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Amish quilters upset that pattern protected by copyright

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 1, 2014 | 6:39 pm

There's a fascinating story from LancasterOnline about copyright law and quilting among Mennonites in Pennsylvannia's Amish Country:

From now on, Light in the Valley, a quilt pattern that creates an optical illusion that lends it a three-dimensional effect, can no longer be quilted.

That particular pattern has been copyrighted, and Almost Amish, the company that bought the copyright, has sent letters from its attorney to representatives of Lancaster County quilt shops and nearly every volunteer fire company here that hosts a mud sale, telling them to cease and desist selling that quilt.

Now, as a matter of law, the quilt pattern in question seems to be protected by copyright. Quilt patterns are within copyright's ambit -- in fact, contrary to what this article suggests, all original quilt patterns are automatically copyrighted the minute they are stitched. And the certificate of registration held by Almost Amish creates a legal presumption that it is, in fact, the owner of the copyright. Anyone who uses the pattern without a license is liable for infringement, absent a successful defense.

Interesting, though, is how apart the social norms in Amish Country are from the law. Several of the folks quoted in this article say something to the effect of: copyrighting your quilt pattern is sinful, or at least not very Christian, or at least not neighborly.

For example:

Sylvia Petersheim, of Petersheim Quilts, Fabrics and Crafts in Bird-in-Hand, has heard people talking about the Light in the Valley controversy.

"It's just selfish — plain downright selfish," said Petersheim of the copyright.  "I've been here for 30 years. I have had people copy off of my quilts right and left, and I never put a complaint in about that. That's very, very selfish, especially if the quilts are going to mud sales and fundraisers."

Of course, the complaining quilters aren't just unhappy because they can't stitch a pattern they like; they're mad that they can't sell quilts they've already made or can't resell quilts they bought.

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