A few thoughts about copyright and quilts

Kate Spain recently posted an entry on her blog that has created quite a stir amongst quilters and fabric lovers. I am having a difficult time with the blog entry by Ms. Spain and all of the various responses because it represents only part of the story.  In my opinion, the blog post leaves enough facts out of the story that the public is forced to choose sides and make disparaging comments about the parties involved. I have never met Ms. Spain. I am sure that she is a talented designer who works very hard and is just trying to do the best that she can for herself and her family.

C&T Publishing was started in 1983 by a quilter who was also a quilt shop owner. I am now the CEO of C&T and am happily married to a beautiful fabric designer whom I met at a craft trade show. I say this in hopes that you will believe that C&T is a company that cares about the rights of artists and we try very hard to protect the individual rights of our authors and artists that we work with. When we mess up, we admit it and try to fix it. We try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We are definitely not perfect.

I feel compelled to share our side of the story in hopes of providing the facts. No matter what you believe, I hope you all continue to enjoy the art of quilting and support Emily Cier, C&T Publishing, Moda Fabrics, Kate Spain Designs and all of the other terrific companies and artists creating fabulous products and quilts in this industry. We are all very lucky to be a part of it.

C&T Publishing released a book entitled, Scrap Republic authored by Emily Cier. Emily’s lovely book features designs for 8 quilts and how to make them. A fun twist to the scrappy theme of the book was to have an alternate to each quilt made up from one fabric collection to show how different it could look. One of the alternate quilts in the book uses only Kate Spain fabrics from her Fandango Collection by Moda. This alternate quilt appears on one page and also shows a detail on the same page.

The fabric used in the quilt was sent to Emily Cier from Moda for use in the book free of charge.

C&T Publishing produces tote bags made from 100% recycled bottles. Our product manager and acquisitions team, who are responsible for choosing images for our tote bags, chose the quilt from the book that featured Ms. Spain’s fabric. Just to clarify, we did not scan Ms. Spain’s fabrics and print them on the totes, we photographed the quilt (which was designed by Emily Cier), cropped it to make it visually pleasing, and printed that image on the tote.

After we began distributing the book and the tote bag, we received an email from Ms. Spain alerting us that the tote bag we were selling utilized one of her fabric line designs. We took a closer look at the tote and we agreed that we had made a mistake in not contacting Ms. Spain in advance of publication of the tote to ask for permission and offer a contract. We immediately ceased distribution of the tote and our Publisher, Amy Marson, made several attempts to contact Ms. Spain to try to figure out how to deal with the issue.

To me, the interesting issue here is that the tote features a quilt designed by Emily Cier using fabrics designed by Ms. Spain. So, who owns the copyright? The quilt designer or the fabric designer? Or do they both share in the ownership of the copyright? What about the photographer? We could have argued that Emily owned the copyright, but either way, we wanted to resolve this amicably and we admitted fault. We felt that it was fair to compensate Ms. Spain as well, albeit after the fact. We blew it on that. We should have contacted Ms. Spain prior to creating the tote bags. We are more aware now and I hope this never happens again.

All of the other tote bags that we have produced feature a quilt using a wide variety of fabrics from many designers. This was the first time we had ever published a quilt on a tote bag using all the fabrics from one designer. And, while some blog commenters have called them “crappy totes,” I really like them. They are so great for grocery shopping and storage.

In the meantime, we did not hear back from Ms. Spain until we received a cease and desist letter from the attorneys representing Ms. Spain. The letter stated that Emily Cier and C&T had violated the rights of Ms. Spain by reproducing her fabric designs in our book, Scrap Republic, and on our eco-tote bag. This was the first time we learned that Ms. Spain was asking us to destroy all copies of the book and tote bag, pay damages, pay attorney fees, or face a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Now I have dealt with many attorneys over the years and I am sure that the aggressive stance was not the sentiment of Ms. Spain, rather her attorneys trying to use scare tactics as most do. But, I was really surprised that they had included the book in the argument. Certainly it made their case stronger, but the ramifications were way too far reaching for every company publishing quilt images. What if fabric designers required an author, pattern designer, publisher, or quiltmaker to apply for a license to use her fabrics in a quilt that was going to be subsequently used for a commercial purpose? And if they didn’t obtain a license—face a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

We responded to her attorneys with the facts as stated above and let them know that we agreed that we had made a mistake with regard to the tote bag and provided the figures they requested. With regard to the book, we were in complete disagreement and stated that we would not comply with their cease and desist. This was not acceptable to their side and they continued to force the issue with the book. At this time, we engaged our attorneys to respond concerning the book and to work out a settlement agreement—which took months to complete.

I hope this provides the facts of the situation and honestly, I regret having to state them. This should all have been kept between the parties to the agreement. Of course, I could go into a lot more detail, but what would that serve? We all learned valuable lessons from this experience. We have implemented a new process for our products in order to clarify any rights issues. I don’t blame Ms. Spain for taking action to protect her copyrights, after all, it is her profession and if she doesn’t protect them, then she faces losing them. And I am sure her attorneys were very convincing in their conversations with her to “let them handle it.”

But for those interested in copyright issues, I do have one rhetorical question that has puzzled me:

Who is the copyright holder of an original quilt design? Is it the person who designs the quilt, or the person(s) who design the fabrics used in the quilt? Is it a percentage of both? Does the photographer who takes a photo of a quilt own the copyright to the photograph? Copyright is rarely ever “clear cut” and I am certain attorneys on both sides of the issue could argue effective cases.

But in the end, the best business is to be respectful and treat one another with kindness. To me, that is what sets the quilt industry apart. It’s why I wanted to be a part of it more than 25 years ago and why I am still involved today.

I am closing this blog post to comments because I don’t want to open this up to more discussion. It is time to move on and focus our collective energies on more positive endeavors. You can always email me if you have something you want to say. Just send it to toddh at ctpub dot com.

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