Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Licensing

Designer Series, Part 2

So, now that we all understand copyright laws do not control what a knitter (crocheter/seamstress/etc.) does with the pattern itself (beyond copying/distributing it), or with the finished product of our patterns (provided they're not patented), what options are available if we choose to care?


The term Cottage License is pretty familiar to most of us. It grants the use of a pattern for monetary gain, usually for an annual or lifetime fee. Most free patterns right now have a "For home use only" stipulation at the bottom, which could be understood to be a license. The fact that the person who downloaded the pattern didn't know about it beforehand, and therefore couldn't agree with it, raises some questions. In software, you must agree to the software's license before you're able to install it. Some kind of forewarning is courteous, and I believe legally necessary, in order for it to be binding. But in the case of free patterns, since there is no money exchanged, it's easy to delete the pattern if you don't agree with the license terms.

There is a Cottage License statement on my patterns, which serves only to limit their use by larger business or manufacturers. (I highly doubt that any manufacturer would wish to license my pattern, but it's nice to reserve the right to license to them on different terms, should that highly unlikely possibility ever arise.) For my patterns, Lifetime Cottage Licenses are free for work-at-home-type businesses.

So, how does one apply licensing to income-producing pattern distribution?

If you wish to limit the use of your pattern, you need to alert the recipient of it before they spend money. Do all you can to ensure that your customer understands the terms of the license they're purchasing. Notice I said the customer is purchasing a license. When you license patterns, it's not the pattern that is for sale. It's only the license. Included with the license should be a copy of the pattern, but the pattern itself remains the property of the designer. That's the only way you can closely control the usage of it.

If you're selling patterns, and thereby transferring ownership of that copy to the customer, there's not much you can do about what they choose to do beyond the previously outlines confines of copyright law. If you're selling licenses to use something to which you retain ownership, then it's a different story, and under the law you may set the terms. There are a lot of factors to consider in setting the terms of your licensing, and that will be covered in a later segment of the series. You can dream up any set of terms you like, but bear in mind that if they're too restrictive or distasteful, your sales will be affected.

If it's a free pattern, current practice seems to be sufficient--simply have a notice on the pattern somewhere stating the terms of the license extended with the pattern.

Next up, Licensing Terms: How much annoyance will customers take?