There is talk going around the internet yet again, that it is illegal to chart Scottish tartans except for personal use. I have done extensive research and corresponded with the Official Tartan Registry in the UK about this.
Quite simply, this assertion in untrue except in limited cases.
Many tartans pre-date copyright restrictions and still others are old enough to have passed out of copyright into the public domain. This means, quite simply, that they can be used freely by anyone at any time for any purpose.
You might be asking yourself, what technically does this mean. Copyright was created as a way for authors to protect their work from unauthorized printing. It also has a definite lifetime. If something is older than that lifetime, for example a Jane Austen novel, it no longer is protected by copyright and anyone can print it. That’s when something goes into the public domain.
To see how this works in practice, think about the Royal Stewart tartan. You can find it (and this is just the first page of Google results) as a kilt, a tie, a leash, a dog bed, tennis shoes, and a hot water bottle cover. All this is perfectly legal, as would be a needlepoint interpretation of the same tartan, whether for sale or for personal use.
Some tartans, however, were created by specific companies or for specific purposes and are restricted in their use. This plaid, the Barbour tartan, is restricted. It says so clearly on the site and explains the limits on its use. It is used for the lining of jackets made by this company. If I wanted to make a needlepoint adaptation of this tartan, I would have to seek permission from the company, just as I would need to to adapt and sell needlepoint of an artist’s work.
But restricted tartans are in the minority. Any already-created or custom tartan you buy from Napa Needlepoint and my site, Needlepoint Plaids, can be sold.
It’s unfortunate that there is this misunderstanding of what is very clear.