On of the more confusing aspects of the whole copyright/authorization thing is the question of licensing. A license, when it comes to artistic works, is permission given to another individual or company to use specific images on specific products in specific ways. A license can require payments or not. If there is a payment up front, it’s called a licensing fee and is not tied to sales. If payments are tied to sales, they are usually called royalties.
Licenses can be written and structured in any way the parties like. They can be very restrictive. They can require the royalty payment to go to a different entity. They can restrict the licensee’s ability to use the image in certain ways.
We won’t get into commercial licenses here because they really aren’t our concern as stitchers. We have to assume the canvases we buy are properly licensed.
When we venture into making original designs we need to be aware of terms we’ll see and what they mean.
Royalty-free means that payment is not required for you to sell items using this image. Personal use means that you may use the image in your own work freely but you cannot sell the items you make, but you can give them as gifts, nor can you include them in items you sell. Creative Commons is a license started in the computer industry that allows free use of the image or work, but sometimes requires attribution. These items do not require payment, although many folks using this license will accept donations.All rights reserved means you must s the copyright holder if you plan to use the item in any way.
Commercial license if you are making items only for yourself, this won’t concern you, but if you plan to sell the items in any form, including as part of a template or pattern, you must buy a commercial license. For example, the images I use in my iconographic needlepoint club all have commercial licenses. I can use them as the basis of needlepoint, with some limitations, but I can’t include them in another collection of images.
Public Domain gets us into very confusing waters. In general it means that something is old enough to have passed out of copyright or license. So you’d figure something old would be in the public domain. It isn’t necessarily so. Some artists and writers, for example Klimt, are controlled by museums or corporations. Since they don’t have lifetimes, items they control are not in the public domain. Some items may just look old but are actually new. For example, I did a recent Pinterest search for vintage embroidery patterns. I saw so many that I knew to be new, that I finally changed my search to look for patterns by a particular artist.
It can be very difficult to know about public domain. It’s worse because some things, such as trademarks, can be controlled for a very long time. Other things, for example a scarf pattern or a printed fabric, may have been done for a company and are still controlled by them. When in doubt, you should do research.
You’ll find all kinds of different language on copyright and license notices. You can see “free for guilds to reproduce,” “free to copy but not to sell as part of a kit,” “free to use up to ten images in a single project,” and lots more. Read the notice carefully and follow it.
it’s always best to err on the side of caution when using images you did not create yourself. Look for the notice. if the terms aren’t clear, ask. I have only had a few artists refuse to give permission to me.