So, is it okay to steal from Wal-mart?
The subject of copyright as it applies to handmade items is a subject dear to the heart of someone who is making a living through their creative efforts. A copyright protects an authors income by giving them the exclusive right to control the reproduction of that work, whether they have created patterns, music, art, books or any other specialized design. The protection of a copyright exists the minute an original work is put into tangible form. It is not necessary to formally register a copyright in order to to be protected by the copyright law.
For a work to be copyrighted, it must be significantly original, unique and distinctive not already in existence. Changing the color scheme or size by a certain percent does not negate the copyright. An item or a technique so common it can be considered in the public domain cannot be copyrighted. Facts and ideas cannot be copyrighted, but the way they are expressed can.
Copyright infringement occurs when a person copies someone else’s copyrighted item without permission. Owning a copy of something does not affect the authors copyright. For example, you can photocopy a pattern to cut up or mark so you don’t ruin the original but not to give to a friend so she doesn’t have to buy one. This would result in a loss of income for the author. It doesn’t matter if the pattern is no longer made, or if you do not charge for the copy. Only the copyright owner has the right to give away their work for free.
The fair use exception to copyright was created to allow comment and educational opportunities with regard to a creative effort. Fair use should utilize only a small portion of the total item and should always be attributed. Fair use cannot harm the ability of the author to gain profit from its sale.
Many books and patterns will give permission “for personal use and non-profit use only.” This means you can make an exact or a close item from the pattern and keep it, display it, give it to a friend or sell it. You cannot mass produce items from the pattern and sell them commercially without specific permission.
What does this have to do with Wal-mart? Check out Tula Pinks blog here: http://tulapink.com/2010/09/19/outraged/ . Someone deliberately copied the fabric she designed for Moda and now Wal-mart is selling if for $1 a yard. (C’mon, $1 a yard?! Can you imagine the quality of this stuff?) Now, Wal-mart may not have known that they were stealing from an American designer. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and ask them to immediately remove this fabric from their stores. If they are selling it for $1 a yard, they probably bought it for 35 cents a yard – isn’t that a dead giveaway that there is a problem? Fabric wasn’t that inexpensive in 1890, for Pete’s sake.