Embroiderers and hobbyists who buy, find and share embroidery designs with each other are unknowingly breaking copyright law. While legally you have to buy the originals of designs, you get the benefit of instructions, color graphics, color sequences and phone support from the disk manufacturer. Buying designs legally also ensures that affordable designs continue to be made available for purchase.
You cannot copy the designs you have purchased from the copyright or design owner. One of the owners has to give you the permission to make a copy, according to the Embroidery Software Protection Coalition or ESPC. Because of the steep investment that design companies make in their embroidery designs, they should be able to benefit from the return on their investment.
By purchasing an embroidery design, you get permission from the designer to use the design to make the pattern. It does not give you permission to copy the design or give it to your friends.
U.S. Copyright Law and Copyrighted Software
The Copyright Act of 1976 tells you, “It is illegal to make copies or give copies of copyrighted material without getting permission from the owner,” and this includes embroidery software. When you buy the disk, you also buy the license that allows you to load the software onto your embroidery machine or computer, according to the ESPC, Copyright and Piracy Information.
If you make a copy of a copyrighted design, you are then responsible for any copies resulting from the illegal copy that you gave to someone else, reports the ESPC. This also applies to print-outs or embroidered designs that you make with the illegally copied software. Changing the design doesn't protect you. If you change the design on your pirated software disk, then you have violated new areas of the copyright law along with general tort laws.
If you are caught distributing or making unauthorized copies of this kind of embroidery material, you can be jailed for up to five years, pay a fine of up to $50,000, or have your equipment seized, according to the ESPC. Title 17 of the U.S. Code says that the copyright owner can pursue criminal action under Title 18 of the U.S. Code. If the violator decides to defend herself against the charges, she could have to pay over $50,000 for her defense in a federal civil court.
You Own the Disk, Not the Content
Rather than owning the content on an embroidery disk that you just bought, you only own the disk. The designs on that disk are licensed for you to use in a very specific way. The copyright owner is the only entity to own the content on that disk, writes the ESPC. When you begin to share the designs on that disk, you have just become a design pirate as you hand out bootlegged copies that belong only to the copyright owner.
Free Designs on the Internet
When you find free embroidery designs on the Internet, it’s your responsibility to read the copyright stipulations on those websites. You can’t claim ignorance of the law or of what the website owners have posted.
Some websites say you can share their designs as long as you make note of the source of the designs, while other sites say their designs can only be downloaded for personal use. Distributing these designs violates copyright law.
Regardless of the stipulations the design owner puts on free downloadable embroidery patterns, you cannot sell them, according to the ESPC.
When You Can Share the Design
You can only share an embroidery design if you digitize it yourself from artwork that is not under copyright or that is an original, according to the ESPC.
You are free to make your own embroidery software disk, using your own artwork, and share that with other embroiderers should you wish to do so. When you copyright your embroidery disk, other crafters are now bound by U.S. copyright law, protecting your creation.