Knitting patterns and character copyright

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MrsTwosheds
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Knitting patterns and character copyright

Post by MrsTwosheds » Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:15 pm

Hi All

Sorry about the deeply unimaginative title! Was wondering if you could clarify something for me, please?

I have just bought a ‘retro’ knitting pattern booklet (dating from, I would say, 1990s) of sweaters depicting characters from Hergé’s Tintin. The knitting pattern designer is still very much alive and, as you will know, Hergé’s work is still very much within copyright. I am assuming that the former has been granted permission to use the latter’s images. So far, so good!

My question is this. If I make one of the sweaters following the pattern but with a minor variation (such as using a different colour wool for a detail, say) am I infringing someone’s copyright? If I stick rigidly to the colour and detail of the characters given in the pattern, could I make a sleeveless sweater or a scarf, instead of the chunky sweater portrayed in the booklet. Whose work would I be infringing in the making of the wearable item (but not the pictorial design) in a different style? I am accustomed to sewing patterns, which are routinely altered and redesigned as work progresses, and I had assumed that knitting patterns would be similar. But not, I fear. I have visions of wearing my Tintin sweater behind bars. Please advise.

Ooh....also....if I make my sweater beautifully according to the given instructions (and without any deviation from the pattern), would I be able to sell it? This is purely theoretical, by the way, as no one would part with good money for anything that I have ever knitted.

Huge thanks.

Best regards

Sally

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AndyJ
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Re: Knitting patterns and character copyright

Post by AndyJ » Wed Nov 27, 2019 9:04 pm

Hi Sally,

Good to hear from you again. Under UK law it's most unlikely that the original Hergé sweater would have gained copyright protection: it's too small a detail of the characters which are themselves but components of the larger artistic works which make up the Tintin cartoon strips, to form a substantial part of the copyright work.

I am no fashion expert but I don't think any of the sweaters in the Tintin adventures could ever be described as 'original' in the copyright sense. Perhaps the anchor on Captain Haddock's sweater might just qualify as an original detail, but his basic sweater is like many a seafarer's chunky knit. It may be that the pattern designer thought it best to get permission to reproduce the sweaters but I wouldn't have thought that it would have been strictly necessary. If the pattern was marketed as a Tintin item, then the pattern maker might have been more concerned about trade mark infringement. You, of course, are making the sweater for personal use, so need not be troubled about trade marks which can only be infringed if they are used in the course of trade. Even if you went on to sell your sweater, that wouldn't invoke trade mark law for a single hand-made item.

And as for you freestyling it a bit, that's entirely fine. You have an implicit licence when you purchased the pattern which effectively indemnifies you from any claim of infringement either from Hergé's estate or the pattern creator, and that includes any alterations that you wish to make. Afterall the pattern would expect you to alter some of the directions to make the sweater in the right size, and obviously if you couldn't find the correct colour or weight of wool, a substitute would also be entirely acceptable, so just taking that a stage further and making the sweater with three sleeves or whatever you want to do is entirely up to you.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

MrsTwosheds
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Re: Knitting patterns and character copyright

Post by MrsTwosheds » Wed Nov 27, 2019 9:26 pm

Hi Andy

Thank you as always for your speedy reply. This is a huge help but I should have probably made it a bit clearer that the sweaters actually feature knit-stitched reproductions of the characters themselves (rather than just resembling garments worn by them). As far as I can judge, they are probably depictions of the original art work. Sorry - my fault for misleading. Am assuming that most of your splendid advice still applies, though?

Haha - three sleeves! I have a sneaking feeling you may have seen some of my past efforts!

Best regards

Sally

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AndyJ
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Re: Knitting patterns and character copyright

Post by AndyJ » Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:59 pm

Hi Sally,

Ah yes, that does make a bit of a difference. The knitting pattern does result in a copy of a copyright work or works if it incorporates the images of the actual characters, since they form a substantial part of Hergé's work. But assuming that the pattern maker has got a licence to produce the patterns, you will be covered if you make up the garment. Making an alteration shouldn't cause a problem as long as you are not intending to alter the appearance of the characters in a way which might be said to be derogatory and damaging to the honour of Hergé. The French, Belgians, and Italians are particularly keen protecting the honour of their artists and writers etc, so much so that they grant them various moral rights in perpetuity, whereas we in the UK only grant these rights for the term of the copyright. So probably best not to alter the pattern in a way which implies that Tintin has a rather unnatural relationship with Snowie which the original stories may have omitted.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

MrsTwosheds
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Re: Knitting patterns and character copyright

Post by MrsTwosheds » Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:19 am

Oh, how funny! Thank you so much as always for your excellent erudite and speedy response, Andy (and for making me laugh such a lot). Never fear, Hergé’s honour is safe with me!

Best regards

Sally

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