Copyrights, Patents and the Ethics of Jewelry Design
Karen Meador, Ph.D.
The title indicates an issue that I’ve danced around for a long time; yet it is one of great importance in the field of jewelry making. Is it OK to copy someone else’s design and sell it or teach how to make it? I thought I knew the answer to this question, but just in case, I’ve done some research on the topic.
Why should we even care about the copying of a design? First and foremost, it’s good to realize that this can be a legal matter and I certainly don’t want to end up in court – do you? Secondly, if we copy someone’s design for profit or do not acknowledge that the design is theirs we may be called out for the action. With Facebook and the many chat groups that can bring us instant fame, we must also realize the same venues can provide instant embarrassment. There have been a number of instances where I’ve read the admonishments of a designer who has been wronged by another. I don’t want to see my name in that kind of lights! I also think we should care about design copying since one of us could be next. I’ve actually had the experience of someone copying one of my designs and presenting it for sale as their own. It didn’t make me happy! Finally, copying and selling someone else’s design can just plain make us feel bad about our actions. I have a little voice in my head that warns me about such things and I need to pay attention. Would you call that my moral compass?
Legally, there may be two options for protecting your designs, copyrights and patents. Actually, the first is automatic although there are good reasons to register your design with the US copyright office. Photos on blogs, Facebook or Flickr, etc. pages may provide a dated account of the birth or your design.
eHow describes how to apply for a copyright and you may appreciate reading this information at How to Register Your Jewelry Designs | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_8346256_register-jewelry-designs.html#ixzz1mTPxrDma. “By registering your work, you create a public record of your copyright claim on your jewelry design. This public record enables you to file a law suit to enforce your rights . . . Registering with the copyright office also gives you the right to record your registration with the United States Customs Service to protect your work against the importation of infringing copies. . . . “ A copyright does not protect a particular technique, etc. in your work. Section 102(2) of the Copyright Act tells us "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."
A jewelry designer may also look for legal protection through a design patent. Wikipedia describes this as “a patent granted on the ornamental design of a functional item. Design patents are a type of industrial design right. Ornamental designs of jewelry, furniture, beverage containers . . . and computer icons are examples of objects that are covered by design patents.” For example, in researching different types of multi strand separators, I found a design patent listing for one that was hinged and sounded quite unique. While reading a portion of the description in the application, I realized that the jargon used in patent applications would likely require that I secure an expert in patents to help me file such.
Based on the above information, perhaps we should think as much about the ethics of selling or teaching someone else’s design as we do about the legality of it. In my opinion, a minimum of two things should send up red flags when using someone else’s design. Will I make any money from selling or teaching the design? Secondly, is there any possibility that I may misrepresent the design as my own?
While talking with several other jewelry makers about ethics in jewelry design, I realized some may have the misperception that if they change a little something on the design it is then OK to sell it, teach it or call it their own. This is not correct. Changing the colors, adding an extra row of beads, etc. may help make the design more unique, but the basic idea still belongs to someone else. Does that mean we can’t make those designs that are explained in the bead magazines? Those are, of course, published so that we can make them and perhaps learn a new technique. Yet, they are not for us to make, sell, teach or misrepresent. “But we all do it!” one crafter told me. So where is the line? The editors at Bead and Button Magazine off the following quidelines (http://bnb.jewelrymakingmagazines.com/~/media/import/files/pdf/e/e/5/bnb-ethics.ashx):
It is unethical to copy another artist’s work to sell without their permission.
It is unethical to copy any work that has appeared in a magazine, book, or website and represent it in any venue as an original design.
It is unethical to teach a beading project that has appeared in a magazine, book, or website without the artist’s permission.
It is unethical to teach a beading project learned in another teacher’s class without the teacher’s permission.
The opinions stated in this article are my own and you may or may not agree with me. I do hope, however, that these remarks stimulate all of us to stop and think about ethics in jewelry design so that we can protect one another. Karen Meador.
We also posted this article on our blog if you would like to add your perspective and join the coversation there. http://askszarka.blogspot.com/2012/02/copyrights-patents-and-ethics-of.html
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