Do You Have Copyright Questions? Ask Bonnie Browning



Here are some answers for AQS contests.

by Bonnie Browning, Executive Show Director

The American Quilter’s Society has been receiving questions recently regarding copyright permission for quilts displayed in AQS contests. You can make quilts from many sources for your own personal use without obtaining any kind of permission; that permission is inherent if you purchase a pattern or a book. It is when the quilts are shown in public that the issue of the copyright law may come into play.

On the AQS Web site, you will find An Explanation of Design Permissions that will answer many questions relating to who needs permission; altering published designs; asking for permission; and giving proper credit to the design source.

Some of the types of artwork that can cause problems when used as a design source are greeting cards, posters, and photographs. The artists of these types of artwork depend on their art for their livelihood. Check the Web sites of any company, such as Hallmark Cards, Inc., and you will find a section on legal information that states the artwork may not be reproduced, or derivative works created or displayed. Do your homework before you use these types of art for your design inspiration.

Original designs and copies or derivatives of antique quilts and designs do not require any copyright permission. If you can date a quilt or pattern, this chart on the Internet might help you in determining how the copyright laws might affect using it.

If you are entering shows, don’t wait until the last minute to try to get permission for displaying your quilt. This may take days or weeks to get and shows will be readying printed materials several weeks in advance of the show opening. The copyright holder will often have specific language for you to use in the credit line when the quilt is exhibited. If you are entering an AQS contest, we will be asking you for any permission(s) you have obtained so credit can be given in the Show Book for our AQS Quilt Shows.

Please remember it is always better to ask permission first rather than ask for forgiveness later. It may be too late after the fact if the copyright owner does not want a derivative or copy of his/her work displayed in public.

This information is not legal advice. If you have a specific question, you should consult an attorney. You can find information about copyrights on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website:

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Monica Sayre

Is it sufficient to state the creator of a pattern/design that is used to produce a quilt on display at a small local guild show or must the pattern producer be contacted for permission?

Monica, When a quilt is on public display, you should always obtain permission. Thank you for supporting the integrity of copyrighted material.


I don’t design any quilt patterns but I might like to some day. How do you truly know that your pattern is not a design that someone else has already done? There are literally hundreds if not thousands of quilt designs out there and it seems almost impossible to be aware of them all. That being said are not most new pieced patterns a derivative of something that was done in the past and if so how can they truly be new designs? I can see applique, paper piecing and art quilts as being unique to the designer but not… Read more »

I have the same questions as Judy and am hoping that some expert will share the answer. I have read, “All rights reserved,” as it relates to patterns, as well as, “Copyright” and the date. Does anyone know the difference. I read on the Office of Copyright web site that the waiting time to grant a copyright is now two years and eight months!

I purchased a poster of a painting by a famous but long dead artist…Allposters….I have emailed them but received no answer about whether there is a problem with my using the print as an inspiration for a quilt.
It is for my own personal use…will never be sold…and full credit with be given for original artist.
Do I have a problem with any kind of copyright?

Marilyn, If your quilt is never in a public exhibit nor published in any print or digital media, you should be fine. Whenever you make something for your own enjoyment, copyright issues usually do not come into play. Giving a quilt as a gift is acceptable, too, as long as it won’t be on display or used in a raffle. However, always include your source on the label in case the recipient decides to exhibit your work later. Taking your art into the public arena is when the original pattern maker/designer/artist needs to be contacted. That is when the integrity… Read more »

Shirley Gilmore

According to Trademarks and Copyright Law several things that have been stated are incorrect. For instance if you make a quilt from a pattern you have to get the permission from the creator to show the quilt. Check on “Any finished product made from a pattern, step-by-step instructions, chart or photograph is covered under copyright law”. FALSE, FALSE!! When someone sells a pattern that contains a copyrighted design, they are selling to the purchaser the right to make that article. The right of the copyright owner to control what is done with that copy is lost once the pattern… Read more »

[…] Do You Have Copyright Questions by Bonnie Browning […]

Sandi Fisher

Actually, there is a lot of information that contradicts this article. Everyone should go to and read their articles, especially the ones about patterns. There is a lot in info there including court cases.