The Do’s and Don’ts of Patterns and Copyright.

So since deciding that I might like to sell some knitted bits and bobs I started looking into the different scenarios of using other peoples patterns.  I came across a massive debate on Etsy where a couple of interesting links were posted.  Bead and Button Magazine had relevant articles on jewelry making and design. Beaders’ Ethics and also Know Your Rights to Jewelry Design.

In the end the general consensus was that unless there is clear written consent to use a pattern to sell the resulting items then don’t.  Anything created by someone else is automatically their intellectual property and unless they have stated on the pattern or on a sites FAQ or such that you are free to do so then don’t risk it because you may be breeching copyright.

There are grey areas here without a doubt.  There are different official laws in different countries.  This link was also shared in the Etsy thread.  It  throws a spanner into the works of the above statement by suggesting that :

Many pattern manufactures falsely claim that you cannot make items to sell from their patterns without their approval or a license. Many pattern manufactures falsely claim that you can make a limited number of items to sell from their patterns without their approval or a license. Like software, patterns are sold, not licensed. In Bobbs-Merril vs Straus, 210 U.S. 339 (1908), the Supreme Court limited the rights of copyright holders to only those allowed by statute.These claims of expanded limits on the copyrights are false and unsupported by federal law. Beginning with Bobbs-Merril vs Straus, federal courts have regularly rejected attempts by copyright holders to expand their right beyond those allowed by statute. So why do they continue to do it? Because they can. And often, people believe their claims. Mostly because they want to believe the claims. Many, many, crafting chat boards have comments posed where the crafters believe, or want to believe, the pattern manufacturer can limit what someone does with their patterns. Image Disney selling a coloring book and demanding only certain colors can be used for certain characters or they will sue for copyright infringement. The coloring book is yours after you purchase it; color it as you wish..

However, this fact will not stop these companies from improperly interfering with you attempting to make items to sell. Why do they do it? Because they know the average person will not fight back. These companies, supported by their unethical bottom-feeder corporate lawyers, will continue their mis-information campaigns until stopped by a civil suit.

So it may in fact mean that the copyright to patterns for useful clothing items may not actually hold up in court.  And that the companies realise that not many small crafters are going to want to risk fighting them on it to find out.  Personally I think the wise and ethical thing to do is ask permission.  Failing that, consider learning how to design your own patterns and then you will have no doubt about what it is safe to be used for.

Consider these points to help protect yourself:


  • Put your name on something that somebody else has created.
  • Sell something created from a pattern that you have not been given permission to use for commercial purposes.
  • Assume that because a pattern does not clearly state that you CANNOT sell something created from the pattern that you CAN.
  • Assume that because a pattern is “free” means that you can do with it as you please.


  • Be sure to read the fine print.
  • Contact people to get clear written consent to use their pattern for the purpose of selling items created from them.
  • Utilise Vintage patterns that are considered part of the public domain and no longer covered by copyright.  This way you can learn shaping and how to structure patterns without stepping on anyones toes.


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