Can I Make Items Using Copyrighted Fabric?

By Marilyn Lindblad

Sewing and crafting enthusiasts who purchase fabric by the yard are no doubt familiar with copyright markings. Fabric manufacturers imprint many textiles with the copyright symbol on the selvage edge of the fabric along with the manufacturer's name to put the world on notice that their designs are protected by U.S. copyright law. These symbols can be confusing when someone wants to make -- and perhaps sell -- items using copyrighted fabric.

Copyright Law

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright law protects original creations that are fixed in a tangible medium that is capable of being reproduced. Copyright law applies to print fabrics because the print design is an original creation, and fabric is a medium that someone can reproduce. With digital scanning and fabric printing technology, someone could copy the protected design onto blank fabric. Copyright law prohibits this type of reproduction.

Personal Items

Using copyrighted fabric to make clothing, household goods and craft items for your personal use is clearly permissible under copyright law. Some manufacturers even print the phrase "for non-commercial home use only" on the selvage of their copyrighted fabrics, giving their implicit approval for you to use these fabrics for home sewing projects. You can make apparel, window treatments, lamp shades and other items from these textiles.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Items for Sale

In most circumstances, you can legally sell items that you make from copyrighted fabric. On several occasions, copyright holders have filed lawsuits related to buyers' use of products with restrictive labeling, similar to the marks that fabric makers print on the selvage of textiles. For example, when makers of haircare products labeled "for professional use only," sued retail distributors that sold the products to nonprofessionals, judges dismissed the lawsuits. The distributors who bought the haircare products had not signed a written agreement that they would comply with the manufacturers' restrictions, and the courts held that a one-sided directive from the manufacturer was not enforceable.

First Sale Doctrine

The "first sale doctrine" is the legal doctrine that protects the items that you make from copyrighted fabric and sell. Under the first sale doctrine, a copyright owner can enforce its rights the first time it sells an item. After the first sale, the item enters the stream of commerce, and the copyright owner's control ends. With copyrighted fabric, the first sale occurs when the copyright owner licenses or sells its copyright to the fabric manufacturer. When you purchase the fabric from a fabric store, your purchase is a subsequent sale that the copyright owner cannot control.

Disclaimers

In spite of the legal restrictions presented by the first sale doctrine, some copyright holders nevertheless try to enforce their copyright protection against individuals who make and sell items from copyrighted fabric. You may be able to reduce the risk of a rights owner attempting to enforce its rights against you by using a disclaimer when you sell your products. Whether you sell online, at a craft bazaars or in a retail store, it can't hurt to include a disclaimer on your website, at your booth or on your packaging that clearly states that your products are not associated or affiliated with the original copyright owner.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
How Close Can a Logo Be & Not Be a Copyright Infringement?

References

Related articles

Copyright Laws and Downloading Music

Whether or not you can legally download music from the Internet depends on whether you have permission from the copyright holder to do so. In most cases, free music downloads are illegal. Even paid downloads can be illegal if the copyright holder receives no royalties from the purchase price. The U.S. reserves the right to enforce its copyright laws even against people who download copyrighted music from overseas.

Copyright Laws & Video Games

Video games form the heart of a vital economic industry that relies on the creativity of game designers and innovative companies to develop a consistently fresh supply of new games. Copyright law protects the economic value of video games by insuring that only the creator of the work has the right to duplicate, sell or make related merchandise from the game codes, images, dialogue and characters.

Knock-Offs & Copyright Protection

Copyright law helps protect writers, artists and other copyright holders by precluding others from using their creative works without permission. Knock-offs, or unauthorized imitation goods that are passed off to consumers as the real thing, can violate copyright law when the knock-off goods are books, paintings, movies or other creative works. Owners of active, registered copyrights can gain protection against copyright knock-offs with civil lawsuits or, in certain extreme cases, by pressing criminal charges.

Related articles

Trademark Rights for a Similar Logo

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn't allow you to register a trademark if a similar trademark is already used ...

Legal Use of the Disney Characters

Walt Disney and the Disney group of companies have created some of the most memorable fictional characters in ...

Copyright Vs. EULA

End-user license agreements or EULAs protect the creators of computer software. While copyright law also protects the ...

Most Frequent Copyright Violations

Copyright law protects original works of authorship by providing the copyright holder with a legal monopoly on the ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED