Thursday, April 8, 2010


Sin #1: Breech of copyright

Years ago, my father showed original watercolors in an exhibition of paintings done by Ontario Provincial Government employees. I was outraged to see the above painting by Gustav Klimpt copied, brush stroke for brush stroke and signed as an original by the impostor who painted it.

We bead artists know this issue is a bit of a snake's nest - tangled and difficult. So let's take a look at it from a couple of different angles....

"The secret of creativity is hiding your sources." For anyone who hasn't encountered this quote before, it is attributed to no less a luminary than Albert Einstein, a man known for originality and genius.

There should be no shame in admitting right out loud that we all have "sources." For me, the list is endless. It includes paintings, fiber, ceramics, nature etc. Last, but certainly not least, I have a growing library of beading books and stacks of magazines and daily view the inspirational work of my many fellow-artisans online.

Anyone who says they haven't done derivative work is doing a stitch I've never heard of or beading in a studio on the moon in my humble opinion.

That's okay. Peyote, right angle weave, African helix, netting, square, brick and herringbone stitches belong to all of us. And we are all inspired by something, by someone.

But when someone combines stitches and materials in a new way or creates an excitingly original pattern or design - make no mistake, they own the copyright.

Seems straightforward, doesn't it? But really, there is so much out there that even the best of us goof. A while back, a famous beading magazine featured an article on copyright and a pattern for a beaded bead identical to one I'd learned several years earlier. And the designer credit was not for the designer in the book where I'd found the pattern. I emailed the editor and she replied that she hadn't known that and, "No one complained." So if the pros can get lost, it's not that difficult for the rest of us to retain something and later make an item forgetting that there was a specific source. No crime there.

But there are instances where black is black and white is white. If your intent is to copy a design in it's entirety, and you do not have permission to do so, you are contravening copyright law. If you buy a pattern and then reproduce it for sale without permission, unless the seller states it is for commercial use, you are breaking the law.

Carol Dean Sharpe of Sandfibers has given me permission to use a photograph of one of her signature peyote cuffs. Now, Carol does not own the right to peyote stitch or toggle cuffs. But her works are like paintings. Copy a design of hers, whether you buy the pattern or not, if you offer it for sale - you are literally taking food off her table when she clearly states that commercial use is forbidden. You're good to go, IF you've bought one of her patterns designated for commercial use. Very straightforward.

On the other hand, back in the gray area, we learn from others. Our original work at least stems from work that was done before. And how do we deal with that?

I'd like to talk about permission. Perhaps most of you saw the special issue of Bead & Button devoted to using lampwork focals? One design featured a juicy innovation on Celini spiral - which reversed the spiral at mid-point. I wrote the designer and told her that I'd love to use that variation in my work, giving credit to her as the originator of the stitch. She generously granted me permission - and added that she appreciated my contacting her. "Most people don't ask," she said.

I also wrote Rachel Nelson-Smith to ask if I could use her "bump" stitch (from her fabulous book, "Seed Bead Fusion").
She said:
"When that information goes out into the world with instructions, it really belongs to the world at that point. Where would we be if anyone who ever wrote a textbook, refused to let anyone use that knowledge in their own work?"

The point is - many designers - and especially those who teach, are generous. It never hurts to ask. And it certainly does not hurt your credibility as an artisan or artist to give credit where it is due. Be honored to state your sources. It's a classy thing to do and maybe someone will do the same for you some day.

The truth is that since the advent of the internet and the enormous surge of interest in our craft, if you publish a picture - someone will copy. I guarantee it. This can be a bitter experience for someone who has spent many hours developing a design and who has plainly stated his or her copyright. So don't.
I promise you that you can take that "source" and hide it by challenging yourself to do something original and just as good.

And to those teachers who allow we students to use their innovations - a grateful and heartfelt thank you. To the hundreds of beaders out there who inspire me every day, my sincere gratitude.

Meanwhile - pay it forward.


Mikki said...

Great post, Linda. I talk about copyright all the time to my students. I've had artwork of mine show up on T-shirts and in print when I knew nothing about it, got no credit and no reimbursement so I definitely put a note about copyright on everything I do now.
At my last class a student did approach me about selling my designs, I gave her permission to do so as long as it included a credit line to me. Much better than finding out that someone had taken an order for a dozen of one of my signature designs which she was passing off as her own...why is it that 'friends' think they can do that? I will also mention....don't have business cards made up announcing you're a 'jewelry designer' when 'your designs' are someone else's.

LLJones said...


Ruthie said...

That was a really incredible article on the issue! I think you stated that about as succinctly and clearly as I've ever heard it put! May I have permission to link to this from my blog?

LLJones said...

Glad you enjoyed the entry, Ruthie.
Absolutely feel free to link to anything you see here. Cheers!

Leinaala Mitchell said...

Perfectly stated as usual, Linda. I appreciate the inclusion of our being influenced by so much, but that it is very different from out right copying. Thank you! Leinaala

Marsha Wiest-Hines said...

I thought you did a great job with this. All through history artists of all kinds have influenced each other and grown together by taking each other's ideas and applying them in new ways. The "derivative work" portion of copyright law is the most easily confused and repressive. I thought your examples were excellent and your thinking clear, and want to thank you for a thought-provolking read. Can't wait to read your take on the remaining 6 sins!

Enchanted Beads said...

I enjoyed thoroughly this article (and the whole Blog). I was thinking about many related things before but here is a page that enlightens about these very serious issues. Very beautifully written as well.


LLJones said...

Thanks Leinaala. Two beaders have told me they don't dare even look closely at anything because their memories will retain it almost photographically. It's a blessing and a curse.

Christine's Beadworks said...

Thanks for a great article. It reminds me when my husband designed my engagement ring. When I went to a designer to have a complimentary wedding ring made for him and told the jeweler that Scott designed mine, his response was it wasn't an original design. I remember being offended, but now understand that derivation abounds (although the jeweler lost a sale with his remark in that instance, lol). I love Rachel's philosphy, she is a very gracious teacher and mentor. It takes such little effort to credit sources and ask permission and is well worth the resulting good will. Who wants negative energy attached to something they've created?

LLJones said...

Thanks for your ring story. I love Rachel's philosophy too - and I'm the same. If I publish a pattern, people are free to make it and sell if they wish. If it's an exact copy, I appreciate mention. As I said - someone WILL copy at some point and I simply don't want to put my through the stress of constantly being on the lookout. (This, I'll add - is a purely personal preference.)

And heaven knows I am SO grateful for teachers who let you USE what you learn.

And - You make an excellent point about the negative energy attached to work...or the bad karma, when you claim design of something that isn't yours.
Thanks for the comments.

Caryn Joy said...

Very well written.

KRDesigns11 said...

I needed some perspective after reading a comment on my blog this week from Replica Jewelry. I am new to the internet sales and social networking thing, but when I read a comment from someone from a large company whose business is intentionally copying jewelry cheaper, I wanted to climb up on Heidi's grandfather's mountain and not come down but once a year! Understanding intellectually is far different from emotionally. Thanks for writing this.

LLJones said...

KR - that is the HEIGHT (or depth) of disgusting. But it's a fact of life...and what we do about it, I don't know. Some folk publish really TINY pictures to try to avoid being copied...but anything online is at risk. It's just a shame the big guys don't think to contract the folks they're stealing from. But that would cut into their huge profits, wouldn't it. I'm very, very sorry to hear you've experienced this.

Miri Agassi said...

Amen Sela!!