It's funny. When the word "copyright" is mentioned around quilters, everyone sure starts buzzing. I only mentioned copyright issues with the Bullseye Quilt as an aside, and it started some interesting conversation.
This is a good opportunity to talk about something that made me sit up and take notice when I read about it in the September/October issue of Fiberarts magazine. You'll see why it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It has implications for all of us.
New York quilt teacher and author Paula Nadelstern began hearing from acquaintances that some patterned carpeting in a new Houston hotel had designs that looked a lot like the meticulously pieced kaleidoscope motifs that have made been her specialty, and which figured in her book Kaleidoscopes & Quilts.
Paula Nadelstern's kaleidoscope on the left, Couristan carpet on the right.
During the Houston Quilt Market, Paula had the opportunity to check out the carpeting herself and found that several of the carpet motifs had very obviously been copied from her quilts. She filed legal action in January of this year against Couristan, the manufacturer of the carpet, the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corporation, the owner of the hotel, and Hilton Hotels Corporation, the operator of the hotel.
And here's the interesting part: The defendants responded that because Paula had used third-party fabric purchased from fabric stores, and the fabrics were protected by copyright by their manufacturers, her "derivative works" were not eligible for copyright in her book. Further, the defendants claimed that Nadelstern herself committed fraud by applying for a copyright for the book by "intentionally failing to disclose" to the U. S. Copyright Office that the quilts contained third-party fabrics.
The article goes on to say that the defendants have amended their response to the lawsuit and want to transfer any liability on their part to the interior design firm that commissioned the carpet. That firm allegedly supplied Couristan with images of kaleidoscopes.
It will be very interesting to see how far the defendants get with that allegation about using third-party fabrics. Following that reasoning, exactly what is a sewer or quilter supposed to do with commercially printed fabric? Keep it in a box and look at it? Many quilters, especially art quilters, use the copyright symbol to protect the use of images of their work. Are we ALL committing fraud?
What about artists who purchase paints to use in artworks? Are they barred from copyrighting a work of art because the paint formulas are copyrighted by their manufacturers?
I'm no legal expert but this allegation on the part of the defendants sounds a bit like grabbing at straws. But I would think that in the end, the interior design firm may have some 'splainin' to do. The trial is scheduled for June 11, 2007.
I've owned Paula Nadelstern's wonderful kaleidoscope book for years, and have spent plenty of time poring over it, simply awestruck at the precise and gorgeous detail, and have broken out in cold sweats thinking about the maddeningly intricate sewing that would be involved in making kaleidoscope from fabric. My understanding is that she works out of a tiny space in a New York apartment.
I wish her the best in this case.