Note: I am not an attorney. The following are generalizations only based on my study of copyright law and are not meant to be construed as legal advice. If you have a question, consult a competent attorney specializing in copyrights and intellectual property law.
Conversely, an "unwritten rule" with some designers is that stitching a chart six to ten times and selling the finished pieces is ok, but more than this will not be ignored. If you want to make multiple items to sell, as at a fair to raise money for a new community center, write the designer and ask permission first. Whether you will be granted that right without buying a "license" probably will be a function of how busy she is, how many items you want to make from that one chart, what your selling price/profit will be, whether the proceeds are you own profit or go to a charitable purpose, and so on. As always, to be safe, write and ask before you do the stitching with multiple sales in mind.
Another well-known independent designer takes a benign view of the practice of selling stitched pieces of her designs, knowing that the profit to be made from selling finished needlework is minimal compared to the time involved and the cost of materials. This economic inequity acts as a natural limitation on the number of stitched pieces of her work which are available in the marketplace: she believes there will never be so many for sale in craft fairs and shops that it will diminish her income from sale of the chart. If the design were reproduced by weaving machines or were hand-stitched in large quantities somewhere where labor is cheap, this would be another story and she would vigorously defend her copyright.
Suppose someone commissions you to stitch a design. This might be a person who doesn't have the time, skill, or desire to do the stitching but wants needlework. Is it legal for you to stitch a chart for profit? Certainly! You are being paid to provide a service. Protect yourself by having a contract with the purchaser in advance of the stitching, in which you spell out that the fee includes the costs for a new copy of the chart, supplies, and your labor (and finishing/framing, if applicable). It is also wise to spell out in advance how disagreements will be handled. Each of you signs and keeps a copy. (Nolo Press has an excellent book on contracts for "everyday people and everyday situations." I recommend it.)
What if a shop commissions you to stitch a sample? Again, entirely legal, even if you are "paid" in discounts at the shop. You will be safest if you have a written contract with the shop; don't be afraid to ask for one because this protects the shop, as well.
Now suppose you buy a commercial chart with the express purpose of making multiple copies of one design to sell at a crafts show. You are very definitely in business, even if you make only 25 cents profit per sale. You probably need a license. See second paragraph, above.
Note: Check with your accountant about the tax ramifications of being paid cash or goods to stitch. This is taxable income, and you must report it on the front side of the 1040. If you fill out a Schedule C, however, you also can claim your expenses, which will offset part of this income, thus reducing your taxes. (In this case, the cost of the chart and supplies would be listed as business expenses, which would reduce the tax you paid on your labor fee.) Your accountant can advise you whether the IRS would consider your business a "real business with profit as a motive" or a "hobby business." In the end, however, you must make the decision because you sign your tax return.
Also be careful with any photographic image of a design you stitch. The first designer mentioned above says that any photograph or other representation of that stitched chart may not be used multiply without her permission (say, for duplication in a calendar). She does grant permission for the image to appear once, *giving her credit as the designer*, as in a newspaper or magazine story about a stitchery exhibit. If you plan to use a photograph or drawing of a piece of stitchery in a publication, obtain permission first.
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.