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.
What about the fair use clause and education? What if you're making a copy for a friend to teach her to stitch? Sorry. This is not fair use. Your friend must buy her own chart--or you may give or lend her yours.
What about a chart from a class you took? This chart, too, is protected by copyright. Only the teacher (that is, a teacher who is teaching her own design) has the right to make copies and distribute this chart. A teacher who is teaching someone else's design, of course, may not make copies without prior permission from the copyright holder.
Note: Many designers have projects which are class-only charts. These are available only through classes, never as a retail product. To make a copy of such a chart and give it to a friend not only violates copyright law for copying and distributing, but also the teacher's intention that this chart be an "exclusive" not available to the general public.
And a free chart from a shop? This depends.
If it says you may reproduce it, then yes, make copies and give them to friends. This is what the designer (or publisher) intended. You may use it in newsletters, too, or teach the chart as a needlework guild program. What you may *not* do is kit materials to go with the chart and sell the materials [and the chart] as a kit. (If you teach a free chart of this type at your needlework guild, ask each stitcher to bring her own materials; you provide only the chart. It is courteous to contact the copyright holder/designer in advance and ask permission to do this.)
If the chart is marked "for shop use only," these are intended as promotional tools for shops. The idea is that if people know new free charts will be available on a monthly basis, they'll go to their local shops regularly to get them--and while they're there, they'll browse around and probably buy something. If you have a special reason you'd like to make copies of a "shop only" freebie, write the designer and ask permission first.
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.