Does open source clothing exists? With that I mean, do sewing patterns, tutorials or steering files for sewing and weaving machines, that are licensed as open source exist? Meaning these patterns, tutorials and steering files can be freely changed and redistributed? Is it even possible to open source clothing?
Yes, open source sewing patterns exist, but there aren't many. A search for "creative commons sewing pattern" yields several hits, and "open source sewing pattern" yields a few more.
I won't link them here because you can easily find them yourself.
EDIT: Here's an example: www.silverseams.com/opensource. It's a blog so I can't guarantee that the link will be good forever. Besides patterns it includes a rationale for using open source licensing for patterns.
The answer is a bit convoluted and I don't claim to understand all of the subtleties. I think the answer is, essentially:
- No, you cannot copyright clothing designs
- Yes, you can copyright design patterns, as they are pictures or design files
Taken from copyright.gov:
A “useful article” is an object having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information. Examples are clothing, furniture, machinery, dinnerware, and lighting fixtures. An article that is normally part of a useful article may itself be a useful article, for example, an ornamental wheel cover on a vehicle.
Copyright does not protect the mechanical or utilitarian aspects of such works of craftsmanship. It may, however, protect any pictorial, graphic, or sculptural authorship that can be identified separately from the utilitarian aspects of an object. Thus, a useful article may have both copyrightable and uncopyrightable features. For example, a carving on the back of a chair or a floral relief design on silver flatware could be protected by copyright, but the design of the chair or flatware itself could not.
Some designs of useful articles may qualify for protection under the federal patent law. For further information, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450 or via the Internet at www.uspto.gov. The telephone number is 1-800-786-9199 and the TTY number is (571) 272-9950. The automated information line is (571) 272-1000.
Copyright in a work that portrays a useful article extends only to the artistic expression of the author of the pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. It does not extend to the design of the article that is portrayed. For example, a drawing or photograph of an automobile or a dress design may be copyrighted, but that does not give the artist or photographer the exclusive right to make automobiles or dresses of the same design.
New Media Rights has an article discussing the core issue, which is whether the object in question has a "utilitarian function" or not. If it does, such as clothing, then (afaik, for the most part) it is not eligible for copyright.
Note that, as the above article from copyright.gov and New Media Rights suggest, other works surrounding the clothing object might be subject to copyright. For example, the "design files" in the form of a PDF or picture of the patterns used to create the clothing object can fall under copyright.
Open Source Hardware has this same issue, as electronic circuits themselves cannot be copyrighted but all of the design files, tutorials, code, etc. surrounding it can be. The Open Source Hardware Association has a definition of what constitutes "open source hardware" that discusses these points.
In terms of the empirical issue of whether there are actually any clothing design files that exist in the wild that would be considered "open source" (e.g. copyleft), as Glenn Randers-Perhson points out, there is silverstream's plush sewing patterns but I've had a hard time finding any other resources. I can only speculate as to why free/libre/open/copyleft ideas don't seem to be as prevalent in the fashion industry as some others.