August 29, 2014

Copyright, Fair Use and Fabric Law

Since I mostly use quilting cottons when creating my various sewing projects that I sell on Etsy  I suddenly began noticing declarations on the selvage that I am to only use the fabric for "home use" or "non-commercial use". I have been poking around the online world and I am not the first one to be blogging or writing about this.

One of the best sites  is Tabberone.  It's actually fun to read and they seem to really be on a mission.

A google search turned up this on LegalZoom

  • First Sale Doctrine
  • The "first sale doctrine" is the legal doctrine that protects the items that you make from copyrighted fabric and sell. Under the first sale doctrine, a copyright owner can enforce its rights the first time it sells an item. After the first sale, the item enters the stream of commerce, and the copyright owner's control ends. With copyrighted fabric, the first sale occurs when the copyright owner licenses or sells its copyright to the fabric manufacturer. When you purchase the fabric from a fabric store, your purchase is a subsequent sale that the copyright owner cannot control.

May discussions go back and forth about why or why not you should take these selvage statements seriously.

Now as a former school librarian who was the designated "copyright police" in her schools, I have learned a bit about books and media and fair use in education.  Mostly I have learned to watch out for Disney!  I'm almost afraid to type it.  But books and CD's and movies and workbooks are a whole different world.
These guys are the property of the creators. They sold the rights to print the fabric.
You may buy it and use it for ANYTHING. You may NOT stick it in your scanner and
copy it and print it on your own fabric using any iron on transfer.

There is  the  licensing of logos, trademarks and original work.  Disney can license a fabric company to produce yardage with Mickey's all over it. They can print warnings all over the place BUT if you purchased it from a legitimate source they cannot control how it is used after that. (See First Sale Doctine above)

You may NOT put your items on ebay, Etsy or anywhere and present them as Disney approved items. You MAY and should say that the items are made with Disney licensed fabric but are not associated in any way with the Disney Co.

I searched lots of online fabric sites and I found only one that stated the restriction in the listings. That was  Some say the fabric is licensed but doesn't say how it is to be used it simply seems to be a way to direct the buyer to the fabric.  Now I did NOT read every listing but they appear to be consistent. 
If you buy fabric online and you intend to use it for your Etsy shop items and when it arrives with this 
"warning" what are you to do?  You cannot return cut fabric in most cases. 

There is this:

I have these two fabrics which I bought at different times and perhaps even from different stores. The orangey red on the left has no "warning" but the one really neutral one on the right does!!!@*&%$!

I cut this stuff up to make these:

                     I understand Mickey, Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob but this TEXTURE!

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you think but I do screen the comments so you won't see it right away.


  1. Disney lost the law suit about selling Disney embroidery designs that come built into your sewing machine.

  2. I noticed that "warning" on fabric I bought a few years ago. I don't (as a rule) use any kind of regular licensed fabric. What surprised me was that I bought fabric from a line designed by Marie Osmond and saw the warning on that fabric. I decided never to buy that manufacturer again and I read every piece of fabric now before I buy it. I spend a lot of money purchasing fabric to make into goods that I sell on Etsy or from my website or at craft and art shows. Good to know that once I purchase the fabric, the manufacturer cannot tell me what to do with it!

  3. Very interesting and I'll pass this post onto my friend that makes stuff with licensed fabrics. Regarding your cushions I think they don't have to worry too much.. that fabric is pretty ordinary (as in not overly elaborate).

    1. I'm not worried at all , just astonished. BTW, rules/laws/warnings may be different in Australia.

  4. Great post! That is interesting about the embroidery design lawsuit, BillJ. Before sewing, I was into cake decorating. And Disney was the big one to watch out for, too. I was really turned off by Disney when they started selling on ebay. I haven't looked to see if they still do.

    I remember the huge debate when a designer copied vintage patterns then proclaimed you couldn't resell items sewn with her fabric. Her company survived but it sure does leave that bad taste lingering. I'm just glad that laws are becoming clearer to understand thanks to post like this.