Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Owns It, Anyway?

The other day I spent some time looking at the AAQI auction site. There are many lovely "Priority Quilts" up for sale, and the proceeds go for research. (I hope you, too, will take a look.) Looking at some of the quilts on auction helped me to finally come up with some ideas for quilts in memory of my mother-in-law. I have been trying to decide on these since she passed away four years ago.

Today, I came across an article by Rice Freeman-Zachery, entitled You Already Know the Answer. It is one of the clearest descriptions of copyright violation I have yet seen. So, what is the connection to my coming up with an idea for a quilt?

Quiltmakers often remark that people ask them how long it took them to make a quilt. It is generally difficult to answer the question, not only because it can be hard to add up all the time one spent actively working on a quilt, but also because it takes time to develop ideas. When someone steals an artist's work and passes it off as their own, they have not only taken the particular piece, they have stolen the time it took the artist to develop it. 
The Copyright Office says: 
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright. (In other words, the author/copyright holder has to actively give someone else rights, and the work doesn't have to be registered with the Copyright Office for it to be copyrighted.)
Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.
Copyrightable works include the following categories:

1. literary works
2. musical works, including any accompanying words
3, dramatic works, including any accompanying music
4.  pantomimes and choreographic works
5.  pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works
7. sound recordings
8. architectural works

These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may
be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”
The rights held by a copyright owner are spelled out in the Copyright Act. which  
generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

• To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
• To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
• To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
• To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
• To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
• In the case of sound recordings,* to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

In addition, certain authors of works of visual art have the rights of attribution
and integrity as described in section 106A of the 1976 Copyright Act. For
further information, see Circular 40, Copyright Registration for Works of the
Visual Arts.

You can find more information about copyright at

In my day job, I have had a number of years experience working with copyright issues. Copyright law is too complicated for me to fully explain in a short blog entry, but Rice makes a good portion of the ramifications of this part of it easy to understand in her article. I hope to help spread the word a little further, since more people need to be aware.


  1. Thank you Dianne, I am glad you are spreading the news. This information connects and protects all of us.

  2. You're welcome, Jill. I'm glad I was able to do something. It has apparently struck a nerve, too, as I've gotten a lot of traffic since I posted it.

  3. Thanks so much- this is very useful!

  4. You're welcome, Mimi. I'm glad I could help.