There is, as you might imagine, serious DRAMA in online knitting communities about people publishing patterns that are inspired by or based on other designs, particularly designs that some other person is trying to get people to pay for. I am not an expert in this area, but my understanding was roughly that:
- You can't copyright a clothing design, although you can copyright the expression of a design. This is why knockoffs are legal.
- Logos and "distinctive embellishments" are protected.
- Many stitch patterns are in the public domain.
- You can't assert copyright over a procedure, method, or process. This is why recipes are copyrightable insofar as the directions are concerned, but not "2 cups flour" part
- Someone reverse-engineers a sock based on a photo of Jane's design without ever seeing the pattern. The sock is constructed just like Jane's.
- Same as above, but the sock is constructed in an entirely different way or uses a different technique, making the directions substantially dissimilar. The end product looks just like Jane's sock.
- Someone studies a copy of Jane's pattern and figures out how to do the same things using a different technique or construction method. The end product looks just like Jane's.
- Someone takes Jane's sock pattern and changes the lace or cable on the top to a different type, but otherwise keeps everything the same.
- Someone takes the toe construction from Jane's sock pattern, the heel from Susan's, changes all the stitch counts to make it work with a thinner yarn, and adds in a public-domain cable pattern from a book compiled by Edith.