Intellectual Property

Before I start upon my rather lofty title, I wanted to mention that a sweet new follower of mine blogged about one of my quilts as inspiration. Thanks, Pinky! You can find her blog post here:


So I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of intellectual property.  What does that mean?  Well, I guess I wonder at what point a design or design process becomes truly your own.  When do you no longer need to attribute your inspiration to others as you’ve begun to incorporate techniques into your quilting skills?  I err on the side of attributing my ideas to others, certainly as I should if I am straight copying a design.  But I find it trickier when I veer from someone’s design and change it significantly enough to call it my own.  But that is a grey line that is hard to see sometimes.

A lot of people say that there are no new ideas in quilting.  Everything has already been done and therefore a lot of designs are common property.  The log cabin block for instance is not known for being invented by one particular person.  A wonky log cabin block however might well be attributed to a number of people:  Gee Bends, Denyse Schmidt, Gwen Marston, etc.  But at what point do you need to stop giving credit to people for introducing you to a concept and start just creating your own work?

I personally believe that there are new ideas in quilting and certainly always new fabrics to be combined in fresh ways.  And I believe that technology gives us more ways to be creative than ever before.  So when is a design truly your own?

I know that I have designed something in my head without the influence of others and then gone on to find that someone else has already designed that or simultaneously designed it.  Is it still my design?  It’s sort of a matter of who publishes or shows it first.

This brings me to another question…(I’m full of them today!).  Do you have to have a design published in order for it to be “officially” your own?  What is considered published?  Is blogging about a technique the same as having it in a magazine or a book?  I’m a little freer with blogging because I think people have different followers and can blog about the techniques that they use…however if they are copying someone exactly they really should just refer people to that person’s tutorial.

I use techniques that I have gathered from here and there, but I’m unsure (especially in the blogging world) if someone has actually invented that technique or if they are simply sharing a cool thing that they know how to do.  If I use that technique myself, after telling the original inspiration, must I continue to do so with each following project that uses that same technique?

Before I ramble on for too long, I leave this topic to you all.  Please discuss.  I am sincerely interested in what you all think about this.  Hopefully, I was clear enough to get my thoughts across!

12 thoughts on “Intellectual Property”

  1. I try to be as upfront and honest as possible, documenting my inspiration for projects and tutorials. I think part of that comes with the territory of being a librarian and citing primary sources, and another part is because I just like to be a good (anal) records manager. The tough part is keeping track of where I found what inspires me. Half of my inspiration photos and tips are stored in my delicious account, the rest are stored in flickr and starred in google reader.

  2. I really appreciated this post. I have often worried about some of the same situations you mentioned in your post. I don't think I have any real answers, it is like you said, those grey areas are always hard. In the end, I go with try to do what feels right.

  3. Interesting post! I've never come up with something I'd call totally original. I recently make a star quilt that I love and even though I didn't invent the star block I choose the fabrics and layout. So it's kinda my design but certainly not original. Right?? I keep a folder on my desktop that I save links to quilts I love and would love to make someday. If I made one based on one of those I would reference it in my pictures but even those are usually variations of a theme …. stars, log cabins, squares, etc.

  4. Oh there are so many grey areas in this. It's pretty much true, everything you 'design'has been done in some way shape or form before. It's like asking the question "what is art?" There is no one answer to this. In my days at art academy one of my teachers described art as the sand in your bathingsuit. It chafes, makes you aware {again} of something that was there all along.
    Fun question, I'm looking forward to read what others have to say.

  5. Good thoughts, Angela. I agree, there are a lot of grey areas here, and it's been a big topic of discussion lately within our community, it seems. I agree with Leila, it's a lot like art – there is no right answer here, I think we all have to do what we feel is right and attribute inspiration where it is due. Definitely a tricky subject.

  6. I have had these same thoughts. I have created and designed a few things only to run across one that is almost exactly the same later on.
    I really dont intend to copy someones work, and if I do then I give credit where credit it due of course and I would ask for the same to be done with my own work. I rarely follow patterns as I like the challenge of making things up in my head.

  7. I think that most of our work is "original". Unless you are specifically following a tutorial, quilt-along or book pattern, you're probably combining different approaches (whether in color, construction or technique) that you've seen around. Your unique combo is "yours". It's great to share who has inspired you, but that doesn't mean you're copying them. At least, that's what I think.

  8. Great discussion.

    I struggled with this quite a bit when I was putting together what I call my Urban Lattice quilt and tutorial. I had come up with the design myself though I'm sure someone somewhere has done something similar. Then I thought about all those quilt patterns on the wall of my LQS that look like so many others I've seen other places and I just thought, "Screw it. I'm not going to stress over this." And I just moved forward.

  9. I've been wondering about this a lot myself. Personally, if I use someone else's design as a starting point, I think that original quilter always deserves to be credited, no matter how drastically I change the design. Because even if I feel I've made something "my own," the original quilter was still the spark that started it all, and at least deserves a mention in that respect. That doesn't really answer the "ownership" question, but quilting is such a shared thing, I think worrying too much about who "owns" what is beside the point. As long as we're giving credit to those who inspire us, that's the most important thing.

  10. I've thought about this a lot as well. I never use patterns, but my ideas are generally inspired from another quilt or project I've seen elsewhere. If I can remember where it came from and I've followed their design quite closely, I always cite it. Otherwise, I don't really worry about it because I figure my project is a compilation of multiple ideas out there that I have put together as my own. I appreciate it when others cite my work as an inspiration for theirs, but am not that picky about it. I did have someone call me on this one time. I had used part of a tutorial she had written and provided a link from my post to the tutorial, but she didn't feel I had adequately sourced the information and cited copyright requesting I provide more information in my post about the tutorial. I felt it was more than necessary, but I complied. Everyone views it so differently, I now just try to be as careful and thorough as possible.

  11. First – let me just say a super quick thanks! for the link 🙂

    On the Intellectual Property question – this is a topic that I find very interesting. I work for a media organistion and, until about 18 months ago, worked in a copyright/IP advisory role.

    The whole question of who owns what is particularly difficult for quilters in the world these days – as you point out, the internet has blurred the lines. This is not to mention the differences between copyright and/or intellectual property laws in different countries now that we are all so connected. Like you, I err on the side of being overly cautious (ask permission, acknowledge, link back)…

    The question of just how much you need to "change", "alter" or "adapt" a design is probably even more difficult. It is important though to remember that the IDEA can't be copyrighted.

    I could keep going on for AGES! 🙂 but I won't

  12. I know this comment is being added to a very old blog, but here goes. About 15 years ago I saw an antique quilt (over 100 years old) on the cover of a quilting magazine. It was a flying geese quilt made from old silk ties in blues and grays. I used it as inspiration for a quilt using a black background and a collection of ombres. The colors shade from violet to red across the quilt in the ROYGBIV rainbow colors, and the piping I added to the binding also shades. The quilts look quite different, and has quite a modern feel to it. I would never think to credit anyone for it.

    A few months ago I saw a quilt pattern of exactly the same layout as on the magazine cover. The designer stole the pattern of a traditional quilt. I don't think anyone using that design would have to credit that designer. There are lots of patterns out there that really aren't new. Designers should indicate whether the design is actually new and copyrighted.

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