Digitizing vintage patterns?

Sorry friends but I bit off more than I can chew with that offer. It’s more than I can handle. It’s best for me to sell these by the box rather than singly. I will get back to those who indicated they were interested in whole box purchases and follow up with the tips you left for other buyers if those fall through. This box has been sold and I regret if anyone is disappointed. For all subsequent boxes, I will photograph them and post the web album. Owner can have the rights to use the photos as long as they don’t mind if I use the images for my occasional purposes. I can also mention the buyer if they agree so you can contact them if you’re interested in a particular style.

Question: One person wrote me saying it was “too bad” that I didn’t have the software or equipment to digitize these …but I do. I never considered it. Would that be legal depending on the age of the pattern? Or the company even? Say a McCall’s 50’s era pattern were digitized for potential resale, I’d think that McCall’s would have every right to go after someone for using their brand name to market the copies. As I understand it and for the time period in question, corporate copyrights were in effect for 75 years. The only way I could see it being legal is if the company went out of business without assigning or selling their assets to another party. In the case of Advance pattern company (that item was popular), I imagine they sold their intellectual property assets to a competitor. But I don’t know.

If these questions could be resolved, I wouldn’t have a problem digitizing them and transferring the files to whoever bought them but I wouldn’t want to be involved in the resale end of it to consumers. Digitizing is relatively inexpensive. I don’t know what other people charge but my rate is $25 an hour and most patterns would take less than that. The added advantage of digitizing is the patterns could then be regraded by anyone with a copy of the digital file. Like I said, I’m open to the possibility of providing this service to someone who wanted to resell vintage patterns if these questions could be resolved satisfactorily.

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  1. David says:

    A possible idea for personal deaccessioning that I’m doing with music CD’s: Hire an underemployed friend for money, love, or a cut of the take to list individual items for ebay, Amazon, or Craigslist, (or ‘Blog?) as appropriate. I think that once they have a system, the listings go pretty quickly and the $2 here and $6 there start adding up.

  2. Esther says:

    Just to be safe, I wouldn’t digitize anything, except for patterns printed before 1923, which would be in the public domain. As far as I know, patterns are licensed for individual use – which is an extension of the copyright protection that goes above and beyond copyright. People have even been sued for reselling patterns as it is a violation of the license, though the pattern companies have backed off on that some.

  3. Laura says:

    I remember seeing a company on the internet that did reproductions of old patterns. The patterns had to be before 1950, which gave me the impression they thought copyright was only 50 years. Wish I could find that site now!

  4. Erika says:

    I don’t know if you have heard of it, but there is a company based out of Oakland, CA called the “Vintage Pattern Lending Library”. http://www.vpll.org/ They have digitized copies of vintage patterns available to “borrow” for a small fee. This gets around the copyright issue somehow. I’m sure they have the answers to your questions about copyright and maybe would be interested in more patterns.

  5. David S says:

    In the US, anyone who tells you can’t sell a physical copy of a pattern that you own is simply wrong. The doctrine of first sale makes it perfectly legal to sell or give away the physical object. Rules in othe countries will be different.

  6. Leslie says:

    I’m not a lawyer (or if I was an American, an attorney) I’m just a Canadian hick with a legal background. Anyway, I would bank on no law suit for the reasons David stated, but I would add that there’s probably not enough market share for Kwiksew, who has bought up all the other pattern companies the last time I checked, to even bother with you. However, I wouldn’t bank on it. If you contacted them, they might even agree to it as long as they get some publicity, credit or whatever, and there isn’t a lot of money at stake. But like I said, I’m just a country hick so this is just an opinion, of which I do not take legal responsibility. As usual.

  7. Claire-Marie Costanza says:

    David’s post talks about two different scenarios as if they were the same. Buy a pattern and then sell the physical pattern (that you purchased) when you are done with it = legal. Buy a pattern, make a copy of it, sell the copy = NOT legal. (I believe giving the copy away is also illegal.) Same with books; there is a thriving (and legal) used book market. Buy a book, read the book, then sell the book = legal. Make photocopies of the book and sell or give away the copies = NOT legal.

    (One of my daughter’s professors in Jr. College wanted to use one chapter of a particular book in his class, but didn’t want to ask his students to purchase the whole book. He wanted one of his students – my kid – to do the illegal photocopying, I assume because he had a lot to lose if he got caught doing it. Oy!!!)

    The application of copyright laws is convoluted, and I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. The application of copyright laws as they apply to sewing and craft patterns is mind twistingly complex, but the basic principle behind all copyright laws is to protect the rights of the copyright holder to derive income from their work. It is illegal to do something that deprives the copyright holder of possible income. If money is changing hands, and the copyright holder is not getting any of it, there’s a good chance of copyright violation.

    Having said all that, the copyright holder can grant to Kathleen the right to reproduce and distribute copies of older works, according to whatever conditions the copyright holder wishes to define. As ZipZapKap notes, this would require quite a bit of effort on Kathleen’s part.

    The Big 4 pattern companies have started to reissue some vintage patterns. I read on one of their websites that they do not have the original patterns on file. They had to acquire vintage patterns and digitize them, just as Kathleen is proposing. I wonder if any of the original copyright holders would find digitized copies of their own patterns of value in trade for allowing Kathleen to sell or distribute them in some fashion.

    To really bend your mind, Google up some articles about quilts and copyrights. For example, as a piece of artwork, images of the quilt, including photos, are copyright-able.

  8. David S says:

    I was only refering to the transfer of the actual physical pattern, not to making copies (either digitally or on paper) and distributing that. A prior commenter had said pattern companies had claimed you couldn’t do that. While they may well have — pattern companies have a long history of asserting rights they don’t have — courts have consistently held that patterns are sold, not licensed, and as such the seller relinquishes title. So they can’t tell you what you can do with it: if you want to make paper airplanes out of it, go right ahead. If you want to sell the patterns you buy at Goodwill on EBay, same thing. If you choose to make clothes, great. The pattern company’s say in that ends when they take your money.

  9. Erin says:

    The Vintage Pattern Lending Library lends, sells digitized copies, and sells originals (that are already copied, I assume). I have used several of their digitized copied patterns. I think they go up to the 1950’s because that is their cut off for “vintage”. Can’t find anything about legality on their site or blog. It seems like another company I’ve seen is doing the same thing. As a costumer and student of material culture, I appreciate the service. Besides, the big 4 are such beasts, it’ll take forever for them to turn around and say hey, what are you new media folks doing over there?

  10. maxine ricks says:

    I want to follow up on this conversation. Kathleen are you still offering to digitize vintage patterns? If so have you found any more information on the legal aspect of this? I have quite the vintage pattern collection and I am very interested in digitizing them for sale.

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