I get emails sometimes saying something along the lines of: "Did you know that 'such and such' Yahoo Group is sharing your 'Angel of Love' pattern? Is it okay for them to do that?" The answer is, of course, no, it is not. And now and then, I learn about someone who has scanned one or more of my patterns and posted them online.
I immediately write to the person and ask them to stop distributing my patterns. Fortunately, so far, everyone has taken the patterns down, or agreed to stop distributing them. If they did not, I would write to the forum where the patterns were posted: Blogger, Yahoo Groups, Flickr, etc. All of these sites have rules against using them for illegal activity, and distributing copyrighted materials is illegal. They will shut down the group or delete the offending blog or page once the copyright owner proves they are sharing documents illegally. Facebook also has such a rule; now and then pages show up on which entire pattern books have been scanned in. One even had a notice saying "No copyright violation intended," as if that made it okay. But as soon as they are reported, Facebook will shut them down.
All of my patterns are protected by copyright laws. So are practically every other self-publishing designer's, and certainly all patterns produced by the big publishing houses are. It doesn't matter if a book is out of print. Every pattern published since 1978 is protected by copyright law for 70 years after the authors death. Since I plan to live for quite a while yet, that means that none of my designs will be in the public domain until somewhere around 2130. And even then, I hope that some of my descendants will renew the copyright on them (I plan to set it up so that they will have the right to do so after my passing.)
The Internet has made sharing patterns easier than ever; there are literally thousands of free patterns which are available legally. I offer free patterns, too, and encourage everyone to enjoy them. (But even my free patterns are copyrighted; if you would like to share one of them, please share the link, so that your friends can download their own copy.)
But we self-publishing designers have our place, too. Is it fair that we not be paid for our work? As my friend, designer Kathryn White, put it, "There are a lot of really good crocheters out there, but only a handful of designers that can truly create something new and exciting. Don't people understand they need to support us, not trash us? They have no concept of the amount of work that goes in to creating and writing up a pattern for one of these designs."
So the next time someone asks, "Will you share the pattern?" I hope you will think twice.
I, and all other designers, will be grateful to you.
NOTE: I just want to add that it is perfectly legal to sell your used pattern books. The problem comes when people make copies of them and try to sell the copies. In the case of pdf's, the problem comes when people post them online or make them available to others.
UPDATE: I have been asked if it is okay to sell finished items made from copyrighted patterns. It is my understanding that the copyright protects only the actual pattern itself, and that it is perfectly legal to sell finished items made from any pattern. I consider it a complement when someone makes an item from one of my patterns to sell, and I have several good customers who do so on Etsy and Ebay. But some designers seem to have a problem with this issue, so I think it would be courteous to ask a designer (especially a self-publishing designer) if they allow finished items made from their patterns to be sold. They may not have the legal right to stop you, but I would respect their wishes if they did not want you to. In my opinion, they are only hurting themselves by restricting what their customers do with their finished items, as there are many other designers out there who have no problem with it.