About “Licensed” Fabrics

From V.I.P.’s Countryside – Hautman Collection

New Pieces has received a few bolts of fabric over the last few months with this statement (or similar) on the selvedge.  It turns out the debate over control of the design of fabric that goes into your project is again warming up.

Here’s the history:  There has always been an issue regarding the use of commercially licensed fabrics in quilts and other textile-based crafts.  A few years ago there was a frou-frou about Amy Butler designed fabrics and others that were re-worked designs from a vintage collection, or from unknown vintage designers. The link above is to a summary blog post on that issue which includes many useful links about fair use and copyright. (The blog is called “True Up” and the blogger is listed as “Kim” – more information when I have it!)

So here’s the new issue:  We are receiving fabric  — currently from only one or two sources — that isn’t licensed or even very singular in design. Sharona has been asking our distributors for clarification, and I have been doing some research. For us it’s not sufficient that the manufacturers and reps  “think” the statement is not a problem our customers need to worry about. The definition of “individual consumption” is unclear.  It may be that personal use, or a gift given to a family member is not a problem — or that a few items on Etsy.com, or a few dozen for the church craft-fair. My personal belief is that it’s an unenforceable standard just intended as a warning or threat, and that a few years from now the issue will be clear and settled…

In the meantime:  New Pieces has taken the position that we will not currently order fabric with this statement (or similar) because of the confusion surrounding this issue. If fabric so marked arrives in the store we will return it to the manufacturer.  We confess to having a handful of bolts on the shelves already, and we can’t send them back. We trust in the intelligence and discernment of our customers to make informed decisions about what constitutes fair use, and will point out the warning when we see it.

If nothing else, we have the makings of an interesting discussion — We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, and admit to the inconvenience it has caused us.

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6 Responses to “About “Licensed” Fabrics”

  1. Dan Rouse says:

    I agree with Sharona’s position. It’s even more galling to see the warnings printed on unoriginal derivative prints.

    The True Up author is Kimberly Kight, author of “A Field Guide to Fabric Design”

  2. Gail Shea says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I have NEVER heard of this before and am appalled. Fabrics are MADE to be used for commercial as well as personal purposes. So all the people who make handbags and quilts and skirts from this fabric would be subject to penalties. This is the stupidest thing the industry has thought up! How would they possibly enforce it? See a woman on the street with the forbidden, unlicensed fabric and take away her skirt? Arrest her? Ludicrous! My opinion is that this has been thought up by fabric designers that are far, FAR too impressed with their output. My guess is that nothing will ever come of this (because it’s so stupid), but I am glad that New Pieces is taking a stand and not carrying these products. I hope fabric stores around the world will follow your lead–because that’s pretty much all it will take for this foolishness to go away. Once their profits are affected, it will all quietly disappear is my guess.

  3. sharona says:

    Groan to it all.

  4. Interesting topic – I have done a lot of research on this – check out this website http://www.tabberone.com/Trademarks/CopyrightLaw/LicensedFabric.shtml
    for a round up of case law on the subject. Bottom line – those statements aren’t worth the fabric they are printed on. You can do whatever you like with the fabric once you buy it.

  5. Judy Smith says:

    Thanks for bringing this up. I agree that it is confusing and probably not enforceable. But I can imagine what might be behind it.

    The first thing to pop into my mind — when reading this article — was the prevalent use, on Etsy, of fabric print themes when naming an article for sale. For example, a pot-holder (that’s what I researched because that’s what I sell on Etsy) might be called by the artist “autumn leaves pot-holder” NOT because the artist cut leaf shapes out of fabric and appliquéd them onto a plain background, but rather because he/she simply cut a print fabric with an autumn leaf design into two squares, bound them together with some batting and a solid border, and called it a day. Under those circumstances I believe the fabric design might have sold the pot-holder moreso than the artistry of the seller. What do you all think about this angle?

  6. sewberkeley says:

    I think our concern is mostly for the vast grey areas… Is it okay to make the potholder, to name the potholder, to identify the fabrics in the potholder, to credit the designer and manufacturer of the fabric (should I also hat-tip the maker for batting inside?). Is it alright to make one potholder for personal use, five to give to family, ten to sell at a church bazaar, or to sell that same ten on Etsy? If my pattern is published in a magazine, should I ask permission — or only if the fabric is identifiable? With written/published materials most of these kind of questions have been answered, but here we have a design element that is also a raw material to make something else out of. I think New Pieces takes the appropriate action in wait-and-seeing, and (for now) avoiding to the extent we can any labeled fabrics that “red-flag” the situation.

    For now you can be sure that using those fabrics in a quilt for yourself or a family member is not meant to be a problem. I do have to admit that the term “personal consumption” concerns me. I have no plans to eat my stash!

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