Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can I Sell Clothing Made From Copyrighted Fabric?

silk fabric weaving circa 1914
Dear Rich: This question pertains to copyright images on fabric bought from the store. There have been a lot of questions regarding this because of crafter's listings being taken down from Etsy. I believe the ones being taken down are violating copyright by using imported items or their own reproductions. My question is can we purchase licensed fabric or ribbon from a store, make it into a dress or handbag and then sell those items legally? There is a "For personal use only" statement on the salvage of the fabric. My understanding is that First Sale Doctrine would cover the resale of the fabric along with a proper listing and disclaimer? You're correct. Thanks to the first sale doctrine, if you bought copyrighted fabric, you're free to make it into a product and resell that product. You're also free to photograph that product and reproduce that photo as part of an ad when selling the item. A disclaimer won't hurt but it's not required.
What about the statement on the fabric? The statement -- for personal use only -- is wishful thinking on the manufacturer's part. Unless you affirmatively agreed (signed something, clicked "I Agree" or made some other indication of assent) at the time you purchased the fabric, such a statement would not be binding on you.
What you can't do ... If the fabric is an infringement, that is, an imitation made without permission of the manufacturer, you'll run into problems. In that case, the copyright owner can stop your uses whether you knew or should have known it was infringing. You may also run into problems if you create fabric from found imagery that is still protected under copyright. In that case you're infringing the image owner's right to create derivatives.