Based on member feedback, this post is currently under review and will be revised in the next few days. We still feel this is an important issue to discuss, and we invite you to post your questions and comments below. While we may not be able to get to every comment, we invite open dialogue and will respond to comments as we are able to.
Update: We were hoping to have a response within a week of the post, but we are facing vacation or business travel schedules from external consultants, volunteers and staff. We will post the updated blog post the week of August 22nd and apologize for the delay.
Ever heard the phrase “inspiration is everywhere?” If you’re looking at all, it is. We are bombarded with inspiration: on Instagram, in quilt shows, and all over the Internet. Modern art and graphic design are ripe with inspiration for modern quilts. Steven Bradley wrote an informative post, The Line Between Inspired By and Copied From and How to Stay On Its Right Side. This line can be blurry and, in some cases as Bradley points out, it can be a good thing to be on either side. When it comes to entering a quilt in a quilt show like QuiltCon, it is important to understand the difference between an original design and a derivative of someone else’s work. Both are welcome entrants in quilt shows, but with derivative work, the maker has additional responsibility to credit the source of inspiration, acknowledge the work as a derivative and obtain permission to exhibit the quilt. All quilt shows have their own requirements, but at QuiltCon, derivative quilts should only be entered with appropriate credit, permission from the original artist and for exhibit only.
All About Derivatives
“Derivative.” It sounds complicated, and you may have heard it in a negative context before. But what does it mean when it comes to quilting? First, let’s define the word. According to the Oxford dictionary, a derivative is “(typically of an artist or work of art) imitative of the work of another person; originating from, based on, or influenced by.” In the quilt world, this means that if you make a quilt using someone else’s pattern, artwork, photography, or quilt design, it’s a derivative.
How can I tell if my quilt is a derivative?
The hard and fast rule is this: If someone can recognize who or what influenced your work, then it’s a derivative. The easiest way to determine this is to ask around: Ask your family, friends and members of your guild. Ask quilters and non-quilters. If it was based on something, show people the original work and ask if they can see the influence in your work. Our best advice: use common sense.
Derivative: Using or altering a pattern
If you use a pattern for your quilt, that’s great! It’s a great way to grow your skills, make awesome quilts and do what you love. However, when entering your quilt in a show, you should acknowledge the design source (the pattern and the designer) and get permission to enter your quilt. You may have purchased a pattern and put your own spin on it, but if the original quilter’s work is still recognizable in your version, it’s a derivative. Because of the nature of patterns, a quilt created from a pattern — even if it’s different — is still a derivative.
In this example by Jacquie Gering, the quilt on the right is a derivative of the Fly quilt on the left, and credit would need to be given to Jacquie and permission would be needed to enter this quilt in a show.
The quilt below is also inspired by the Fly quilt below, but it is not derivative. The designer of this quilt took the concept of overlapping triangles and developed that concept into an original design. While you may not need permission from the designer to enter this quilt, it’s always courteous to ask — and designers love to see original work inspired by their own and to be credited for the inspiration.
Original: Inspired by artwork
Derivatives aren’t always based on other quilts — sometimes inspiration comes from the art or design world, but the rules are the same. You may, however, be inspired by artwork and still create an original piece that embodies your own voice and style. This quilt by Shannon Page is a great example. She created an original quilt inspired by a 1940s placard. In this case, she would not need to ask permission from the placard artist, because it is not a derivative — it’s merely inspired by the art.
Derivative: Quilt reproduction of artwork
Reproducing a piece of art in a quilt does not make it original. Sometimes quilters mistakenly believe that a reproduction of art is an original design because they did the work to figure out the math, draft blocks, make templates, choose different colors or write a pattern to translate art into a quilt.
Jaime David made this beautiful quilt based on a weaving by Anni Albers. As you can see, Jaime obviously did loads of work to translate this weaving into a quilt, but she will be the first to tell you that this quilt is not her original design. It was a personal learning exercise to learn from the genius that was Anni Albers. What she learned about color, shape and design from this quilt has helped her find her own voice as a quilter. If she wanted to enter this quilt into QuiltCon she would need to enter for exhibit only, credit Anni Albers and secure permission to exhibit the quilt.
Derivative or original: Taking a workshop
Techniques are not copyrightable, but patterns and designs that you may learn in a workshop are. If you take a workshop with a well-known designer and learn their technique, often the product that comes out is a derivative work. This is especially true of pattern-based workshops. If you’re entering a quilt for show that uses someone else’s technique, your goal is to infuse your own style and voice so much into the quilt that it isn’t recognizable as someone else’s technique. Create and submit a work that is truly your design.
Who decides if it is derivative?
Only a court of law can decided if a work is derivative. Lawyers, legal teams, other quilters, even a show jury can disagree on if a quilt is a derivative. As we said earlier, it’s a fine line and many times a blurry one. A good rule of thumb is the original designer/artist is the one who decides. If you can’t ask the original artist or designer, step away from your work and ask others, but only you know if and how much you were influenced by the work of others.
When to get permission
If you are using a derivative quilt at home privately, you do not need to get permission — though whenever you use someone else’s work it is polite and best practice to ask for permission. However, if you plan to display the quilt publicly or enter it into a show, you should obtain permission to exhibit.
How to get permission
This part is usually easy — and fun! Send an email to the designer and show them a photo of the work you’ve made. Explain that you were inspired by their work and ask politely if you can enter it into a show or display it publicly. Be clear that you plan to give credit in your description. Chances are the artist will be happy to give permission and flattered by the work you’ve done. However, if they decline, you need to respect their wishes.
If you enter a quilt for QuiltCon, you may disagree with the QuiltCon jury on whether or not your quilt is derivative. The best person to decide this is the copyright owner. Ask! Sometimes the copyright owner will say it is not derivative. We will also honor the artist’s/designer’s wishes.
What if I can’t get permission?
“I saw the design on Pinterest and don’t know who made it!” Unfortunately credit isn’t always given on the Internet, and it can be hard to find the original artist. But if you want to enter a quilt based on another design, you need to do due diligence. One way to do this is using Google image search. Upload your image to images.google.com, and Google will find image results that are similar. Click through as many as it takes to find the original artist.
“I was inspired by the work of an artist, but he/she is dead!” If the work is not in the public domain, you may consider contacting their estate for permission. See the section below about our process of contacting an estate for this blog post.
What is public domain?
“Public domain” refers to any creative materials that are not protected by copyright, trademark or patent laws. These are owned by the public and can be used by anyone without permission. For quilters, the most common designs in the public domain are traditional quilt blocks. These designs have been around for dozens (if not hundreds) of years, and the rule in many countries is that the work falls into public domain 70 years after the last creator’s death. Once a work enters public domain, it cannot be copyrighted again.
If you create a quilt using traditional quilt as an inspiration or starting point, you do not need to obtain permission. See Amy Garro’s post Copyright & Quilting for a more in-depth discussion of copyright and public domain. (Note: Copyright laws change from country to country, so it’s best to research laws where you live for more information.)
Submitting a derivative work to a quilt show
Quilt show juries for international or national shows almost always prefer to exhibit original work, and since derivatives are not original, they aren’t as desirable in large shows (local shows are more open to derivative work). However, if you feel strongly about submitting a derivative quilt, follow these steps:
- Request permission. Ask the original artist if you can enter your quilt into the show. Show them a photo of the finished quilt, and get their permission in writing (email is okay). Often times, they’ll be pleased you want to enter a quilt based on their work! However, if they don’t give permission, don’t submit the quilt.
- Be transparent. Be clear in your submission that the work is derivative. Also share with the jury or quilt show committee that you obtained permission from the original maker, designer, or artist.
- Give full credit. In the quilt description, you must give credit to the designer who influenced your work. It’s not only fair, but simple common courtesy.
- How do you define derivative artwork? By SAQA
- Copyright & Quilting by Amy Garro
- An Explanation of Design Permissions by America Quilter’s Society
- How Copyright Affects the Quilter by Canadian Quilters’ Association
How do I find my own voice and style?
Great question! Many quilters work on this for years and build up their style over time. Yours will become clear as you make more quilts, learn what skills and styles you gravitate toward, and recognize what you love most about the process and your designs. Here are some ideas to help you on your journey:
- Stop consuming. Start creating. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the endless quilts on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Step away from the screen from time to time and simply sew. Make what you want to make — not what the Internet tells you to. Do the work.
- Take time to play. The more you experiment with techniques and styles, the easier it is to find your niche. Increase the time you spend sewing without a pattern.
- Do what you love. One technique or design may inspire you more than others. Use that as your starting point and see where it takes you.
- Watch Latifah Saafir’s webinar, “Being True to Your Inner Quilt Artist.” It’s a great resource for any quilter, no matter where you are in your journey.
Interested in how we obtained permission to publish the image of Anni Albers’ weaving above? Read about it below. Sometimes obtaining permission is as simple as sending a few emails. Sometimes it can be more complicated.
- We contacted The Art Resource, Inc., to express interest in using the image of Anni Albers’ weaving as an example.
- We were asked to explain the scope of publication, including authors, publish date, distribution, etc.
- We paid a fee to the Art Resource, Inc., for the one-time, non-exclusive world English language rights for the use of the one image in the article.
- We were asked to obtain additional copyright permission from the Artists Rights Society (ARS).
- The representative at ARS contacted the Albers Foundation on our behalf to request permission to use the image in the blog post.
- We submitted a draft of the blog post in PDF form for the Albers Foundation to approve and went through a few rounds of changes.
- We paid a fee to the Albers Foundation for one-time use of the image.
- The whole process from first contact to final approval took about 60 days. But it pays to do the work!
* Reproduction, including downloading of Anni Albers’ works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.