Truth be told, I’m not a very good pattern maker. Some of the items in my shop I’ve completely designed myself (the peasant dresses and eyelet sundresses for example) but it takes me days and days and days of tortuous struggling to figure out sizing adjustments, bodice widths, skirt lengths. When I consider the time and headache involved it’s much easier for me to purchase patterns or adjust a free online pattern to my liking.
The drawback to this is that some pattern makers/designers –mainly independent ones such as Etsy sellers, not the big names such as Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls and Vogue– add a stipulation to their work stating any items made from their patterns are for personal use only and are not to be sold. I’d say that 2/3’s of the patterns for sale on Etsy are this way and it makes it challenging for sewists such as myself. So I look for patterns in which the seller encourages the sale of items from their pattern and then I go so far as to credit them fully in the resulting listings. (Whimsy Couture is fabulous for this and is the first place I now shop for patterns!)
Legally though, the pattern designer has little control over what a seamstress does with the items made from their pattern or tutorial.
For starters, the pattern itself cannot be copyrighted as it is a template and templates are not copyrightable. A pattern could also contain specific methods or procedure which are not copyrightable. And all items considered “useful articles” (which we all agree that clothing certainly is!) are not copyrightable under sections 101 (definition of “useful article”) and 102 (subject matter of copyright) of the Copyright Act. I suppose one could argue that both the pattern and the resulting articles of clothing are “useful articles”.
Even if the pattern *could* be copyrighted, how could the copyright extend to the items made from the pattern? All of the pieces used to construct a garment — fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, ribbon, lace, velcro, etc.– would not be covered by the pattern copyright. Logically, one could conclude that IF a pattern could be copyrighted the rights would extend only to the physical pattern purchased.
Carolyn V. Peters (a licensed attorney who specialized in Intellectual Property including copyrights, patents, and trademarks) states the following in regards to pattern copyrights:
Under the copyright laws, you are not allowed to make a copy of the pattern, except for your personal use. As the legal owner of the authorized copy of this pattern, you have purchased the right to make the article that is presented in the pattern, to sell or give away your authorized copy of the pattern that you purchased, and to sell or give away the article that you made from the pattern.
In my opinion it comes down to an ethical issue. Legally they can not tell you items produced are for personal use only. Legally you can do whatever you wish with the resulting items.
But if someone asks you not to do something, shouldn’t common courtesy come into play?
Hence why I try to only purchase patterns that allow items to be sold. Even though the designer has limited legal rights regarding the items I make, it still makes me feel funny to go against their wishes.
If you want to read more, check out “Patterns and how they are affected by copyright law” and “Pattern Companies and Copyrights“.