Actions against needlepoints who are, quite innocently, seeking canvases that are in violation of copyright is making the rounds of Social Media. It makes me mad because the folks taking actions are punishing those who are innocent and may not even know what they are talking about, since they are not intellectual property attorneys, or even lawyers of any kind.
Let’s go over this.
Copyright is a right that is automatically conferred on any creative work from something you write to a needlepoint design or a monumental painting. Work does not have to bear the words or mark for copyright in order to be copyrighted, it is automatically conferred, in the US, by the creation. Marking and registration makes this easier to prove but unmarked items are still copyrighted.
You are in violation of copyright if you copy something that is copyrighted without permission. There are many different kinds of permission (I’ll go into that on Monday’s post).
Licensing covers a couple of things. For the owner of a creative work, for example an artist, licensing is a right they give to a specific person or company to produce some or all of their designs in certain products. This is the reason why many designs talk about their “licensed” artists. A license could be given to Company A to reproduce as needlepoint canvases, but to Company B to make T shirts. If Company A started making T shirts with these images it would violate the license.
The other side of licensing is that companies can use this to protect the use of things associated with their brand or company. This can cover all kinds of things from the shape of your bottle to the colors you use. I once worked for a company that commissioned a special color from Pantone. Not only was it exclusive to them from Pantone, it could be licensed, so no one could use that particular color without my employer’s permission.
Trademarks are logos, names, and phrases associated with a specific company or product. You can probably think of hundreds of these. Like copyright and licensing you should have permission use these. Trademarks can be asserted with just “tm” after the name, but it is not automatically conferred unlike copyright. If you register a trademark and it was granted, then you can use the mark of r in a circle.
You cannot use registered trademarks without permission. I wouldn’t use unregistered trademarks myself because they might be in the registration process. The weird thing about trademarks is that if they are not registered and come into general use, you can no longer protect them. Examples of this are names like aspirin, App Store, or escalator. All were were originally specific brand names. (As an aside, read the linked article, it includes a list of over 40 terms that have a risk of becoming generic.)
What to Do about “Violations”
As stitchers, we can’t really know, nor should we be expected to know, if a design we see at a shop is in violation of any of these things. We need to trust both the designers and the shop owners that there are proceeding legally. We must presume the canvases we seek or buy are legally created.
That means the self-appointed needlepoint police have no right to question you or are action against you if you are seeking a commercially created canvas that is in violation.
If you do suspect that a canvas might be in violation, you should contact the shop owner first and ask them to contact the designer. Depending on the shop and the designer you could also contact the creator.
s commissioners you should be sure you have a clear right to reproduce any image you want to put on canvas. Most companies, shops, and painters who do custom work will ask about this. But you should have a clear line of permission before you make a request.
As shopowners, you too are in a position of trust as regards the designers. You too have to presume that the canvases you buy from designers are legally created. However because you own a shop you see many more canvases than any individual stitcher will. If you suspect a canvas of being in violation of copyright or licensing, take it off the shelf and contact the designer. In addition do not buy canvases that you suspect of bening in violation.
As designers, things get much more complicated. Before you set a design to be commercially reproduced, check it out. Could it be in violation of copyright or licensing? Do the research, check them out before they go to your copy service.
If someone contacts you about possible violations, suspend sales of the canvas while you research the question, do your research and do one of three things:
- assure your customers in writing that the design is not in violation based on your research.
- make changes to the design so it will not be in violation.
- pull the product.
Remember caution is called for from designers, innocence should be presumed for stitchers, and polite conversation is the way to go in all things.
Keeping the needlepoint industry clean in these matters is important for all of us. But taking action against stitchers who are innocent is draconian, rude, and gives all needlepointers a bad, bad name!