Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act and the home sewist

Are you a home sewist who buys pdf pattern files? Then this post is for you.  Did you know that when you buy and download those files, you are buying a copyrighted pattern from the designer?  You are given the right to print out that pattern but you are not give the right to make another copy of that file. Meaning, you are not legally allowed to email that file to a third party.  So, sending that file to your husband to print out for you at his office is not allowed.  Buying the file and then emailing it to a friend as a gift is not allowed.  Trading it with a friend for a pdf pattern she has is also not allowed. Why? Well, in a nutshell, because you are making a copy of the file to do this sharing and you are only legally allowed to have one copy.

Now, let's back up a second. What does all of this mean and is Kathy sure of what she is writing? Well, first of all, I am not an attorney.  On a good day I feel pretty smart, but some days I feel darn right average. Still, I do my best to understand my topic and I  have done some reading and I wrote about this topic once before, here.  That blog post was about the idea of using a pattern you purchase to sew a garment you then sell. 

This post, however, is about sharing with others the pdf patterns you purchase.  Copyright refers to the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.  When someone designs a pattern, they can copyright it to protect it. When you purchase a copyrighted work, such as a book, a sewing pattern, the lyrics to a song, etc, you will see something like this written on the document: This document is protected by copyright laws and any reproduction of it, including electronic transfer to a third party, is strictly prohibited.  That all means that you cannot share the pdf with anyone. Period.  

Now, you may think that it is not really THAT big of a deal to share a pdf pattern between friends. With paper patterns, this is a common practice.  But, here's the difference.  When you share a pdf pattern, you still keep a copy of that pdf file on your harddrive. Now there are two copies for the one purchase price.  You could do this ad nauseum, sharing this file far and wide, and the artist who created that pattern could potentially lose out on dozens of sales. You are taking money away from the artist when you share this file.  It doesn't matter if it is a book or a piece of music or a sewing pattern.  The laws are the same. If the article is copyrighted, it is protected by law from being shared electronically. 

And, in 1998, this sharing of files became an international issue. In 1996, a group within the United Nations called The World Intellectual Property Organization ratified two treaties: the WIPO copyright treaty and the WIPO performances and phonograms treaty.  Two years later, then US President Clinton signed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). You can access a copy of this act here.  The DCMA criminalizes sharing of copyrighted materials and production of means of sharing them.  Generally, you are infringing copyright if you download or store copyrighted materials on your computer without the permission of the copyright owner, unless fair use or another exemption under copyright law applies. Most downloading over the Internet of commercially available copyrighted works, such as music or movies or sewing patterns, through file sharing systems is illegal. You might recall that, a few years back, Napster users were found guilty of sharing files. Many fines and jail times were doled out.  For sharing music files.  

So, the next time you purchase a pdf sewing pattern file, keep it for you and you alone.  And remember that these laws apply to all sorts of files, including photo sharing!  

Some further reading:

Wiki, of course, but remember that it is Wiki and don't take it as gospel.

PS All patterns pictured here are pdf files I purchased.


 It has been brought to my attention that some people are truly stuck with no way to print a pattern at home.  So, what options do you have? Well, that is a very good question and I would recommend you write to the pattern maker and ask their advice.  I don't have a good answer that is going to work for every situation.

PPS I certainly did not mean to offend anyone with my comment that I am smarter than the average busy bee mama.  I apologize.


Backing up your files is allowed!

"Systematic backup practices do not fit the structure of section 117, which is limited to making a copy of an individual program at the time the consumer obtains it. It was argued that such a discrepancy between the law and commonly accepted practices undermines the integrity of the law. Such a fundamental mismatch creates the perception that the law need not be literally followed, thereby creating a slippery slope. "


  1. thank you and we are sharing this! <3 Create Kids Couture

  2. Very well said! And thank you so much for saying it so clearly!! As a pattern designer this is always as issue for us. For some reason people just don't tend to see this as a problem. most of us who design are doing so not just because we love and enjoy designing..I do really love what I do...but we also do this either a our main source of income or as an addition to our other jobs. I hope a lot of people see this and start adhering to this!

    Again thank you so much for such a clear and concise article! Now back to sewing and designing! lol

  3. I am happy this is helpful to others!

  4. As an author of pdf ebooks, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into this blog post. We will be sharing. Thank you!