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Amy Butler Fringed Hobo Bag No. 2

May 30, 2011

I made another Amy Butler Fringed Hobo Bag, after doing all but swearing I wouldn’t touch the pattern again with my current sewing machine. Round number two wasn’t nearly as bad as the first. Perhaps it was a better experience because it was for Maryann, one of my dearest friends, and not for myself. There’s just something about making a gift for another that allows a process to become so much more enjoyable, you know?

It was a fun little birthday collaboration, prompted by her husband who thought that ringing in her 29th year with a bag from her pal would be nice. I had fun picking out swatches and emailing them to Frank, getting his input and trying to make it just the right gift.ย  I think the most gratifying part of it all, though, was the fact that even after four whole years of living with an ocean between the two of us, I still felt like I knew just what Maryann would like.


While I’m sharing pictures of this bag made for non-personal use and based on someone else’s pattern, I also want to share a bit on intellectual property and pattern rights and usage. Let me first just say that even though I used an Amy Butler pattern to create a bag for someone other than me, I made it as a personal gift for a friend and did not make a profit from it. Because Maryann’s husband asked me to create said bag, he wanted to pay me, but I couldn’t allow him to pay for anything but fabric and shipping. Anything more and it would have been a misuse of the pattern regulations as I understand them. Perhaps that I even accepted reimbursement for materials and shipping is out of line. If you can enlighten me, let me know.

I live in fear of doing something wrong. I’m a rule follower, always have been. I walk on the sidewalks and never on lawns. I refuse to ride a bike without a helmet or walk the dog without an abundance of waste bags. Buckling up is the first thing I do when I get in the car. Ultimately, I’m a very boring person. Ask my husband. I think he was kind of blown away last weekend when we spent a weekend in the woods and I briefly rode an ATV without a helmet while holding a hard cider in one hand and a chihuahua in the other. For a moment I think he saw the glimmer of me being a bit adventurous. It was the most scandalous thing I’ve ever done.

The above described fear of and adherence to rules comes from the same part of my brain that makes me think a lot about proper usage of other people’s patterns, tutorials and designs. Intellectual property rights have been a pretty consistent issue online lately as well, with some subjects getting more attention than others. (ETA: a few more instances here, here and here) While I’m certain most people aren’t malicious in their misuse, there seems to be continued questions surrounding intellectual property in all creative fields. I know it gets complicated and so some misunderstanding is inevitable. With so many people offering wonderful resources that each have different regulations associated with them, it can be trying to figure out proper use for all of the different patterns and tutorials one comes across, but taking the time to figure it out is something I highly recommend. And it does take time. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Some people think that once you buy a pattern, you have the free reign to use it however you’d like. However, this is rarely the case (ETA: Lots of great voices have pitched in to help with this question. All patterns are different and it’s up to the purchaser to figure out what the rights are that accompany the pattern. Amy Butler has very restrictive rights and usage that accompany her patterns, but other designers are more lenient. When buying patterns, the rights and usage should be one of those things you check on first if you have plans to make something for profit.). When someone stops me and compliments me on my purse, which uses the same pattern as above, most often she follows with, “You should sell those!” I’m always quick to thank her for the compliment, and then let her know the bag is based on an Amy Butler pattern and so I can not profit from it. It makes for awkward conversations with strangers in passing, I suppose. However, I kind of feel like it’s my duty to make people aware ofย  the fact the purse pattern is not mine to do with freely.

A lot of people still don’t understand the value in respecting intellectual property rights when my reasoning for not selling similar bags is explained. Sometimes in response to my comment of, “I can’t actually sell these bags because the pattern is not mine,” I’ll receive responses like, “Who’d know?” or, “Well, what if you just asked for a suggested “donation” instead?” And then the conversation kind of ends there because I’m not going to entangle a complete stranger with ultimately kind intentions in an impromptu discussion on how to properly respect other’s intellectual property. But I can engage you.

How do you make sure you are in line with pattern regulations? What is the line between being inspired by someone and stealing from their wonderful ideas? Do all the possible ways to infringe on someone’s intellectual property, even if you’ve never once seen their work, make you sweat like it makes me? I’m just curious to know your thoughts. I tend to let my fear of doing something wrong stop me from doing anything at all.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    May 31, 2011 10:13 am

    Great thoughts, Claire (and another great bag, of course!).

    I think that if it WERE something you were interested in making a line out of that you could sell, you’d have to pursue extended rights to the pattern, correct? Essentially pay more to the pattern owner so she’s compensated for the creation and can grant permission to move forward in your labors to “manufacture” and sell.

    Kind of like screenwriting – writers get 6 figures for their “patterns” so that studios, directors and whomever else can get the permission they need to eventually make millions off the finished product.

    At least, that’s how I understand it!

    • Claire permalink
      May 31, 2011 10:54 am

      Thanks for your thoughts, Lisa. I really like the comparison to script writing and filmmaking. I think that’s a great analogy and one I think could help a lot more people better understand the issue.

      There are lots of independent designers out there who are offering their patterns with licensing opportunities right now. It’s neat to see how different people are tackling the issue of intellectual property as the independent crafting community and industry continues to grow.

  2. maryannk permalink
    June 1, 2011 6:54 am

    You are so right – you do know me, and I love the bag! It’s even cooler because I know you’ve got its twin.

    I really respect the intellectual property thing and I am so glad you brought it up. It’s so not about whether or not you’ll get caught, or if “everyone” does it… as right and wrong rarely are. Am I showing my age?? ๐Ÿ™‚ But no, I agree, and you know I’ve never been a rule breaker either (with one exception being my crazy move to Ireland!). My soapbox usually comes out when people buy pirated movies, which happens a LOT here, not just illegal downloads but dodgy copies sold in local shops and at the Saturday fruit and veg market. It’s so easy for people to justify doing it because “Spielberg is a millionaire,” but I find that a load of crap. It’s not Spielberg you’re hurting, it’s the gaffers and editors and hairdressers. And besides, stealing from a rich person is still stealing.

    All that said… I have to admit I laughed out loud at the thought of you with a cider in one hand and a chihuahua in the other. Paris Norton! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Claire permalink
      June 1, 2011 10:15 pm

      First off, glad you love the bag! It pleased me so to work on it with Frank for you.

      And I’m so glad you agree with the concept that doing something wrong, even if no one finds out, is still wrong. I’m always kind of floored by the people who try to get around issues by saying that no one will know or that someone has already made enough money off of something so they supposedly no longer have rights. Part of this is due to my desire to follow rules and fully respect people, but another part of it is originality. What would happen to the world of craft — any type (filmmaking, story telling, fashion, etc.) — if we just all ripped one another off.

  3. Patti permalink
    June 1, 2011 5:18 pm

    There is definitely a fine line, and much less guidance and enforcement when it comes to design/arty stuffy, especially if the dollars behind it is not in the millions/billions. Legally, I think it would depend on if the pattern was copyright protected (could be published or not published), then any duplication or product produced verbatim from the pattern that is sold to the public would be illegal. However, you would be able to tweak the pattern or be “inspired by” the pattern and create a “new” pattern on your own, which would be totally legal. It’s interesting, I feel that ideas and thoughts are really just copies or a cumulation of different experiences and inspirations that we soak up on a daily basis. It is mighty rare to actually spontaneously develop a completely unique and brand new thought, idea, or design. It’s what you do with your collection of inspirations and how you rearrange it in your own style and interpretation. Hard cider, ATV, little dog: Claire’s collection and arrangements would never violate copyright laws.

    • Claire permalink
      June 1, 2011 10:30 pm

      The difference between the protection behind big money designers and independent artists does seem to be drastically different, doesn’t it? And it’s been particularly evident in the news lately as more and more retailers and manufacturers seem to be ripping off the ideas of independent artists. I’ve updated the post above with a few more links to stories that have been in the news lately, and that are totally bumming me out.

      I totally agree with your take on how people are inspired and how creativity happens — and how to take that inspiration and make it your own! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. August 3, 2011 4:23 pm

    I think I like this one even more than the last. Great job yet again!

    As for the bit about reselling your bags, I hate that this is such a confusing issue! My understanding based on what little I can determine from online searches is the complete opposite of yours. That is, once you purchase the pattern any items you make using it are your own property to sell as you wish. It is only the pattern itself, and perhaps even only the diagrams/illustrations (again, there is confusion), that is copyrighted. So while it would be illegal to make a photocopy of a copyrighted pattern and sell it that copyright does not extend to the finished products produced.

    A few of my sources are as follows:

    http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/Patterns.shtml
    This is the most user-friendly site I could find that actually cites and gives links to specific court cases dealing with this issue.

    http://williampatry.blogspot.com/2005/07/clothing-and-costumes-redux.html
    Discusses the distinction between “useful” and “decorative” items with the former not covered under the pattern/design’s copyright.

    http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat072706.html
    The most recent article I could find on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website addressing this issue. In it they spell out that at the present time designs are not protected but that there may one day be legislation to change that. I did find a more recent blog mentioning that such legislation has been proposed:
    http://lawontherow.com/2011/02/14/congress-proposes-copyright-protection-for-fashion-design/

    http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap13.html
    Finally, the section of the Copyright Law pertaining to this issue. I won’t pretend to comprehend more than 1/3 of what it says but it seems to match up to the information I read on the above listed sites.

    I’m very much a follow-the-rules sorta gal too but ultimately I personally would feel OK about selling something from a pattern I’ve purchased. Once I and others have shelled out $10-$20 for each pattern I’d imagine the designer has gone a long way to recoup the cost of designing the pattern. In the case of PDF patterns the designer doesn’t even have to pay for the ink and paper to print the pattern. On top of that, I see it as free advertising for the designer to have items made from his/her pattern on the market. I can’t tell you how many patterns I’ve tracked down and purchased for my own personal use because I’ve seen a pretty bag or apron for sale on Etsy. I doubt many of us sewers would opt to purchase a bag for $30 when we could buy the pattern and materials and make it ourselves for less than that. Furthermore, in most cases it’s not as if the designer is also producing items from his/her pattern and selling them in a shop, so I’m not taking away business there. The bottom line is that legally the protection isn’t there for the designers. Perhaps it should be but I can guarantee you that it will make me think twice the next time I want to buy a pricey pattern if I know I can never use it to make and share those items for a small profit. I’m far too frugal to splurge on $15 patterns for myself.

    • Claire permalink
      August 3, 2011 6:28 pm

      I love this. Thanks for all the references and thoughts! It is amazingly convoluted for sure and I need any and all the help I can get navigating my way through the wonderful world of intellectual property and patterns! Thanks again for taking the time to share all of this great
      information.

  5. August 5, 2011 12:59 pm

    you have to read the individual restrictions on the pattern. some people allow you to sell items made from the pattern, but not amy butler.

    but as far as making one for a friend as a gift, you’re in the clear. you’re not profiting at all from your endeavors.

    • Claire permalink
      August 5, 2011 1:24 pm

      Thanks so much for helping me out on this one. I seem to remember reading that Amy Butler has many more restrictions on her patterns than others so your confirmation of that is so helpful. Thanks again!

  6. May 13, 2012 2:21 pm

    Thank you for this terrific article on Copyright. I too have been wondering about “being inspired” and “creating my own version” of things I see and love. It’s so confusing! I have pinned this article with my my Sewing Alterations and Patterns board. I will be following this post for more updates!

    I’ve been buying TONS of fabrics and some machines to start a business. Due to some structural issues in my old 1920s home, I have stored all the weight off-site and waiting for my studio to be put in at my day job with family.

    I’ve made some handbag sketches last year while sitting and looking at some fabrics… low and behold I have recently seen some very similar pieces online! I know no one has seen my sketches… so I hope that when I do make my patterns no one accuses me of copying!

    There are probably millions of handbag designs, so there are sure to be some similarities. Again, so darn confusing!

    I look forward to following your blog. Thanks again for all of the input on this subject. I love your Hobo bag! Definitely need to make one for myself!

    • Claire permalink
      May 15, 2012 7:11 am

      Hi Kelly,

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      I’m so glad you find this conversation helpful — I know I was relying on the comments for people to steer me in the right direction. You are right — that when it comes down to it, there are a finite number of ideas in the world and certain products will ultimately be similar, even if created from original designs.

      Good luck with your business! That’s really exciting. Can’t wait to see the things you create!

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