I found this Cosmopolitan pattern for Ladies Sleeves, and was researching it to come up with a date. I found that Cosmopolitan patterns were made around the turn of the century (1900). Then I found a really interesting article.
The London newspaper, The Morning Post, published an article in March, 1893, mentioning a copyright infringement lawsuit. Two dressmakers went to court, with Mrs. Ann Hollinrake suing Mrs. Jane Eliza Truswell, accusing her of copying her sleeve pattern. Both ladies were dressmakers and indeed were professors of “scientific dresscutting.” Mrs. Hollinrake had created a chart, called a “Cosmopolitan” for creating ladies’ sleeves, but said that Mrs. Truswell had stolen it and was publishing it under the name “Ideal.”
Mrs. Truswell’s attorney argued that the chart was something without literary merit, thus was not eligible for copyright protection. He furthermore argued that if it was a patent protection question, that Mrs. Hollinrake was not the first publisher, and therefore did not qualify for patent protection.
When judgment was given, it was stated that “it appeared that the sleeves of ladies dresses were cut out in two parts, which were sewn together. There was an upper side which was wider and an inner side which was narrower, and there had long been in use a piece of paper or cardboard which had been used as a pattern for the outer side, and several prior specifications had been brought before him showing these patterns for cutting out of the outer side marked with scales and measurements for adaptation to the various lengths of the arm.” The judge further stated that in 1885, a man named Cook had created an incomplete way to create set of measurements for the inner part of the sleeve. The Cosmopolitan pattern Mrs. Hollinrake now owned was created by a Mr. Kendall, and was bought by her for the enormous sum of 10,000 pounds. The Cosmopolitan did away with the formulas previously required and relied only on the measurement of the arm. It was, by 1893, in wide use, and could be used without any in depth training. The judge thought that the defendant had inflated the difference between the Cosmopolitan and the Ideal, stating that it was “in substance and principle, exactly the same as the plaintiff’s.” Thought he acknowledged that the defendants had likely tweaked the original to some extent, it was not enough of a change to say that she was not infringing on the rights of Mrs. Hollinrake, who owned the original Cosmopolitan.
Then he got into the weeds of the law, where historically patterns and copyrights get complicated. He found problems in exactly where a pattern fit into copyright law, eventually settling on calling it a “chart” or “plan,” which would make it eligible for copyright protection. He decided against the plaintiff and gave judgment against her, including court costs. The article ends stating an injunction was given to give the defendant time to decide if she would appeal.
Interesting that although this may have nothing to do with my Cosmopolitan pattern — ironically, for sleeves — it does show the complexities of copyright law as it pertains to sewing patterns. Patterns generally come with a copyright on them, and although I’m not an attorney, it’s my understanding that the patterns themselves are considered in the US to be “useful” items, and can’t be copyrighted for this reason. However, the artwork, diagrams and instructions can be, so although the pattern pieces may not be copyrighted, everything else contained, including the envelope illustrations, charts and descriptions, as well as any interior instructions, can be. That being said, copyrights expire, so a turn of the century pattern would no longer be in copyright. After 1924, it may be, depending upon if the copyright was renewed. And after 1963, everything will remain in copyright, as it would renew automatically forever. For this reason, if you are selling or buying reproduction patterns, it’s very important to completely research the copyright, to make sure you aren’t in violation (and you are definitely in violation for a pattern after 1963).
I sell some reproduction patterns, but they are deeply researched, because I certainly wouldn’t want the big companies coming after me. All it would take is one test case, and all the repro companies would be out of business. So do your due diligence. Shop with trustworthy sellers who have done their research, and don’t support illegal copies. If you do, one day they may copy your favorite seller’s originals (think: Gertie or Angela) and put them out of business.
Food for thought.