The Issue of Copyright

Years ago when I was teaching quilting in Toronto, I had students from all over the city and beyond.  There were few of us teaching quilting at the time and it seemed that lots of people wanted to learn how to make quilts. That said, my lesson notes were all typed and reprinted for each class, eight lessons in all for the basic quilting course, ten lessons for the more advanced classes.  I knew nothing about copyright in those days.   I trusted everyone who came to my class; each took their typed lesson sheets home with them to make a small reference booklet.  And then, one day a few years later, a friend called me from her home in Oakville, now part of the Greater Toronto Area.  I’d had a number of women come to my classes from that area and it seemed that one of my former quilting students was now teaching quilting in Oakville, using my typed class notes.   I called my lawyer asking what I might do to prevent this happening again.   He suggested having a copyright stamp with my name on it to stamp on each of my teaching sheets from then on, which I did.

Copyright is a longstanding concern for many creative people.who find their work infringed upon in some form or another.  Registering a copyright formally provides protection for artistic people in all areas of creative work, including computer programmers.  If it becomes necessary to go to court with a lawsuit against an alleged infringer this formal registration will help in a court of law.  However, simply marking your work with the symbol (c) the date, your name (and I add my location as well) is sufficient enough to declare that whatever it is you have created and want to protect, works as well.  And then there is the moral obligation of others in honouring that symbol which is not always the case, thus having something formally registered is obviously better.

In more recent years I have experienced a blatant infringement on one of my quilt designs which appeared in the August, 1984 of Canadian Living magazine, a national publication, in regard to my design the Canadian Provincial Wildflower quilt.  This design continues to sell many years later (now with the Dufferin County Museum) and as the designer of this quilt pattern, I’m not hard to find on the internet.  However, one day a quilt friend happened to visit her son in a small town just outside of Ottawa, Ontario and visited a local quilt shop.  As she walked in the door she noticed my design packaged into kits with fabrics and a design in each kit.  The kit was put out under the shop’s name as ‘ownership’ of  the design or at least it gave that impression.  My friend bought one of the kits, not saying anything to the shop owner and brought it home to me.  I contacted my lawyer about it. 

Co-incidentally, a week later, I had a Bed & Breakfast guest here (I’ve run a B&B now for many years) who was a horsewoman attending a clinic in our area and who had worked in this very same quilt shop.  She was very open in her description of the owner. When I told her I’d placed the matter in the hands of my lawyer, she said that the shop owner would very likely call my lawyer, sobbing, saying she did not know who had designed the quilt and that it was an innocent mistake on her part.  And, she was right, the shop owner called my lawyer, pleading innocence and crying.  Seven-hundred and fifty dollars later, my lawyer informed me of what had transpired saying that the cost of taking this woman to court would be considerable and advised me not to pursue it as the woman promised to remove all the kits from her quilt shop.  (I don’t know if she did or did not do so).  I was out the cost of my lawyer’s fees and the shop owner got to make money off my design.  Doesn’t seem fair, does it whe the pattern sheet clearly shows (c)1985 Sandy Small.  Also, in order to produce her kits with the patterns,the shop owner would clearly have had the design sheet in her possession.  It was a moral misuse of the (c) symbol and very disappointing to me to realize someone else would profit off my designwork, but it happens.

Which brings me to this, looking for inspiration for designwork in quilts, can leave this question of copyright hanging in the air.  Quilters, I’ve found, on the whole, are very honourable people.  I’ve been asked a number of times to give my permission to my designwork being used for a fundraiser for various guilds and organizations.  I’m always happy to do this in writing given the charity in question.  But where does this leave designers in looking for design images.  Most of my work comes from my head (my imagination and images I’ve seen).   I keep a sizable collection of images in hard-bound books for resource material.  And given my interest in Central Asian and decorative art, the images are generally centuries-old.  So I would say, personally speaking, that if the designer or artist is still alive, you don’t touch their work.  If they are deceased, then the notation that your work is inspired by the work of…whoever you choose….if it goes out on exhibit is essential.  When people buy my designs, if the quilt goes out on exhibit, I ask for design credit and most have happily obliged.  Quilters care about things like this.

Reality speaks in copyright and it’s good to know how you stand in whatever country you live.  In Canada, our Copyright Laws are clearly expressed on the internet, contact as to where to register a piece of work, is listed clearly on the website.  Generally an original work is automoatically protected by copyright the moment you create it.  By registering your copyright, you receive a certificate issued by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office that can be used in court as evidence that you own it.  Your copyright exists in Canada during your lifetime and for 50 years following your death.  After that, the work is in the public domain and anyone can use it.  That is true for most works, but there are exceptions.

Thus, the material on this website, my designwork and the title of this website are under copyright.

I may be reached at:

and 519-942-1775 ©2020 Sandra Small Proudfoot, Mono, Ontario, Canada.