The Ugly Word–Copyright–Boooooo


I know, I know, get the groans out of the way. I read somewhere, I can’t remember where now, that copyright policies of a designer should be clear before someone purchases a pattern because then they know up front the “rules” before buying.  I have hesitated and hesitated about mentioning this foreboding and emotional knee jerk word, but decided to just get it over with. 

I have an unusual caveat in my copyright notice. 

“Design may not be created for commercial resale, professional exhibition/and or competition unless written permission is granted by Sandra Leichner”


There is a GOOD reason for the bit in the red.  99.9% of quilters are wonderful and only want to re-create or re-interpret a pattern or design for themselves, guild shows, a guild raffle quilt (I have no issues with that), or some other not-for-profit endeavor.  GREAT!  I love to inspire and this is where the old saying, “copying is the best form of flattery” is appropriately used IMO.

However, I have noticed a huge increase in opportunistic behavior in a professional capacity with no penalties being enforced by the industry as a whole.  Please, I beg you, there is no need to band up in mob-like behavior, for or against, as though someone has been slighted by this–Do not take offense where none is intended.  It doesn’t help or improve anything and leaves us in ignorance which is never a good thing.   


Anyone’s art is free for the taking right?

Since the beginning of time, actual artists have had to swallow the fact that their original work has no “serious” value as far as a career goes in the mainstream public mindset.  Unless your parents were free spirits, or artists themselves, whose parent(s) ever encouraged them to be an artist for a life’s career?  Since it has no value, then it is free for the taking right?   Perception is a difficult thing to change.  This archaic indifference has been around for centuries and it is still the perception today.

My daughter’s strengths are in the arts.  However at my last meeting with her math teacher and advisor when they were pushing the math, (it isn’t her forte’ and no matter how hard they try, it never will be), the math teacher frankly told me (with a contemptible sniff included), “that you can’t make a career out of art“.  Oh REEEEALLY?  No, I didn’t bother to correct her.  Why?  because I have heard this myself over and over ad nausea through life.  

I read daily where someone wakes up one morning and has discovered in an epiphany they are “AN ARTIST!”.  I often wonder what the reaction would be if I woke up tomorrow, announced I was a Neuro-Surgeon and went off to my local hospital to check in for surgery.  Everyone would panic and security would escort me out. 

Yet, when someone borrows, interprets or blatantly copies an artist for a career or profit, we think that is completely OK in quilting.  Of course quilting has a tradition of sharing, but  this was before women had the ability to protect their art and ideas and have the opportunity to profit from them.  Does being a woman automatically make her exempt from wanting to make a living from her God-given talent? 


“I can’t draw and it isn’t fair, so I just use someone else’s drawing and recolor or change it and that makes it mine to sell or win a national/international major award with lots of money attached.” 


Let’s be honest, that is what it boils down to as a general motive in a professional capacity.  What if I used that reasoning in my example again,  “I am not talented to be a surgeon and make all that money and its not fair!”.  Doesn’t quite work does it? 

Try that reasoning with the art of a major company and see what happens with their deep pockets and a building full of attorneys chomping at the opportunity to go to court. 


From the US Govt. Copyright office (I have underlined and emphasized the part people overlook in quilting):

Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another’s work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner’s consent.


What it boils down to

It is that small percentage that makes it bad for the majority of us. Respect other’s abilities and talents, use good manners and ethical behavior and we can take the ugly out of copyright in quilting.  It has been my experience that those who are determined to profit from someone else, are going to do it if they think they can get away with it.  In quilting, most get away with it I am sorry to say.

It really is up to all of us to point out bad behavior instead of defending it. Please quit vilifying the original artist for defending their work just because their ability is in the arts and not in the sciences etc., where they could make a whole boat load of way more money if they could.  The original artists are only trying to protect their livelihood and that of their families in some cases.  Stealing from an artist is stealing from their table and their home. For me, it is stealing my soul.

So why do I have the unusual notice?  Because it irritates me no end that someone can make a quilt for a national/international “for profit” competition and win $$$$ using someone else’s work and time without credit and call it their “original” design. 

 The hardest part of creating a new quilt is creating the design and color combinations.  Why should someone jump to the head of the line and pick up the paycheck without doing the most difficult part of the job and gain the professional credit and advancement? Would you tolerate someone in your office just showing up to work and you doing all the grunt work and they get paid the same wage as you and taking all the credit and the promotions attached?  There is NO difference even if it is art or in our case, quilting

As I said in the beginning, 99.9% of quilters are wonderful and I have wonderful experiences with them.  As an artist, addressing copyright is never easy because it tends to create instant offense to those you don’t want to offend. Thanks for your understanding and I hope this is the last and only time I have to write about this for your sanity and mine.

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About Sandra

I am an Author, Designer, Illustrator and a major international award winning quilt artisan. I love working with fabrics and threads and they have become my medium of choice.

14 thoughts on “The Ugly Word–Copyright–Boooooo

  1. Amen Sista!!! (insert clapping here)

    Very well written and I’m sure way past needing to be said. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t understand copyright and don’t want to sound stupid by asking. I’ve heard many, many times that it only has to changed by a small percentage. Bad advice passed on by those that have heard it from someone else. There is a digital stamp artist that I love, she’s having the same issues as well. It’s just a shame that you have to go through calling people out. It’s a small world and I think that people just feel like the artist would never know anyway. The best thing that you can do is state where you stand and why. If enough artists explain copyright law maybe eventually it will be well known and understood.
    Besides when you are a true artist and put hours upon hours of work into a pattern it’s hardly fair for someone else to come along and take the credit. I just hope it doesn’t discourage you from sharing your talent and process with us. I do so enjoy seeing your process. It really opens my eyes to how much work that it really takes to create your work.

  2. I think it’s great that you spelled it all out, crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. I’ve been a victim of copyright infringement on a small, non-quilt related project and let me tell you, it hurts like anything to have someone steal your idea.


  3. Ah, yes, the dreaded copyright, which many do not understnad because they do not want to understand. I once (many years ago,) belonged to a national woodcarving association. I finally got weary of the magazine which showcased numerous “prize winning” carvings that were direct exact copies of paintings in Arizona highways magazine collections, so when the next one appeared, I wrote to the editor with my complaint, citing the page, issue, and original artist. My letter was indeed published, but the editor did not reply, and in the following issue, there was an avalanch of letters attacking me, and proclaiming that I was simply jealous because I did not have the talent of the carver, why “Ole Jeb” has more talent in his little finger, etc. It takes a lot of talent to reproduce a painting in wood, unless this girl (yes, some actually referred to me as a girl, though I was well into my 40s) is that talented, she should butt out, and on and on, (the good ole boys defend one of their own!). So you can see, Sandra, the problem is not limited to the quilting community.

    Although quilting does have sosme doosies of examples. A year or two ago, a national quilting mag ran an article on on to use KaleidoKreator to scan in, manlipulate, and then print out kaleido blocks using one of Paula Nadelstern’s fabric lines. I wrote to them and pointed out that this appeared to be a copyright violation, and they originally replied quite quickly that they were concered and would look into the matter. Weeks went by, and when I prodded them again, I was contacted by the chief editor who told me that this was certainly not a violation because their readers all understood that their patterns and methods were only to be used for quilts for one’s own use. I checked the article, there was no caveat in evidence. I later wrote to Paula, and she had not seen this particular magazine, but she told me that fabric companies are so happy to have one of their lines featured, that they look the other way when a use of the line is a copyright violation.

    One of my pet peeves, bet you couldn’t tell!


  4. May I add an “A MAN” I’ve been selling my book for years, went national about 8 months ago, NO one thinks about the time, talent and money that goes into everything designers do. I needed to hear this from someone else, THANK YOU !

  5. Hi Sandra – I have a handful of blogs that I follow and yours is the second entry today that is copyright related. So I feel I have to put in my 2 cents. I have a few good friends that make their living from art. As few of them are quilters; very successful quilters, and I can tell you from first hand observation they work their tails off to make an adequate living. None that I know are getting wealthy. Most don’t have corporate type benefits. They could all make a lot more money if they were not artist. With the money most quilters send on fabric, notions, classes, machines, etc. it’s a sin to cheat a hard working artist out of the small royalty, and in most cases small cost, of a pattern or a book. I know many in my small quilt circle think I’m being selfish by not sharing but quite frankly I don’t care what they think! If we don’t support professional quilt artist we won’t have the abundance of patterns, books, dvds, etc. to enjoy.

    Regarding show entries (big professional shows); Original work should be a prerequisite for consideration for an award – period!

    That being said – I have recently seen excerpts and photos from my blog on foreign website. Starting with my next entry I too will have to start placing copyright tags across my illustrations/photos/etc. Phooey.

    Ok – now lets all get back to making beautiful quilts!

    Best stitches,
    Mercy in Miami

  6. Dear Sandra
    Thank you for writing about this topic. I have also read your information on it on your site.
    On my quilts ( hobbyist) that are based on professional patterns, I always write on the label the source of the pattern .
    Are we allowed to use the methods you teach in creating original designs , so long as there is no profit involved ?

  7. Sara
    absolutely! Techniques are not copyrightable only the written instructions. No need to credit me, profit or not, for techniques you apply to your projects. You are taking information freely given and applying it to your work (pattern or original).

    Take what you learn here and make it yours with my blessing.

    I am typing this on my iTouch sorry for the choppy wording.

  8. Sandra,

    I have a word or two now and then about copyright ….. never one to keep my mouth shut!

    I try to emphasise the fact that breaking any law can lead to prosecution, and that includes copyright law. I have found that appealing to some people’s better nature is a waste of time and breath, and trying to make them see that they are depriving an artist/designer of both money and reputation is a pointless excersise.

    I have noticed that even though most judged shows ask quilters to acknowledge the designer, and so hopefully judges take that into consideration during the judging, but when the photos of winners are published they often do not have the designer listed despite the fact that the law states that the designer should always be named. How can average quilters learn about the law when national shows around the world rarely get it right.

    I have no quarrel with sections where only workmanship is judged, providing there are as many opportunites for designs to be judged without points added or subtracted for workmanship. There are sections for piecing, applique, art quilts, best use of colour, hand or machine quilting, even for one or more persons work, but no section anywhere purely for design. There is nothing between traditional and art quilts as far as design is concerned. Thankfully, most best of shows are won by original designs, but where other sections are won by quilts made from a pattern it should always be stated clearly everywhere the quilt is mentioned..

    I have recently allowed my membership of my local quilt group lapse because quite a few members ignore copyright, many don’t know and don’t care, and I can’t be bothered taking up the argument in the face of ignorance. I was dubbed the Copyright Copper after one incident, and wear the title proudly, but sometimes the odds are stacked against lone law enforcers! I would rather be designing, or making original designs.

    On the other hand, when I joined one on-line group I was amazed at the lack of respect for copyright law, but after eighteen months and a few heated discussions the attitude has changed heaps. A couple of high profile quilters, and me, started pointing out the error of their ways and though people are still asking for patterns, they are not openly asking for someone to copy it for them, and many offer to buy straight up. We have won a couple of battles, but the war continues!

    Time to shut up ….. I will go design another virtual quilt and take a few stitches in a real one.

    Judy B

  9. I too have just read another blog post on copyright and commented (at length) on that one so will restrain myself here to say that in my opinion regarding “professional” show entries (that pay any amount of money to the winners) should have photographs of design boards or sketch books as well as photos of entire quilt and details attached to the entry form. That would weed quite a large number of copy cat quilts out of the shows.

  10. There have been many good comments here and I too have had the painful experience both inside and outside of quilting in defending my copyright. It is NOT easy to do and I pick my battles very carefully. Just because I haven’t contacted, or made noise directly, doesn’t mean I am not watching the behavior as it develops.

    I think the breakdown in communication happens when distinctions are not made. Quilting is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is a BUSINESS for some. Artwork is a retail product in an artist/designer’s “store”. I would not walk into a grocery store and just take something off the shelf that happened to appeal to me and casually walk out with it in my handbag thinking I should not have to pay for it. Yet, we have this twisted sense of entitlement to use (take) anything that is art related and justify it as not worthy of respect or monetary value.

    I have never had an issue with any hobbyist at all. It is with ambitious people who lack the ability to create original artwork and in the pursuit of reward, money or fame, take what is not theirs and represent it as their own. It has been my experience that those who do this are really sneaky about it too. It sometimes is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. However, there are subtle clues in these cases just like a finger print to law enforcement. Compositional style, etc. that give up the pirate as the fake without their knowing it. An artist knows their work no matter how much it has been altered to hide that fact from others less familiar.

    Quilting is a relatively small community and copyright is an extremely sensitive issue. Unless truly blatant, most designer’s tend to shy away from blowing the horn. Why?, because to do so is to awaken a hornet’s nest of controversy and possibly sink one’s career and opportunity in a tar and feather campaign of those in ignorance of the facts. The original artist is almost always painted as an evil person who picks on the innocent. The innocent is laughing all the way to the bank with the blessings of their defenders.

    Quilting is not only a hobby for some, but a business for others and we must respect the right of those who operate as a business just as we would with any retail or service business in the regular outside world. I think that is where the breakdown of communication occurs. Many still think of quilting only in the good old fashioned, love each other, sewing bee terms. There is a wider circle that encompasses many other activities within quilting as well.

    There is room for all of us to play as long as we give each other mutual respect. Copyright IMO is basically legal enforcement of ethical behavior. The “mommy” of the playground. Play nice, we all get along, break the rules and everyone is unhappy. It really is as simple as that.

  11. Judy I hope you NEVER shut up. You are always a breath of fresh air! 🙂

    BTW, what do you think of EQ7? Should I buy?

  12. Thank you Sandra and those who have commented on this thorny issue. If you remember this came up at Quilters’ Escape. I have campaigned (and made enemies) when trying to get some quilters to respect the original work of other people. Is it all right is I forward this to Dixie?

    If you get stuck in the Perspective mode again choose View>Perspective Grid>Hide Grid, that is if you haven’t already figured this out.

  13. Sandra,

    You ask if you should buy EQ7 ……. if yu are trying to save the money you have asked the wrong person!

    I have used several drawing programs to draw quilts, from the freebies to Corell Draw …. all of them were fun and useful, but didn’t work like I wanted them to.

    I also tried two different quilt programs before I bought EQ5 …. one felt like it was designed by a quilter who didn’t know what computers were capable of doing, the other by a computer geek who didn’t understand how a quilt went together. The Electric Quilt Company feels like the computer geeks and quilters are the same people. (Which isn’t far from the truth!)

    I am waiting patiently (well, sort of patiently) for EQ7, but there are a couple of features I have heard about which will be wonderful, in particular being able to use the snap to grid in custom layouts. That alone makes the upgrade worth heaps in saved time tweaking everything into place. And if I don’t get this upgrade I will have to pay full price for the next version, and who knows what new features will come with that! Sheesh, I don’t know half the new features which are in EQ7, and haven’t fully tried everything in EQ6!

    So I say buy …. and even though I haven’t got it myself yet I am confident EQ7 is wonderful. Now, I wonder where I apply for my commision!

    Judy B

    PS In all the excitement of trying to post virtual quit number 1000 on the day they started shipping EQ7 I nearly forgot to order!

  14. Thanks Judy I was pretty much 99% there anyway, I just needed to ask the guru (you) first.

    CONGRATULATIONS on your 1,000th post! You have inspired me to create more pieced work within my applique designs.

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