On one of my email lists someone posted a link to an article that had some very negative misperceptions about the quilting world and art quilters in general. Here is the article. I started to respond to the article as a comment, but it was much too long, so here is my response.
It's a shame this writer used a very little bit of research and an enthusiasm for one quilt teacher to make negative generalizations about a huge and varied quilting and art quilting community.
I do understand and appreciate her enthusiasm for Leah Day's work. She's very creative, an excellent teacher and I'm glad her efforts have led to a successful business. Too bad the writer didn't leave it at that. And she is far from the only person who offers her work freely. Designer Bonnie Hunter has been giving away free quilt patterns on her website for many years. That led to her huge popularity as a teacher and author.
Other than that there are so many misperceptions that it's hard to address.
First, "quilts are poorly represented online." What? There are thousands of websites and blogs where professionals and hobbyists display their work, share techniques, give away patterns and more. There are also email lists where members share generously of their experience and ideas.
Next, there is a huge range from quilt to art quilt. There are traditional quilts made from well-known block designs which are in the public domain, there are original quilt designs for traditional (non-art) quilts, usually sold as patterns, and there are one-of-a-kind art quilts.
Because quilting grew up from a tradition of freely shared patterns, and because quilts, unlike most other pieces of art, can be reproduced, it makes copyright a very difficult subject. It's not like a book where once it's written, no one else can write the same book.
Rather than "copyright bullying," there is an effort to make sure people understand fairness in use of others' designs and patterns. No one can copyright an idea, a concept, a design or technique. And (except for a few problem people) no one tries to. What can be copyrighted is the fixed expression of that design, including written patterns, the actual quilt and photos of it.
There is a huge problem of people copying patterns, and depriving the authors of the money they would make if everyone who wants to make a quilt with the pattern buys the pattern. We've seen that with people making copies of a pattern to use for teaching a class (for pay), as well as "sharing" the pattern with a friend.
And while pattern designers have every right to expect that people won't buy one pattern and use it to mass produce their design, the other claims, that you can't show a quilt in a quilt show without the designer's permission, or that a free motion design can be copyrighted, are exaggerated at least. I know a few designers have tried to control their designs being shown, but that's extreme. If they want to sell the pattern they have to expect that people will make and show the quilt.
The author's description of most quilters as "affluent and retired" who don't need the money, is way off. While there are many quilting hobbyists who fit that description, there are just as many who are designers, quilt makers or quilt artists as a business. They may do it for love, but they can't afford to do it and lose money at it. And there are even more who work full time and fit their quilting and art pursuits into their "spare" time. And she skipped entirely the "modern" quilt movement, which is made up primarily of younger quilters. Which I'm thrilled to see.
Finally, an art quilt is different from any other quilt because it is the original creation of the quilter. It is art, just using textiles as the medium. Are painters supposed to post detailed photos of their works online so people can copy their every brush stroke? If you want to become a quilt artist, learn about art, study different techniques and create your own work. It's not something you do from a pattern or quilt.
Just a few thoughts. Again, it's a shame the writer of this article jumped to so many conclusions based on generalizations.