) generally also buys the implied right to make items from the pattern for their own personal use only.  They do not have the right to sell items made from the pattern, copy the pattern for others, publish the pattern or teach it to others unless the pattern states this or they obtain permission from the designer.  Registered educational institutions purchase the right to use copyrighted material in the classroom and public libraries also purchase limited rights for their members to copy excerpts from works for private study purposes, however these rights do not extend to small organisations such as miniature clubs.  The rights are limited to study purposes only and do not include making items from the patterns in the books.  Public library 'private study' provisions do not include private libraries such as those held by miniature clubs.

Ideas, techniques, concepts and information cannot be copyrighted.  However the expression of an idea, concept or piece of information is subject to copyright.  For example, the idea of making a floral chain stitch cushion cannot be copyrighted, but an actual pattern for a rose floral cushion worked in chain stitch in pinks on a green background would be subject to copyright, in addition to any written instructions and diagrams which accompany that pattern.  Stitches (e.g. chain stitch, feather and fan etc.) are not copyrightable as they are techniques, but the particular way the instructions for them are written or diagrammed/photographed is subject to copyright.  The information contained in this article is not subject to copyright, but the wording and expression of that information is.

Many people believe that there is a percentage rule relating to copying a copyrighted work - i.e. if you change it by 10% or 50% you can call it your own.  This is false.  The right to create a derivative work is held by the copyright owner, and any derivative work not sanctioned by the copyright owner is a breach of copyright.  Using our hypothetical floral cushion, to change the outline of the flowers slightly and alter the colours then publish the design as your own would be a breach of copyright law.  Even if you have never seen the original design, if the two works are so similar that one could be taken for a copy of the other, the first one to be created would be considered the original and the second one an illegal copy.

You do not need permission to use a piece of printed material in your needlework, however if you are using copyrighted images or logos (e.g. Disney or Peter Rabbit characters, the Coca Cola trademark) you may be in breach of other areas of law, especially if the item can be mistaken for authorised merchandise.

The most important thing for the miniature needleworker to take away from this article is an awareness of possible infringements of copyright law, and knowledge of how to avoid them.  Creating an original design of your own is much more rewarding than copying someone else’s work, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that what you have made is unique (and copyrighted to you!).  If you don't have the ability to create your own designs, then I suggest you support those who publish their work commercially.

Copyright Beverley-Anne Miles, 2009.  Not for sale or distribution.

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