"A Needle Pulling Thread - May I Borrow your Pattern ?"

By Baroness Brianna Je Nell Aislynn of Blue Shadows

Most SCA members tend to have a great deal of creativity and talent. Inspiration strikes from the most unusual places. A piece of trim here, a bit of calligraphy, a work of any type of art can be the spark for new designs and creations. This is the basis for the beauty and the pageantry that surrounds us at an event.

"Art" (be it a drawing, a jewelry design, a pattern, a song, etc.) is the intellectual property of its creator. Copyrights are basically the use and reproduction rights of the creator. A copyright can be registered to protect those rights, but the copyright is inherent at the time of creation. Any use of the creation, without the permission of the creator, is considered an infringement of those rights. There are some limitations on those rights. The original copyright is good for 20 years, but it can be renewed by the owner, their heirs or assignees. Permission is generally not needed for review (magazine, newspaper or other form of publicity) purposes, as long as the entire piece is not used. When these rights expire, the art becomes part of the public domain and can be used as desired. Perhaps you are familiar with the Dover Clip Art Series? This is public domain art. There is usually a disclaimer/release included at the front or back of the collection allowing use as desired. Keep in mind, even if art is public domain, it is considered appropriate to credit the source.

An example of the copyright dilemma: I bought a lovely griffin pin from Dragon Spawn and thought the design would be wonderful embroidered on a gown with the pin as a closure. Because I was going to make the gown for personal use (and not for sale), I doubt there would have been repercussions. However, I still considered this an infringement, and so requested (and received) permission to use the design for embroidery on a non-commercial article. Note that permission was not given to reproduce the design as a jewelry piece. A merchant can request to use a design for profit, this is called a "license". You've seen the phrase "officially licensed"; this means the seller has paid a fee to use a copyrighted design or trademarked logo. Interestingly enough, commercial sewing and embroidery patterns are meant for individual use. Legally, you may not buy a craft pattern, create 50 or 60 in different fabrics and sell them at a craft show. The same is true of buying a period clothing pattern and producing garments for retail sale. You would require a license to do so. However, a custom clothier may charge to make up a garment from a pattern and materials provided by a customer.

Copyright issues can affect both documentation and teaching. Think of all the Collegium classes and guild meetings where handouts have been provided. It is very possible that copyrights have been violated in producing the handouts (although, as I understand the rules, there are some exceptions made for educational purposes). Ideally, written permission should be secured before reproducing sections of books or pictures of artwork. Granted, this may not be practical if the book is out of print. If you feel you must reproduce for documentation or classes, copy only what you need and do not attempt to make a profit off of it. Include the author's name, the publisher and ISBN (if possible) so that others can use the source for research. If the article (book, pattern, etc.) is still commercially available, give the complete purchasing information (ISBN, source of supply, catalog or item number, etc.) and strongly suggest that students purchase a copy for themselves. For pictures (portraits, tapestries, manuscripts, etc.) include the gallery, museum and/or collection in which it is found, the artist's name (if known) and the title of the piece. It can also be useful to include the name of the art book from which it was taken. The book name isn't really necessary, but it makes it easier to backtrack when researching similar pieces.

A side note on the concept of backtracking. Supplying others with your research sources provides a basis for new paths of inquiry. These in turn can provide even more insight into the original research, allowing you to take new directions and expand your knowledge and understanding. It can also keep misinformation from spreading too far. Double checking the validity of another researcher's conclusions before building your own theories on top of them is good research protocol. Example: one of the great myths of costuming is that "pink is not period". This is frequently quoted as "I heard it in a class" or "I saw it written in an article" (usually without footnotes or bibliography). The availability of pink producing dyestuffs and the existence of pink garments in manuscripts indicate otherwise. (For more information on the subject check with Dame Catherine or THL Eridana). Double-check the sources. Even the experts can be wrong. Research is ongoing and theories change.

Speaking of documentation, copying someone else's work or using their conclusions in a paper without giving credit (footnoting) is called plagiarism. This is the same type of intellectual dishonesty involved in submitting an entry in an arts competition and not crediting any work not your own. If you have used someone else's design, pattern, recipe or poem, credit them! Remember, showing the source of your inspiration is part of your documentation. If your source is period, cite the reference material. If modern, credit the artist whose illumination you have calligraphed, or the weaver who wove the brocade in the gown you constructed, or the jeweler who made the clasps. Besides being gracious by giving credit where it is due, you display your own artistic integrity.

Which leads me to my final point. One of the major issues of artistic integrity is not stealing someone else's designs and then selling them as original creations. One of my merchant friends has stopped taking students because too many of them have taken his patterns and then turned around and used them to undercut his prices. Not only was he injured financially, but more importantly, he felt betrayed and used by someone he considered a friend. This article originates from the tale of two friends who wanted to borrow my patterns. The first borrowed a pattern that I had drafted in several sizes. She then started a business producing garments for retail sale from my patterns (without requesting my permission). The second friend has borrowed several patterns and made them up for her personal use. She is a clothing merchant by trade, but has refused all blandishments to loan out the patterns or make up garments from them without my permission. I am still friends with the second lady, in part because I admire her integrity.

Copyright laws are the modern way of enforcing what the SCA would consider basic honorable behavior. I would hope that a Society member would go beyond this minimum and insure an artist/scholar received full credit for their creation. The cost of plagiarism is much too high. A few moments of glory or winning a competition do not outweigh the long-term loss of talented teachers or good friends. I am grateful to Baroness Siobhan for her constructive criticism and input on this article. She suggested and/or clarified several points I would have otherwise missed.


Copyright 1999 by Je Nell Hays

Permission to reprint this article for use in the Society for Creative Aanachronism is granted so long as the complete article is printed with proper attribution to the author using both her modern name and SCA equivalent. Please notify the author if this article is included in any SCA publication or used as reference material in a class.

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