Copyright Infringement when Designing Kits

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Copyright Infringement when Designing Kits

Recently I posted this question on a Facebook design group. I was curious to see what people would say on this site.

I should preface my question with, I don't want to offend any designers here! So, please if you do this don't take offense. I just want to clarify so when I design kits, that I do things correctly.

I've noticed that some of my favorite designers have full kits of elements that have been extracted/turned into .png files. Things like unusual buttons, vintage jewelry, paper dolls, vintage Christmas ornaments, playing cards, and other unique items that they haven't created. Are we allowed to do this...or is it blurring the line (if not crossing it) when it comes to copyright infringement?

In that same vein, are we allowed to photograph/scan items that you can find around your house, extract, and use them in kits...or is this considered infringement as well?

As a photographer, I'm familiar with photo copyright (long story short, you don't mess with it unless you're able to pay an insane amount if caught)...but am still somewhat unsure about the use of extracted photo elements from vintage/antique books/printed materials. It's another trend that I've seen quite a bit of. I assume we'd need to check to see whether there's a copyright still active? many questions!

Thanks for asking this, Janet, because this is something I have been curious about as well!!

Hypothetically, could I walk through Hobby Lobby and take a few nice pictures of flowers, ribbons, buttons, etc and make those into elements? And then, could I sell them or give them away in a kit? And what if I purchased the items and scanned them? It seems like copyright infringement in some way to scan something that someone else has physically created and is selling, turning it into an image, and selling it... but I suppose people do it all the time (lol, except for the Eiffel Tower - if you want to sell any photo of it, you have to have permission. There's an organization that holds a pretty strict copyright on the whole darn thing, and especially strict if it's a night time shot).

From what I have read, I know that you can scan and use old art and text, etc, as long as there is not a copyright still active - but how/where would someone go about finding that information? And, if I download a book from Project Gutenberg and there are illustrations in the book I want to use, are those copyright free if the book is?

And what about magazines and newspapers, old or new? Or wrapping paper? etc.

I'm somewhat unclear as well on items like playing cards, jars, etc. For anything in nature, as long as you took the picture you would be free to use as you please since you would hold the copyright on it - so you could photograph a rose, extract, and use it for commercial purposes. Old photos and illustrations can be used as long as the copyright has elapsed. I believe its something like 70 years, but don't quote me on that and don't take it as fact - I may have just read that somewhere without it having been verified. There are also a lot of public domain items that can be used.

I'm surprised about the Eiffel Tower thing. I never heard of that and I think its ridiculous that you can't take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and sell it. JMHO. I wonder how many other famous landmarks have something like that...

I am TOTALLY shocked about the Eiffel Tower photograph thing too... Is this info posted somewhere legal on their tourist website, etc. I'm absolutely flabbergasted at this and items like Cat brings up, what about all the places, landmarks, mountains, canyons etc??? Wowser!!!

My apologies, I was a bit mistaken on the Eiffel Tower - it was a while ago that I read it. Apparently, the monument itself is in public domain to photograph, but there is a copyright on the lighting effects that are done to it at night. So... you can take pictures of it during the day and sell them, but not at night. Sorry 'bout that. Copyright info from the official page.

I can understand the lighting, since that involves a lot of computer programming (which is totally covered under copyright). Although I am still surprised that things out in the public such as buildings would have a "copyright". That's just crazy in my mind. I did know about copyright with fabrics too. Its all very confusing and I try to keep within the rules when I use stuff for my designs. Most of the time, if I'm not sure about it, I don't use it. I try to draw a lot of my own stuff or make it digitally if I need something - just easier for me that way and I know i won't get into trouble.

I think it is ok to photograph something that is bought and extracted or around the house as long as it is simple/basic, and does not have a printed or embossed copyright on it. However, in today's digital world, I think they are starting to crack down on piracy and copyright laws and are making them stricter, slowly, but surely. Its just the laws aren't changing as fast as digital technology is increasing.

See here:
"Utility objects[edit]

There is normally no copyright in a 3D utilitarian object, so photographs of typical household objects are normally acceptable as long as you have taken the photograph yourself. If someone else took the photograph, you need permission from copyright owner (usually the photographer). See Commons:applied art.

If the object has an original printed or embossed design on its surface, there will be copyright in that design even though there is no copyright in the 3D shape. This might apply, for example, to a cup with embossed surface decoration. So, unless the printed or embossed design is old enough to be public domain, or is too simple to be copyrighted, a photograph of the article may not be uploaded without the designer's permission."

You can find more detailed info on this HERE:)

So here is my question, what is considered basic household objects? A button, ribbon, or flower from say, my sewing basket, that came from maybe the dollar tree, with no design on it? Is a mass distributed very basic doily sold at Michaels in the dollar section basic? That's what I am trying to figure out.

It is crazy the things that have or don't have copy rights. I really don't know what to say about copy rights when it comes to extracting things as I just don't know and to be honest I am not sure about how to figure it out. It seems that Sheila has provided us with some great information

I believe that about the Eiffel Tower (and really wasn't surprised). In Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta Georgia the Eichberg family crypt is a copyrighted piece of funerary art (meaning your crypt can't be just like it). Which I think is interesting.

I wish someone would write a "Copyright for Dummies" manual. It still get's a bit confusing to me. From what I read that Sheila linked mostly what they talk about it published "works," sound recording "works," and architechural "works." So I guess what this means is that unless the copyright is imbedded say in the back of a button it is basically public domain. I know with fabrics there is sometimes a copyright on the edge of the fabric but most times this is not the case. And most times that fabric is a patterned fabric. So all in all although still a bit clear as mud, I am thinking that I will follow the copyright not on the item then public domain.

I found this most interesting: Can you make craft items with licensed fabric and then sell it?

Still not a direct answer to the question we all have...but I will continue to study and research this whole copyright thing until I have better answers! I am now intrigued:)

@Sheila Love the research you are doing! The links are very enlightening! You have more patience than I in doing this research. Thanks for helping us all in understanding a little better the details!

I've been wondering all this stuff myself and my mind is blown just thinking about all the copyright and licensing stuff that comes with literally everything on this planet.

I bought some Thor, Batman and Captain America fabrics last night so redo some kitchen chair cushions my parents gave me (LOL I'm a huge nerd) and on the bottoms of the fabrics it has copyright/license information printed right on it and I just thought it was the craziest thing lol.

The writing on Thor says: "CP41223 Thor Frames, TM & Copyright 2011 Marvel. for Springs Creative Products Group, LLC. Sold for noncommercial home use only. Do not use for children's sleepwear." Captain America says the same and Batman's is similar.

It's a tricky situation, mostly because there aren't any laws really regarding what most digital designers are doing. Generally, I try and avoid things specifically designed for scrapbooking to scan (special elements, papers, etc, what you'd find in a scrapbooking store). Beyond that, I tend to stick with basic items that can't really be traced to a certain manufacturer.

Thank you Marisa, great advice!

Super advice Marisa, the more I look into it, the more complicated it gets because like you said, there are really no laws regarding what designers are doing, so Its sort of in the grey area, I think your answer is really the best thing you can do to make sure you are not breaking any copyright laws. Thanks!!

Well, I would assume that almost everything sold in a scrapbook store (premade or designed patterns) has a copyright on it. Now, stuff like PLAIN buttons, PLAIN brads, etc... maybe not, but anything that involved a designer at all to be created for sale. I would definitely NOT scan and extract and try to sell it (or even give it away for free). I would imagine you'd end up in some trouble or at the very least a heartache and a half trying to prove you didn't "mean" to do wrong and end up paying some steep fines. I do a lot of quilting and I know that it's very particular, too... what can be used for personal use vs commercial use. Now they print copyright on the side as previously mentioned but that hasn't always been the case. smiley

This copyright thing has baffled me from the beginning. I tend to stay away from anything that is probably 'made' by someone in this world and try to draw my own elements or at least create them all digitally. Probably the best insurance to know you haven't unintentionally stolen someone's button or doily... But it does make my kits less versatile...

very nicely said Fran. smiley

Introducing the concept of real-world fabrics copyrights is interesting. My sister-in-law just recently started taking an interest in quilting. She started taking some classes last fall to learn free hand machine quilting. We did shop at a quilt store here, while she was in town from Canada. The shop was "teaching" lessons using one of the same quilts here as back at her home, built around the same materials.

When you purchase fabric, you are purchasing the copyright to be able to use the fabric. Quilting, photography, and digital design are, to a certain extent their own art-forms. So when you purchase their material, you are purchasing the rights to their product AND copyright, to use and CONSUME the material. Making a quilt would consume the product that you purchased. But if you were to photograph the quilt you made, and from that photo designed a card or scrapping paper, would you be crossing the copyright laws?

I guess I would ask myself these questions:
1) Have I purchased their product and copyrights?
2) Will I, or my customers, be using/consuming their product in a way that is close to the intended use, and therefore easily falls under the copyright law?
3) Have I created or designed something orginal enough from their product that I have made it my own piece of art?

It certainly can be a difficult question to answer. So put some thought into it, and then ONLY do what you can with a clear consience, and the threat of hefty fines, would allow you to.

Oh my.... I never thought about that with the fabric.

Its very confusing to say the least. What makes it even more difficult and confusing is that we are a group from different countries with different copyright laws. What is legal in one country may not be so in another. I do try to make most of my own stuff or use things from reputable designers (like Marisa! - thank you!!), but I really suck at drawing so I rely on the integrity of people I'm getting my CU stuff from.

Maybe we need just one big pot for designers of all talents to put the stuff they are willing to share in, using Marisa's terms for commercial use:) Like a cu4cu freebie only thread, so we can all combine our talents and find everything we need in one location. That's what I LOVE about Pixel Scrapper, its like going to Walmart, where everything you need is in one location, except its better because everything is all free, and the terms are so user friendly! I don't know what I am trying to say, I am sooo muddled in the head right now with this sinus infection and headache, lol.....

I love your post Sheila! A better and improoved scrapping walmart, lol.

Oh my.....oh my, now that the Designer Challenge for July is out, CHRISTMAS....and I went to the quilting store with my sister-in-law. I'm really wondering about this fabric thing. Cause even though I've got a lot of material yet to sew, and I've not worked on quilts for 3 years, I found some material that I just had to get. It was a good price, $9 for 3 yards, and it's was something that blends our winter holidays, Christmas and Hannuka VERY well.

I purchased it with the thought that I could at the least make some "present bags" to use year after year.

At the least I'll have to see how close the colors are to some of my other things, and if I can add it's colors to my palette choice for the Designer Challenge for July.

Coming from education, I know how strict Disney is with copyright infringement in the world of education, and so I wonder how that carries over into this realm when I have been scouring stores for Disney related kits. I haven't been brave enough to venture into making my own things for sale yet, knowing how tricky copyright can be and wanting to do things just so. Teachers have copyright drilled into them because school districts don't want lawsuits, and teachers are held accountable more than schools. I can't imagine trying to keep up with international rules on top of everything else!

If all of this isn't confusing enough, there is also something called 'Artistic License', where you can actually adapt someone else's art or prose, with your own spin, and it is legal. The item/design must be altered in some way. Now, I do not know all of the ins and outs on this, but, there is a way to use some things this way.

Wow, this thread is informative and yet my head is spinning. Maybe it would be helpful to have a forum covering resources about copyrights and such!?

I don't know that Pixel Scrapper would have the legal resources or man power to keep up with the legalities of the ever changing/growing world of copyright infringement and how it could apply in so many ways to the different uses for each designer and also how it applies to so many countries differently.

I think these type of threads/posts where everyone can share their overall experience(s) with one another is probably the best way to "guide" people to the right places to "try" to find the answers they need.

Re: DIsney - In graphics , it's always a No-no. Somewhere I have a list of companies that don't allow use of their images without specific permission. I'll see if I can find it.

Ok , found a list of all known No's under any circumstances for PSP & Photoshop

Warner Bros Characters Warner Brothers
Including Scooby Doo Warner Brothers
Boyds Collection
Disney Characters Disney Jason and Heather Martin.
Anne Geddes Anne Geddes
Annie Lange
Barbie Mattel Inc.
Barney and Friends
Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Baker
Batman DC Comics
Betty Boop King Features Syndicate Inc.
Blues Clues Nick Jr.
Care Bears do not use.
Cherished Teddies
Clifford The Big Red Dog Scholastic Inc.
Curious George Houghton Mifflin Co.
Dexters Lab Nintendo/Cartoon network.
Flinstones Hanna-Barbera
GI Joe Hasbro
Garfield and Friends Jim Davis
Grinch Cartoon Characters Dr. Suess Enterprise
Gumby and Poke Prema Vision Inc.
Harley Davidson
Hello Kitty Sanrio
He-Man Cartoon Characters Mattel Inc.
Loony Tunes Cartoon Characters Warner Brothers
M&M Guy's Mars. Inc.
Muppets Characters Jim Henson Co.
Neo Pets Neopets Inc.
Nick Jr. All Cartoon Characters seen on Nick Jr. Viacom International
Paddington Bear Paddington Co. LTD.
Peanuts Gang United Features Syndicate
Pink Panther
Pokemon Nintendo
Power Puff Girls Cartoon Network
Precious Moments Precious Moments Inc.
Shrek and all characters of Shrek Dreamworks LLC
Smurfs PEYO
Sponge Bob and all characters of Sponge Bob Nickelodeon.
Strawberry Shortcake.
Superman DC Comics
Tatty Teddy


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