So, how does copyright affect me in my day-to-day knitting?
Let’s start with a series of questions and answers.
Things in print, or The Photocopying Issue:
I just found this great pattern in a book, but I don’t want to buy the entire book. Can I photocopy just the pattern I want?
No. With the exception of the specific circumstances listed below, photocopying individual patterns from a book is not allowed under copyright law. Only the copyright holder, be it the publisher or the designer, can give you the right to copy his or her work. You need to contact that publication or person first.
However, if the book was checked out of the public library, you may make a photocopy for your own personal use. Under copyright law, public libraries and their patrons are allowed to make a limited number of photocopies per year.2 Libraries pay for this prerogative. If you are not sure, ask the librarian, who can give you specific information regarding that library’s policy.
What is meant by “your own personal use” is that you, personally, may use the photocopy as long as you do not earn, make or otherwise receive any profit from using it. This includes not knitting up the pattern for subsequent sale of the finished item. (See section below on “Knitting Items for Sale or Donation”.)
Can the yarn shop photocopy the pattern from their “Store Copy”?
No. Yarn shops may not photocopy copyrighted materials for the same reason as given above. Even if they do not charge their customers for this “service,” they would receive profit from the sale of related items, such as yarn or knitting equipment, that they would not have sold to begin with without that unauthorized photocopy.3 The only exception here is if the yarn shop has the prior consent of the copyright holder to do so.
The pattern I want appears in a book that is “out-of-print.” Can it be photocopied?
Because a book is no longer in print does not mean that it is no longer protected under copyright law. According to the current law, works published after January 1, 1978 are protected by copyright for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.4
For works published before that time, it is possible that the copyright was not renewed (under the old law). However, you will have to determine this through the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. The safe rule is that anything published in 1923 or before is in the public domain and safe to copy; anything after that should be presumed under protection unless you can prove otherwise.5
Though you will have to search harder to find the out-of-print book, you may still be able to purchase a copy through second-hand booksellers, auctions or through a trade.
Here, too, you may make a photocopy from out-of-print books from your public library’s collection, under the same restrictions and limitations as indicated above.6
What about magazines, newsletters, designer-published leaflets and the like? Can I photocopy patterns from them?
No. Copyright protection is the same for these as for books. Everything that appears above for books applies to these items as well.
Under what circumstance can I photocopy a pattern?
Beyond the library exception, as noted above, if you are the owner of the book or magazine you may make a copy for your own personal use.(See above definition of personal use.)
If you need to make multiple copies of copyrighted material for the purpose of distributing at group events, such as guild meetings, workshops, conventions and the like, you must get the written permission of the copyright holder.7 This is true regardless of whether the group is a for-profit or not-for-profit organization.8
Here, too, you are bound by the limitation that the copyright holder sets on this use. If you receive permission to copy and distribute multiple copies of certain material at a guild meeting, then you cannot use that same permission to copy and distribute that material or different material by the same copyright holder at a different function.9
And, of course, if the copyright owner states on the pattern that you may make copies, and you adhere to the conditions and limitations that the copyright holder gives, such as keeping the pattern intact with the copyright notice, then it is all right to make the copies.10