The Cherie quilt that I’m working on at the moment is made up of traditional quilt blocks.  The overall layout of the blocks is one that I’ve come up with myself, but each individual block is a traditional block that I’ve found online.

The blocks I’m making are 6”, 9” and 12”, so what I’m doing is finding an image, usually in one of the traditional block libraries or a traditional magazine online, and then working out the assembly techniques and measurements I need for myself.

These are the ones I’ve made so far:

In there, there’s:

1.       A 12” Christmas star
2.       A 12” Dutchman’s puzzle
3.       A 12” Martha Washington’s star
4.       A 12” Moonlight serenade
5.       A 12” Weathervane
6.       A 9” Perpetual motion
7.       A 9” Ohio star
8.       A 9” Double pinwheel
9.       A 9” Calico puzzle
10.     A 9” Pineapple blossom
11.     A 9” Sweet dreams and sunbeams

Now one of the sites I found had an interesting disclaimer on it, ‘You may not try and use this block in anything you sell, I own copyright’ or words to that effect.  I didn’t look any further, but these were traditional blocks, such as churn dashes, Dutchman’s puzzles and more, so I began to ponder…  Now typically, the duration of copyright is the whole life of the creator plus fifty to a hundred years from the creator’s death, or a ‘finite period’ for anonymous or corporate creations.  Given how long people have been at this quilting lark, and how long these traditional blocks have been around for, I’m pretty sure the original copyright holder, if one could be identified, has been long since pushing up the daisies!

So what do you think?  Can anyone come along, write up instructions for a single block, whack it up online and claim copyright on the block?  Personally I think the person wouldn’t have a leg to stand on unless they’d invented some amazing new technique to create the thing because let’s face it, there are only so many ways you can make the 4 HSTs, 8 rectangles and a square needed for a churn dash block for example – I have visions of this woman running around frantically all over the internet, finding churn dash blocks in quilt patterns for sale and trying to claim copyright.

Where it gets interesting is when it gets to the entire pattern for a quilt.  Now if you use a traditional block as your base, where it starts wandering into the realms where you could claim copyright is when you start including things such as sashing, borders, flanges, prairie points, embroidery, or anything else you can think of to enhance the finished quilt.  I’m still pretty sure there’s a fair number of unintentional copies of the same pattern out there between books, magazines, big box and indie pattern writers, I mean there’s bound to have been more than one person that’s come up with, say, a 3 x 4 churn dash block layout using 12” blocks with 2” sashing and 3 contrasting borders, each 4” wide.  And if there isn’t, that’s one’s mine, okay? ;o)

So what are your thoughts?  Do you think people should be trying to claim copyright of patterns incorporating traditional blocks?  I think in the example above it’s fine, but I’m not sure if I’d bother chasing after someone else with the same idea as mine to try and stake my claim definitively, plus, since copyright is automatic within all countries under the Berne Convention, it would technically be the first person to come up with that layout that would own the copyright, and I’m not sure how you would ever trawl through all the pre-digital inventions to prove that Annie Smith over in her farm in Idaho got there before me.  When it starts coming to clearly unique layouts and arrangements however, such as Jen Kingwell’s Gypsy Wife, I think I’d be out there in a flash!

Answers on a postcard…