Let me preface this blog post by reminding everyone that a blog is simply one person’s opinion. My blog, my opinion. Don’t like it, don’t read it. Usually, I avoid controversy in my blog posts (one post a while back did come back to bite me on the underside) but this is a situation that could have tremendous impact on what we buy and how we use it. So here goes:
There is a situation that has been discussed a lot lately via the internet and in various blogs lately that I want to address. I am not going to use any names, since I do not want to invite responses from those involved (but it is easy enough for you to figure out who the players are if you really want to know).
The situation, as I understand it, is as follows (I am not privy to all the details, I can only comment on what I have read in their respective blogs). The author of a book received fabric from a fabric manufacturer for use in making the quilts contained in that book. The manufacturer freely supplied this fabric with the full knowledge of how it would be used. (As an aside, I will tell you that many fabric companies do this for authors, I have benefited from the generosity of several companies in the production of all four of my books.) The publisher decided to make tote bags and used a closeup from a photo of one of the finished quilts in the book on those totebags. What is relevant is the fact that the only fabrics showing in this particular closeup were from one manufacturer, and in fact one designer.
There is a trend in fabric design these days in which companies produce lines by various designers–and since I do not do this, I can only assume these designers are not on staff, they are hired as independent contributors. I also have no way of knowing what sort of arrangement this company has or had with this designer, and frankly it shouldn’t matter to any of us who purchase fabric.
So what happened that caused all this kerfuffle? The designer felt the tote bags picturing her fabric were in violation of her copyright on the fabric. (I wonder, if the tote bags were actually MADE from this fabric would she have been able to make the same threat?). Fact is, the picture on the totebag was a closeup of a quilt the author made for the book, NOT a photo of the fabric alone. Seems like a fine line to me, but I have never seen the tote bags so I can’t comment on whether or not I agree (not that my opinion matters anyway). She threatened to sue the author and the publisher and demanded a portion of the profits, destruction of the remainder of the bags, and this is the part that really steps over the line–of the book as well.
This seems a bit grabby to me, and was probably meant to get everyone’s attention. It did. The publisher eventually worked out some sort of settlement (as far as I know the book is still available). Maybe the tote bags crossed some line (I am not sure) but the book certainly did not. During all the fuss the fabric manufacturer chose to remain uninvolved, which to me is unprofessional and cowardly.
The fabric designer is quick to point out that there was no lawsuit. Little comfort, since the threat of a lawsuit was apparently front and center. Whether or not this was a frivolous threat (or if a lawsuit would have been successful for this designer) is irrelevant–the author and publisher were forced to spend money to defend their position and work out an agreement. As an author this terrifies me. As a person who only uses commercial fabric in my work, it is of growing concern.
Someone told me yesterday that some fabrics now have a notice printed on the selvage that says “not for commercial use.” Although I will admit I have never seen this, I will also admit I don’t spend much time reading selvages, either. How can one produce a commodity that is only ever used by others to make something else and then limit it’s use? Does that mean we all run the risk of being sued when we sell our work if it contains one of these fabrics? And even if we were all to start reading selvages, what about when we purchase fat quarters which do not contain the selvage or purchase a small enough amount that the full message is cut off? At what point are we totally hamstrung by the limits of the materials we use? I don’t really want to know what contractual agreements every designer has made with every fabric company. I have enough on my mind.
Another person suggested we should all make our own fabrics, but I LIKE using commercial prints and don’t really want to get involved with dyes and paints and all that mess. And, hey, who knows when some designer who developed a line of colors for that dye company might pull the same crap. Oh, did I say crap? Sorry, but remember I did warn you–my blog, my opinion.
OK, so I get that if the only fabrics that showed on the totebag were by one designer she might have felt that her “design” was being lifted and used without her permission. Does that mean the rest of her actions were justified? Not from where I sit. Maybe I would feel differently if I designed fabric, but I don’t think so.
Life wasn’t hard enough before? Now we have to worry about being threatened with a lawsuit if we use a piece of fabric? Wow.
Remember, my blog my opinion. Please don’t threaten to sue me!