Useful, beautiful, and legal
January 7, 2009 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Can Spoonflower or a similar company legally print me a bolt of fabric using a William Morris (1834-1896) design?

Please forgive any glaring stupidity in this question. I assumed the answer to it was yes, until I attempted to double-check with Google, and have managed to confuse myself anew as to copyright and trademarks and public domain. There are of course companies which sell Morris prints from around $25 to $200 a yard, but is there anything preventing me (apart from Spoonflower's discretion, and possibly good taste) from having my own batch made up for less? I've suddenly been loaned a gorgeous Arts and Crafts-style rug, and my blank white bedroom walls are looking very sad by comparison.
posted by notquitemaryann to Law & Government (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is absolutely out of copyright. Copyright would also not apply to any reproduction, either, due to Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.
posted by zsazsa at 6:03 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know what the copyright for fabric is, but I do know for books and a few other things (art? music?) it's "lifespan of the author/creator plus fifty years". So I think you're safe.
posted by orange swan at 6:12 PM on January 7, 2009

orange swan is incorrect - in the United States, copyright (for anything) is seventy years past the lifespan of the creator. Terms for corporate sponsored works are different, but probably not relevant. There are also some interesting caveats for works made before 1978 - for instance, if there is no copyright notice displayed, the work is generally not covered under copyright. However, even with the current (ridiculously long) copyright period, your rug is not covered.
posted by saeculorum at 6:18 PM on January 7, 2009

This is slightly off-question, but I might do some research as to the suitability of Spoonflower's Moda fabric for wall coverings, if that's your intended application. Because Moda is quilting-weight, rather than a heftier weight made specifically for interior decorating applications, I might think that it may be thin enough that your adhesive might very well soak through (less than attractive).

/textile nerdery
posted by teamparka at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2009

Even if the Morris estate has extended the copyright or something, if it's just for your own use, I suspect you're unlikely to get in trouble.

Mainly I'm posting to highly recommend this method for decorating walls with fabric.
posted by doift at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2009

Man Spoonflower is so awesome. I designed and had printed a World of Warcraft pillowcase for my boyfriend for Christmas, and while the WoW logos are certainly copyrighted, they printed it and mailed it to me anyways. I figured, not for profit, no problem, and nothing bad has happened so far. YMMV.
posted by internet!Hannah at 1:27 AM on January 8, 2009

The safest rule that exists in copyright law within the United States is that anything created before January 1, 1923 is absolutely and positively in the public domain and no claim of copyright can be made by the owner against someone using that creative work. You're in the clear.
posted by Inkoate at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Although, I should take care to mention that you should (if you're really quite concerned about the possibility of copyright infringement) be sure to use the original William Morris design when you send the pattern to Spoonflower, as some of these other companies you're seeing MAY have copyrights in their own interpretations of the William Morris pattern, and you could infringe those. Now we start to get into the weeds of copyright law, however, and INAL(Yet) and clearly IANYL, etc, etc, etc.
posted by Inkoate at 8:50 AM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all very much! My weirdly overactive conscience is reassured.

I was planning to use starch (inspired by the post doift linked, and others), but staples or thin tacks are my backup in case the thinness of the fabric makes it look crappy. Never tried it before, so I hope it works!
posted by notquitemaryann at 1:14 PM on January 8, 2009

« Older Playing tunes.   |   Is this computer a doorstop? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.