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Are stencils copyrighted? Can they be altered?

Posted: Fri Mar 16, 2018 2:43 am
by lu-frances
I’m setting up a new business selling printed wedding and birthday invitations and have a few questions. If anyone could help that would be greatly appreciated.

I was wondering if shop bought stencils are copyrighted? (For example, If I were to use a stencil to draw an image which I then upload to photoshop to use as part of a design for an invitation.) Would I be allowed to do this or would I still need a commercial license or permission from the designer of the stencil? I’m guessing some stencils are probably mass manufactured in China, would these types of stencils still require permission?

Also if I were to use a stencil image but make it my own by adding colour, does this still require permission?

I see lots of flower stencils, some of which are identical, therefore how would someone know you were using their stencil design? For instance it’s possible for 2 people to draw an identical design.

I’m a little bit confused.

Re: Are stencils copyrighted? Can they be altered?

Posted: Fri Mar 16, 2018 8:17 am
by AndyJ
Hi lu-frances,

I think we need to take a pragmatic approach to this subject. Almost certainly the original design which is ultimately cut out to form the stencil would attract copyright provided it was original (in the copyright sense of 'originating from the author's mind and not copied from another work'). So in other words, the design drawings for the stencils would be treated as artistic works. Also if the manufacturer was that concenred they could also register their designs*. However although in theory anyone using the stencil would be, by definition, copying the original drawing, such use would be permitted because of an implicit licence to do so inherent in selling the product. Clearly it would not make sense to sell a product which the buyer was not allowed to use legally. I have never seen any conditions of use on the packaging of stencils (for instance, similar to the end-user licences which accompany software). And by extension, I see no reason, in the absence of such conditions, to differentiate between the private and commercial use of the stencils.

In many ways this is similar to the approach the law takes over the use of typefaces (see this thread for more details on copyright and typefaces). The only difference is, typefaces are specifically referred to in the law, but stencils aren't. What's more, I am not aware of any court case on the subject of stencils which might provide clarity.

And following the same reasoning, colouring or otherwise modifying the shapes produced by the stencils shouldn't require permission either, even though the effect would be to produce a derivative work, which would under normal circumstances require permission from the copyright owner.

* We need not be concerned about whether or not the stencils are registered designs, because a design is only infringed if a similar product is made to the same design. Since you are not making stencils this doesn't apply here.

Re: Are stencils copyrighted? Can they be altered?

Posted: Sat Mar 17, 2018 5:28 pm
by lu-frances
Thank you very much for your help :-) much appreciated.