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Using Fabric in your Creations: Not All Fabric is Created Equal

Sep 25, 2007

by Sarah Feingold

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

SarahSays will be writing a series on Using Fabric in Your Creations.

I have seen a lot of forum debate on the use of fabric in creations.  I hope to shed a little light on this complicated topic.

*Not all Fabric is Created Equal:*
When discussing United States copyright and fabric, usually someone brings up the fact that if fabric is covered by copyright, then every piece of fabric clothing, and every fabric pillow, bag, and headband violates copyright.  This argument is simply not true.

According to U.S. Copyright Law, in order for a fabric pattern to qualify for copyright protection it must “rise to the level of artistic design.”  For example, a drawing or photograph printed on cloth would likely meet this test but a simple white sheet is probably not eligible for copyright protection.

However, where is the line?  When is a piece of fabric just barely eligible for copyright protection and when does it fall short?  There is little case law on this subject and both legal scholars and judges may disagree.  Ultimately, this becomes a question for the court to decide.

In conclusion, not all fabric is created equal.  Before you use of the fabric you must examine the fabric itself because not every fabric pattern is entitled to copyright protection.

I will examine other issues associated with using fabric and creating art in subsequent blog articles.  Please stay tuned.  For more information on U.S. Copyright Law visit www.copyright.gov.

This information is for educational and informational purposes only. The content should not be construed as legal advice. The author and Etsy, Inc. disclaim all responsibility for any and all losses, damages, or causes of action that may arise or be connected with the use of these materials. Please consult a licensed attorney in your area with specific legal questions or concerns.

9 comments

  • margotbianca

    margotbianca said 12 years ago

    Hi Sarah-- I appreciate the fact that this issue is being talked about. As a fabric creator, I'm interested in hearing more information on copyright issues surrounding surface design. I will stay tuned for more articles on this. thanks for chosing one of my listings as a 'related item' :). --margot

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 10 years ago

    I'm glad you brought this up as well!

  • KismaeGrimes

    KismaeGrimes said 10 years ago

    Great, I use fabric and I have noticed that the designer fabrics have a copyright on them to let you know and others don't.

  • popondo

    popondo said 10 years ago

    I respectfully disagree with this advice--when information regarding a copyright is included on the selvedge of certain fabrics, the copyright generally only covers the maker from another manufacturer(of any size) from reproducing the fabric. It does not prevent someone from purchasing the fabric from the maker and making their own items from that fabric and even selling those items. This is a huge discussion in the world of craft and it seems a little irresponsible to try to answer the myriad issues and gray areas regarding the subject in a single blurb...and yes, there are many gray areas, especially when you bring in the issues of patents, trademarks, etc. For instance: simple copyright on selvedge: craft away. Trademark symbol on logo-ed fabric, ie. sports teams etc---stay away. Then throw in licensing issues and well I don't think a small article can even touch on the matter.

  • LondonParticulars

    LondonParticulars said 9 years ago

    "*Not all Fabric is Created Equal:* When discussing United States copyright and fabric, usually someone brings up the fact that if fabric is covered by copyright, then every piece of fabric clothing, and every fabric pillow, bag, and headband violates copyright. This argument is simply not true." That would just be bonkers, what good would the fabric be to anyone if you were violating copyright in making something with it?

  • AllieJanes

    AllieJanes said 9 years ago

    I am not able to list my little girls aprons because of the fabric I have listed. My aprons are made from old, vintage fabrics purchased at auctions and garage sales. Vintage, hand-embroidered linens are incorporated into othe design of my aprons. Which rule am I breaking? BTW - This is my first time trying to list on Etsy. Help!!! Please!!!

  • opendoorstudio

    Martha Layton Smith from opendoorstudio said 4 years ago

    very interesting.

  • snappystitcher1

    Snappy Stitcher from KnitSewBuy said 4 years ago

    I am trying to ascertain whether I can make items to sell at local craft markets (for example, childrens bag, childs tabard etc) from purchased fabric that features either POOH bear, Frozen, etc. Can anyone give me advice on if this is allowed? The items are made to implement my pension via my hobby of sewing, knitting, crochet etc. Thank you in advance.

  • jacquelinetarl

    jacquelinetarl said 4 years ago

    Why aren't these questions being answered on Etsy? Why can't London Particulars list her work? We have set up an economy where only items made in China can be sold and then only by the companies in China (FYI - I like the people of China.) See: https://library.osu.edu/blogs/copyright/2014/07/14/patterns-and-copyright-protections/

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