I was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore checking out the craft books recently. I got a really neat one from Carolyn Christmas, it has the "tumbling blocks" baby afghan pattern. (nope, no kickback from either of those two mentions.) I also spotted a knitting book that used an idea I was kicking about in my head - it has items (I presume more than one, since I didn't pick up the book) made from loops. I was surprised, I just had presumed I was the only one kicking it about in my head. Actually, I still am because I am talking about crochet loops, not knit ones.
This brings up a very intriguing thought - who is copying who? Obviously, the writer put the book out _first_ so the argument could be I was copying the writer. But since I don't knit that well and I thought of crochet _before_ seeing the book, I couldn't be copying from the author.
That's where copyright gets kind of weird. There's tons of patterns for granny square ponchos, but they fit the same basic directions - lay the squares out in a certain way and sew then or crochet them together. So who owns that pattern? Who could claim it, anyway, since granny squares seem to have been around forever? Or how about the big deal about Martha Stewart's poncho? There's at least 3 different versions of that floating around the internet. You could create the same item at home, not realizing a designer is creating it someplace else.
I won't pretend to be an expert on copyright. You can surf the net and learn about these things. But the most important thing is if _you_ think it's wrong, it probably is. That goes for copying patterns for your friends or selling copies as your own design. You can't sell the item you make unless the author gives you permission to do so. (Some patterns state you can sell the item, as long as you don't claim the pattern. If you are in doubt, don't use somebody else's pattern.)
You can avoid this problem by making up your own patterns. And it's really not that difficult - all you need is the time to create an a general idea of what you want to make. FOr me, I sketch what I'm trying to accomplish on paper. Okay, scrawl would be the better term, but it helps me see how the item will turn out. Sometimes I actually make a paper pattern (out of old grocery bags or newspapers) so I can clearly see what shape I am trying to make. I would guess this helps me because I used to help my older sister cut out clothes' patterns and I could clearly see the shape the garment was taking. So I have been scrawling loops and such to make this scarf come out how I picture it. It's working up fine, using Lion Brand's Homespun (no, no kickback from these folks - I just _love_ their yarn). And while I play with it, I get more ideas of what to do with my loops. I plan to write them down and try them out. ANd I think I will try to post some pictures when I get finished, so you can see what I'm tinkering with when I should be cleaning my house;)