Copyright: what it covers

I have recently been engaged in a battle with a blogger who has been taken my blog posts here and reproducing them on their own site, violating my copyright, so I thought it was time to take a look at copyright: what it covers and what it doesn’t.

The first thing to note is that the laws on copyright vary from country to country. Although the Berne Convention affords some protections across borders, it only grants the members of countries who have signed up to it the same protections in other countries as they would get in their own (and vice versa). It does, however, state the following basic rights for all nationals of signatories:

  • The right to authorise translations of the work.
  • The exclusive right to reproduce the work.
  • The right to authorise public performance or broadcast, and the communication of broadcasts and public performances.
  • The right to authorise arrangements or other types of adaptation to the work.
  • Recitation of the work, (or of a translation of the work).
  • The exclusive right to adapt or alter the work.
  • The author has the right to claim authorship
  • The right to object to any treatment of the work which would be ‘prejudicial to his honour or reputation’.

It also gives minimum term limits for these rights (under Article 7), though these can be extended by individual countries:

  • the life of the author and fifty years after his death
  • in the case of cinematographic works, the countries of the Union may provide that the term of protection shall expire fifty years after the work has been made available to the public with the consent of the author, or, failing such an event within fifty years from the making of such a work, fifty years after the making.
  • in the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection granted by this Convention shall expire fifty years after the work has been lawfully made available to the public.
  • for photographic works and that of works of applied art in so far as they are protected as artistic works;  this term shall last at least until the end of a period of twenty-five years from the making of such a work.

So, before you even start looking at individual local laws regarding copyright protection, these are the minimum rights and limits for a national of any country that has signed up to the Berne Convention (a full list of all 171 countries can be found here:

The key rights, or rather those that people seem to want to violate the most, are the exclusive right to reproduce the work and the right to authorise translations of the work. For some reason, a seemingly large number of people appear to think that it is perfectly OK to ask someone to make a copy of a knitting/crochet pattern for them or to translate a knitting/crochet pattern into another language for them (often with associated copying without the copyright owner’s consent).

Another confusion is the pervasive idea that free patterns are not covered by the rules of copyright. Not true, there is nothing in the Berne Convention that restricts these rights to items for which any form of consideration (or ‘boot’) changes hands. Free patterns have the exact same rights as paid-for patterns.

Many people also seem to confuse ‘out of print’ with ‘out of copyright’. Per the Berne Convention the minimum amount of time before a pattern is out of copyright is 50 years after the author’s death, and may be longer depending on the country (in the UK it is 70 years after the copyright holder’s death).

At this point someone often tries to justify copyright violations with ‘fair use’, but their understanding of the term and the legal definition often don’t tally. The Berne Convention covers this in Article 10 and covers:

  • quotations (so not the entire publication)
  • for teaching (with limits set by the local laws)
  • for editorial purposes (with limits set by the local laws)

Let’s look at an example of what those limits might be by looking at the UK’s laws on copyright, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The UK laws list what are ‘Permitted Acts’ in relation to copyrighted works, and let’s see what they say about using copyrighted material for editorial purposes:

  • Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement and provided that the work has been made available to the public.

Note the use of the phrase ‘fair dealing’ aka ‘fair use’, this is a tricksy little concept that the UK copyright service attempt to explain here, but the big takeaway should be that it refers only to parts of a work and not a work in its entirety. So, need help and post a couple of lines of a pattern that is confusing you, probable fair use/dealing. Post the entire pattern, copyright violation.

So this covers the minimum intellectual property protection that something like a knitting/crochet pattern or a blog post might have. Many countries have additional laws on top of this that may apply. These might include, but not be limited to: trademarks, patents, design rights, registered designs; as well as moral rights such as the right to identification and the right to object to derogatory treatment.

But what happens when a copyright violation takes place? Unfortunately, though it is often very clear that a copyright violation has taken place, it is not often clear (or easy) to deal with. On moderated websites such as ravelry, the volunteer moderators are often quick to remove violating content (when notified), but not all websites are as diligent at respecting copyright. In fact many seem to be set up purely for the purpose of hosting copyright violating content. Although laws such as the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act allow copyright holders to request the removal of copyright violating content, their powers are limited to websites covered by the legislation, those hosted by US service providers. They can do nothing about foreign hosted sites.

An additional route I have taken in my own copyright battle (still waiting on AT&T to take the content down as the website hosting provider, 3 weeks later) is to have the content removed from Google searches, but this is not an easy or fast process requiring various registrations with Google as well as providing all of the evidence of the violations.

Another problem with copyright violations is that the copyright owner rarely gets to hear about them. With so many websites allowing copyright violations it is only by chance that you are going to spot a copy of your pattern or your picture somewhere you didn’t authorise it. I found out about the blog violations because the muppet who stole the content requested a pingback for their own site (which seems to purely contain the blog posts of other people, cut and pasted and occasionally run through a translation program). So while there are protections for copyright holders, legally enforcing them is not an easy process. It has led some designers to stop producing patterns at all, which hurts everybody.

This all covers what protections copyright law provides the authors of original works, there are some protections that they might claim are covered under copyright but are not. But that is for another time.


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