Copyright Infringement

All articles are copyrighted. In most cases, articles on protecting quilts may be reprinted in your quilt guild newsletter free of charge, but please request permission first.

What is copyright infringement?

The US Copyright Office says, “As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”, (US Copyright Office Definitions, What is copyright infringement?,

Barbara Brackman’s book "Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns" includes the dates that various blocks were first published. To be on the safe side, any block published more than 95 years ago it is now in public domain and you are safe to use it. Some materials may come into public domain sooner because before 1978 the copyright holder had to actively renew their copyright. If you want to use a source less than 95 years old, you would have to investigate to determine if the copyright was renewed or not. (US Copyright Office Circular 1, Copyright Basics, page 6, )

What is public domain?

Public domain is when something is no longer protected by a copyright. Many traditional quilt blocks, such as an Ohio Star block, would fall under this category and you are free to use them without permission. (US Copyright Office Definitions, Where is the public domain?,

What is fair use?

Fair use allows newspapers and other publications to publish a photo of a quilt as long as the artist is given credit, product information is given, and the quilt is not reproduced full size. (US Copyright Office, Fair Use,; also Copyright Law of the USA, Section 107, )

Fair use also allows teachers in “educational institutions at
all levels” (elementary schools, high schools and universities) to make copies to distribute to their class. Even in this case, there are guidelines and some limitations that must be followed. See page 8 of Circular 21 for guidelines. (US Copyright Office Circular 21, Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians, page 4 & 8, )

For more information, read Fair Use,(

Ask permission before using

If you have your heart set on using someone’s work, always ask permission first. They may say yes. If they say no, go back to the drawing board and come up with something uniquely yours! (US Copyright Office FAQ, Can I Use Someone Else’s Work? Can Someone Else Use Mine?,

What kind of penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement?

If it is determined that a person is guilty of copyright infringement, penalties could include a court order to stop producing that item, confiscation of the items, and paying the owner of the copyright any profits you received (or could have received) as well as attorney fees. (Copyright Law of the USA, Sections 1321, 1322, 1323, )

Photocopying copyrighted works

It is generally accepted that you can photocopy a pattern to cut up or mark on so you don’t ruin the original. You can not photocopy a pattern to give to a friend so she doesn’t have to buy it. This would result in a loss of income for the author.

As of 2009, it also doesn’t matter if a book is out-of-print. You still do not have an automatic right to copy that resource if the copyright hasn’t expired yet. An author has the right to NOT distribute their work. The copyright still exists for the time period discussed on the "Copyright Your Quilt" page.

Quilt classes, magazines and books

If you take a quilt class or if you purchase a book or magazine, you are free to use the patterns and information provided. However, you should not make copies of these resources in order to give them to a friend so she doesn’t have to buy them.

Other quilts as inspiration

The US Copyright Office says, "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission." (US Copyright Office, Fair Use, )

Let’s say you saw a quilt you really love. You want to make one just like it except you plan to change the color scheme. You still would need permission because the design has not changed significantly. You would need to change the design enough that it does not look like the original. However, a technique can not be copyrighted so you may use another quilter’s technique to create a unique design of your own.

How can you get permission to use someone else’s copyrighted design?

You can contact the owner of the copyright directly. If they are willing to grant you permission, request they give it to you in writing.


I am not a lawyer. The copyright information presented is not to be construed as legal advice.

My desire is to present a clear, easy-to-understand summary of copyright issues that may be relevant to the average quilter. If you find that any of the above information is in error, I am very happy to correct it. Please email me with the correct information and the source of your information. Please note, the scope of this article does not allow me to cover every possible scenario. That’s what the copyright law is for.

If you need more specialized information, consult an attorney whose expertise is copyrights and intellectual property law.


Copyright Infringement — 8 Comments

  1. My mother got me started on making quilts about 9 years ago and I love it!! I have a question on what to do about my ideas i have.. When I get an idea for a quilt I use graph paper and markers, pencils,etc.. to get the pattern I want. Sometimes I take hours doing one idea until I am happy with it..when I get the idea done what should I do ? should I post it on my FaceBook page? the reason I ask is I have seen some of my ideas in magazines. It’s not the exact colors or size but I am getting worried now that I may be in legal trouble..Please help me..

  2. Tina, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer your question completely and accurately. I am not a copyright lawyer. I would imagine that if you are doing geometric patterns eventually you will come up with a design that is similar to someone else’s design even when working completely independently. I like to compare my geometric designs with ones in Barbara Brackman’s “Encyclopedia Of Pieced Quilt Patterns.” This is a nice reference because it gives dates for when certain blocks were first published. That helps you determine which ones are in public domain. She also has a similar book for applique designs.

  3. have got a yard of fabric from USA with (for home use only written on side,protected by USA copyright law,),l make cushions to sell at craft fairs,so am a bit confussed dose uSA copyright
    apply here in England on fabric.have gone through some of the info on line about copyright but do not seem to be able to fing a really clear answer. thank you Sandy.

  4. I am sorry, I am not able to answer your question either. I am not a copyright lawyer, and I don’t know anything about international copyright law. My personal suggestion is that you honor the request just as if you were in the US, and use a different fabric, but that is just my own personal approach. I generally feel it is better safe than sorry, but I can’t truly tell you the correct answer from a legal standpoint. Besides, there are so many beautiful fabrics available now days, that it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one without the extra restrictions.

  5. a question about the books – I have a book from Lorraine Olsen about Little Lone Star Quilts that I no longer need and I want to sell it. My guild has a store inside of an annual quilt show and this is where we can sell a variety of things we no longer need with a portion of the proceeds going to the guild. My question is this – are we allowed to sell these quilt books that we have bought and now no longer need them? it is a question that a few members have in my guild. Appreciate any advice or places to look.