Reproducing old textiles onto greeting cards

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
Post Reply
Louisa79
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Sep 16, 2021 11:47 am

Reproducing old textiles onto greeting cards

Post by Louisa79 »

I am in the process of buying one off antique embroideries and reproducing them onto greeting cards for sale. Nearly all of these textiles are bought at markets or from dealers who have very little knowledge of their creators or exact date of creation. Saying that, for most of them I have a rough idea of date (eg circa 1920’s). Many of these textiles do not originate from the UK, they are from other European, Asian or African countries. I understand that in the UK for original artistic work (that I presume would be the category that these embroideries would fall into) copyright generally expires 70 years after the death of the creator, or for pieces where the creator is unknown it would expire after 70 years from the year that the piece was made. This is problematic for me firstly in that in most cases I don’t know who the pieces were created by (or exactly when), and secondly that many were not created in this country. Would I be legally allowed to reproduce them and sell them?

A slightly different query I have is that I have a specific textile that I’d like to use that I’m concerned about in terms of copyright. The textile was originally made by a company that closed in 1988, the textile itself being dated c1920’s. As it originated from a textile company, I imagine that this was not a one off piece and the pattern could have been sold and used in greater quantities. Would I legally be able to reproduce this piece? Another option I have is to manipulate the pattern so it’s similar but not identical. Would this make a difference if it’s not ok to reproduce an exact copy of it?

I would very much like to know where you think I stand in terms of copyright and whether the fact that I have purchased the original pieces in most cases means that I have the intellectual property rights for them.

Many thanks in advance.
User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 2623
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Re: Reproducing old textiles onto greeting cards

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Louisa,

I am interested in how you intend to reproduce these fabric samples. Do you mean that you will weave new yarn but to the pattern of the old design, or are we talking about something more akin to lacemaking or embroidery? Or perhaps these are printed fabrics which you want to reproduce. This is relevant because if the original fabric was hand made (for instance on a loom) then it will be a work of artistic craftsmanship, and what is being protected is the actual creativity of the craftsman or woman, and not necessarily the pattern itself, which may be traditional, for instance like a tartan. If you intend on weaving or crocheting your own fabric then by definition you would not be copying the craftsmanship of the original creator as it would be your own skill which was being put to use. Unless the underlying pattern was especially unique, there is unlikely to be any copyright in simple designs or patterns. Anything which is clearly not hand-made will not be subject to copyright unless, as already mentioned, the pattern is particularly unique.

There have been court cases* in the past about fabric patterns, but generally they concern much more modern designs. I think it is much less likely that anyone is going to be concerned about patterns originating in the 1920s. In all probability most designs from the 1920s are likely to either be out of copyright now or will be within the next 8 -10 years. For example let's take 1925 as the date the design was made, by a designer in their mid 30s, who lived to a typical age of 70, meaning they died in1960: copyright would thus end in 2030.

Turning to your last question, ownership of an artistic work does not confer any intellectual property rights on the owner of the physical item, so no, you won't be entitled to claim the IPR for any samples of old fabric which you acquire. However if you incorporate a piece of old fabric into a more elaborate design of appliqué art, then that will probably qualify as artistic craftsmanship and you will own the copyright in your design.

* The most well-known in legal circles is a case known as Designer's Guild, which was appealed to the House of Lords. A second case which specifically involved the process of weaving is Abraham Moon v Thornber.
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
Louisa79
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Sep 16, 2021 11:47 am

Re: Reproducing old textiles onto greeting cards

Post by Louisa79 »

Hi Andy

Thank you for your very helpful reply.

I will be photographing the embroideries and printing these photographs onto greetings cards - so no, I will not be creating anything that would be considered artistic craftsmanship myself. For the most part they are very old (pre 1900), and for these textiles I don’t think I will have a problem with copyright.

With regards to the more recent (1920’s) design, I could digitally manipulate it to create my own version of the pattern, but it would still be based on the craftsmanship and pattern design of the original creator. How would this stand in copyright law?

Finally, do I have to worry about copyright laws in other countries for the textiles I am using that didn’t originate in the UK? Also, if it can’t be proved who made it and when, how do I deal with that in relation to copyright?

I realise that this isn’t an easy one to answer!

Many thanks

Louisa
User avatar
AndyJ
Oracle
Oracle
Posts: 2623
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Re: Reproducing old textiles onto greeting cards

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Louisa,

Based on your technique, I don't think you need to worry about copyright in the patterns/designs incorporated in the fabric you have acquired. Firstly they are so old that it it doubtful if any copyright which might have once existed is still valid today and more to the point whether anyone alive today will want to enforce the copyright even if they knew that they owned it. And secondly it is highly likely that the fabric could have been machine-made, in which case the patterns would not be entitled to any copyright.

As for any fabric which was created outside the UK, there is even less chance that anyone in another country is going to be aware of your cards and as above, still less chance that they will be interested in trying to enforce any copyright when it would be administratively difficult and fraught with problems, such as proving that they own the copyright today, especially as the original makers will undoubtedly have died some time ago. Secondly many countries outside Europe and the USA still apply the shorter Berne Convention copyright duration of 50 years after the death the creator of a work, so in those countries, copyright will almost certainly have lapsed now. Since you have no way of identifying the creator(s) of the patterns, whether they were resident in the UK or elsewhere, the default duration for copyright in such cases is 70 years from the date the work was published or made available to the public - see section 12(3) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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
Post Reply