Photocopying Charts for Stitching Aids

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.

An area of frequent discussion among needleworkers is making a single photocopy (often an enlargement) as a stitching aid. The idea is that the purchaser of the chart wants to keep the original in readable condition. Often charts are hard to understand because they are printed small and/or are filled with detail which is hard to decipher. Stitchers usually mark a chart--especially a complex one--to help them keep track of where they are. Some charts come from magazines or hardbound books which are clumsy and heavy to carry around; and the carrying would tatter the entire volume, making the other charts difficult to read. Any way a stitcher looks at it, it makes sense to stitch from a photocopy rather than the original.

It also seems fair because the stitcher purchased the original chart.

First problem first: making the photocopy is a violation of copyright unless you have prior permission from the copyright holder.

Second problem: it is a fallacy that purchasing a chart gives the buyer the right to do whatever he wants with it, including making a copy as a stitching aid. Only the copyright holder has the right to make copies. You have simply purchased one of those copies.

While no one would argue with the reasonableness of a stitching aid copy, publishers and designers have good reason to worry that the stitcher would go overboard. They might make "just one extra copy for a friend" or make several "just to give away, not to sell," thus causing the copyright holder not only to lose sales revenue but control of their right to make and distribute copies. Once the horse is out of the barn, it's much more difficult to put the bridle on him.

There are several solutions. One is to write the designer (or copyright holder, in the case of a publishing house or magazine) and ask if you may make a photocopy as a stitching aid, provided you destroy it when you are finished with it (offer to send it to them). Another: write and ask for a replacement copy if you send your battered one back. A third: slip the chart into a plastic sleeve (or cover with clear adhesive plastic) and write on the sleeve. Discard the sleeve or wipe off the plastic coating when you are finished. Depending on the chart and the thickness of the paper, you might be able to use tracing paper for this use, too. And last: lobby for all publishers and designers to put a copyright release on their work, saying the purchaser may make one enlarged copy for the purposes of a stitching aid

Many copy shops refuse to copy protected material without written permission, so get that ok in writing and take it with you to the shop.

A sidelight: there is a copyright myth that if you copy only 10% of the original--or you copy only page a day from the book--that you are not in violation of copyright protection. (These takes probably grew from free interpretation/misinterpretation of the fair use clause or were taken from a copy shop's store policy and thought to be a legal reading of the fair use clause.) No such exceptions exist. If you want to copy protected material, you must have permission first.

A stitching aid copy is a fine idea, and I urge all stitchers to write letters to their favorite designers and publishers and ask that a release be printed on each chart (or on the copyright page of the book or magazine). Just CrossStitch Magazine has led the way in this, and I hope other will follow suit shortly.

copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.

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