As a crafter, you put time, talent and care into each creation. Experts say you should also spend a few moments making sure you're not violating any copyrights and protecting your own original work.
"We all love to create, but very few us know what the rules are," says Tammy Browning-Smith, an Amherst, Ohio-based attorney who concentrates on intellectual property law in creative industries, including arts and crafts.
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She says crafters' most common mistake when it comes to copyrights is assuming they can use another person's work, whether it's photocopying a pattern or making a replica of an item seen online. Her recommendation: Always check the designer's, manufacturer's or publisher's instructions. Often, it takes only seconds of research to make sure you're not infringing on someone else's idea, she says.
"Crafting is meant to be fun, and it's just a very small thing to follow basic respect of others and enjoy it even more," Browning-Smith says.
So what's the harm in photocopying a pattern for a friend, or sewing a handmade Mickey Mouse or Strawberry Shortcake onto a child's T-shirt?
If the copyright owner hasn't given you permission to use the material and would see your use as infringement, then it's illegal. Some companies have bought the rights to make patterns based on TV and movie characters. Even if you buy an approved pattern to make an item featuring a copyrighted character, you can't put it up for resale without the copyright owner's direct permission.
At her website Craft Designs for You, Cherie Marie Leck reminds crafters that other artists make a living designing patterns and instruction books. Every time you copy an idea without paying, she says, you are taking money from them, the shop owners who sell the patterns and the publishers who print them.
"Designers make very little money, and it hurts them deeply both financially and emotionally when their source of income is stolen from them by the very customers and crafters who want to stitch their patterns," she writes at her site under the heading "Copyright Theft Hurts!"
If you were to get caught and be sued, it could cost you a lot of money. Friends who accept photocopied or scanned patterns, or members of online groups that share patterns without permission can also get in trouble.
Leck writes: "You may think you are being generous by sharing a copied pattern with someone who perhaps can't afford to buy it, but you are really sharing someone else's property that you don't have the right to share."
Etsy.com, a popular website featuring sellers of handmade and vintage items, knows that copyright issues are of interest to its online users. It provides some information on reporting infringement, but "whether selling on Etsy or elsewhere, it is up to each artist to research the issues and make the best decisions for their business," says Etsy spokesman Adam Brown.
If you've designed an original creation, you may want to consider registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. It costs only $35 to register online and is a sort of "insurance policy" if someone tries to steal your idea, says Browning-Smith.
Copyright attaches to any original work the moment it's created, but by registering you get the official copyright registration title. That gives you a stronger enforcement right if someone were to copy you.
Victor Domine, a spokesman for the Craft and Hobby Association, understands that crafters want to share their creations with friends and family. But he cautions that posting a picture of your item on a blog or social networking site, such as Facebook, could catch the eye of someone else, even a shady manufacturer, who may decide to copy it and sell it without giving you credit.
"We have a wonderful Internet that is driving hundreds of millions and billions worth of sales, but people are out there and they don't think about protecting their rights before they post pictures," Domine said.
He added that some websites, in their fine-print on user agreements, even make you sign over the copyright to photos you post.
"The sheer volumes of untraceable photos, artwork and music have sadly desensitized consumers to the full impact of copyright infringement," Domine said.
Browning-Smith hopes crafters will educate their friends that crafts and hobbies fall under the same protections as music and film, and that they'll consider the copyright before copying a pattern or someone else's idea.
"The Golden Rule really applies: If this was yours, would you want somebody to copy it or legitimately use it?" she asks.