I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that:
- Clothing is a useful article, for copyright purposes.
- You can't copyright useful articles.
So my belief is that:
- Therefore, you can't copyright clothing. (This is part of why things like logos or prints on fabric, etc., are so important--you can copyright and trademark them.)
- I therefore conclude that there is no real legal basis for suing someone for making multiple copies of a garment from a purchased pattern.
- However, I have absolutely no intention of acting on this belief. The pattern companies no doubt have bigger lawyers than I do. Plus, I'm usually perfectly content to pay the price that the pattern companies are asking. But all the same, I always like to know the facts, whether I will act on them or not.
To look at variants of the scenario: (Again, not a lawyer, could be wrong.)
Can you be sued for making multiple copies of a toy? Yes, because toys are copyrightable. The same is probably true for many other non-clothing craft items.
Does it matter if you're making those extra toys in a nonprofit context? No; copyright violation is copyright violation even if you don't make any money.
Can you be sued for copying and selling or giving away the pattern itself? Yes; it's only the clothing that is not copyrightable. The pattern is copyrightable.
What about licensed, rather than merely purchased, patterns? Yes, I'm sure that you can be sued for exceeding what's permitted by the license, but that's contract law, rather than copyright law.
What about the nitpicky fact that when you alter a pattern, you essentially make a copy or a derivative work *of the pattern as a pattern*? I'm curious about whether that argument would work. But you have to do just as much copying to make one garment as a hundred, and once it's ready for one garment, you don't have to do any more copying for a hundred. So, hmm.
Could pattern companies claim that you didn't buy, but instead licensed, a pattern? Well, there's no shrinkwrap license, no clickthrough, none of the legal symbols that the software industry seems to feel that they need in order to call the situation a license situation.
I'm curious as to whether anyone has ever been successfully sued (verdict, not settlement) for making "too many" garments from a purchased (not licensed) *clothing* (not toy or craft) pattern.