Friday, August 24, 2012

Quilting and Copyright Laws

Many landscape quilters work from photographs.  If these photos are your problem.   You own the rights to them and are free to use them as you please. (99% of the time anyway.)

The problem comes when using images by other people.  If you make a piece closely resembling another person's artwork,  without permission, you are violating copyright law--even if you change the image in some way.  One of the more famous cases in recent years was the 2008 poster of Obama's image over the words HOPE.  The poster artist used a news photo of Obama without prior permission of the photographer, and was sued.  If you are just planning to hang the finished piece in your guest bathroom, it probably doesn't matter, but if there is any chance your piece will be exhibited publicly, get permission, or forget it.

If you find an image on, let's say Flickr Commons, and really want to make a quilt based on it, you need to write to the photographer and ask permission.  Most people are quite flattered that an artist wants to use their photo as a starting point for a piece, and readily give permission.  Be sure to keep the written permission with any papers related to the quilt.  If the quilt is entered into a show, you will be asked to declare that the work is original, or that you have permission to use the image.

There are many sources of copyright-free images that artists can use.  NOAA, for example, has a cache of copyright free images on their website.    Dover publishes books full of copyright free images.  (Susan Carlson's famous Pink Rhino is based on a Dover print.)  Even when using a copyright-free image, it is still good practice to acknowledge the source of the image.

You'll put a lot of work into your quilt, so try not to compromise it with copyright issues, but it's a bit of a mind field.  To see how complicated things can get, read this post on the C&T  Publishing blog.

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