Thursday, May 17, 2012

Of Rabbits and Copyright

So yesterday, as I had written, I found inspiration in my coffee cup, and drew the design for a new rug.
I posted my pictures on RughookingDaily. I went on to do some marbling, and then went back to look at people's rug on Rughooking Daily.

Rachelle had left a comment on my design. She warned me there could be a problem with copyright. I thought surely, because I was only going to use the rug at home, and had no intention to sell it, or sell the pattern, there should not be a problem. I was wrong.

I followed Rachelle's advice and did some research, and found the information I was looking for.
I think this issue is a very important one, so I will give you my understanding of the question. This is of course not intended as legal advice.

If you find inspiration in a picture out of the public domain, or any work out of the public domain, and you create a rug from it, you are in effect creating a "derivative work." The owner of the copyright is the original creator.

In order to create a rug from the original piece, you have to either ask permission from the copyright owner, or transform the intent of the work significantly in order to claim "fair use." Let's say for example that you find a picture of a red barn in the fall in New England, and you hook the picture exactly, but change the color of the barn. That is not transformative of the original message, and you would be infringing on the owner's copyright.

Now let's say, you hook that barn, but add skyscrapers instead of the trees in the background, I believe that would be transformative. The message of the original artist was about farmland. By adding the skyscrapers, you are making a commentary on the rise of the cities suffocating the idyllic farmland of the past. In this case, I believe you would not be infringing on the copyright.

Even if you have no intention of selling the design, and are only doing it for personal use,the same rules apply.

So to get back to my bunny, as I was clearly creating a derivative work, but not transforming the intent of the original artwork, I did search in vain for a way to contact the company who had made the cup. I could not find their contact information, so I will not be hooking a rug from it. It is a little sad, but I had rather do things by the book. I hope my explanation will be useful to you.

If you want to read more about it, I recommend this very clear article. I am sorry this was not a very fun post. I promise you pictures of my finished heart tomorrow!


  1. If you find inspiration in a picture out of the public domain, or any work out of the public domain,

    if it's in the public domain there is no longer a copyright on it is my understanding.

    was you cup an old cup, it's possible the design is in the public domain if it was old enough.

    1. Dear Rainbows in the wool, the cup is definitely more recent. It is not manufactured any more, but from what I can tell from my research, it is still copyrighted. It is fine with me though, and gives me reasons to search for creativity within me.
      Thank you for your comment.

  2. Thanks for this posting. It's a good idea to revisit this issue periodically. I have recently seen rug hookers selling pieces that we designed by others, and questioned whether that was OK or background in these issues is from the knitting world, and I know it was NOT ok to sell hand knitted garments from patterns designed by others. These always seem to be muddy waters, and as many times as I've read explanations, they always seem a bit as you do, I choose to try to stay clear, just to be sure. PS I LOVE that house you found. LOVE.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is a tricky issue, and like you, I prefer to be safe rather than sorry.