3/2/08

Copyrights?

I have to say the issue of what is copyrightable and what isn't and what is ethical and what isn't is beginning to confuse me a bit. With the proliferation of magazines, books, classes, workshops, online patterns and teachers, the edges are beginning to blur a bit. Thankfully, there are a few points I am clear on!

First, it is never acceptable to copy pages from a book, class or magazine and use them to teach your own class unless you are the author of the pages. Second, it is never acceptable to copy someone's original work, whether it be a quilt, a piece of jewelry, a wallhanging, etc. for anything other than personal use without permission from the creator. I have always assumed it is ok to make it for personal use, otherwise why include step by step instructions on making it? Right?

You with me so far?

Now is where is begins to blur for me...if I learn a technique from a magazine and make an original design can I sell/teach it? How "original" does my design have to be, since we already know that the technique didn't originate with me? From what I see in the magazines, books, etc., it seems that you cannot actually copyright a technique, especially something like the well-known off loom stitches like peyote, herringbone, brick, right-angle weave, etc. But you can copyright certain combinations? Or are just the finished pieces copyrightable?

Let me give you a recent example...I am a fan of Phyllis Dintenfass's beadwork, especially the wonderful components she creates with a unique combination of peyote and herringbone stitch. A few months ago there was a profile of Phyllis in a wellknown bead magazine with many samples of her work including some jewelry made with multiples of her components. I looked her up on the web and found that she not only teaches, but she also sells patterns and kits of some of her work. I was interested in a particular component she calls a "sea whirl" and contacted her and was able to purchase the instructions for the component. Now I've made several of these little sea whirls, using different beads (seeds in place of delicas or 15's in place of 11's and different colors of beads)...now the question is can I sell these components? Can I teach them (not using Phyllis's instruction sheets, of course)? I would always give her verbal credit, of course, and not claim them as my own original idea (although I've seen cases where this was not honored at all!), but is it even ok to do that? How far beyond making them for my own personal use can I go? Or is that where I need to stop?

I also have to say I was confused by seeing others teaching classes based on what looks to me like Phyllis's components but using them in a slightly different way....since Phyllis is also teaching in that same venue, I would guess that it's acceptable? Or, is the technique itself, the particular combination of two non-copyrightable stitches, also not copyrightable?

What do you think?

20 comments:

The Lone Beader said...

I read this page, and it basically says you can sell the components as long as you give her written credit for the design. But, don't quote me on that. LOL.

hands2heal said...

This is such a great post. I'm not new to beading, but definitely new to selling. And when you make things for yourself, the world is fair game. When you're selling, suddenly the restrictions are all around you and you have to be so careful.

I'm always interested in a good discussion of copyright. I don't think you can be too careful when it comes to another person's work.

KV said...

You know the old saying, Bobbi -- there are no new plots in writing books, there are no "original" ideas, etc., etc.

However, if you are using a design exactly in the same manner that someone "created" it and give them credit, that should be acceptable.

In today's use of ethics, I have seen so many aberrations that it makes one's head spin. I do believe that in using someone else's pattern specifically constitutes giving them credit for the design. But you and I both know that each of us brings unique twists to every design from the colors employed to the different stones and shapes of beads we decide to use. The basic concept may have been "designed" by another person, but our execution of the project may have become our unique inspiration in the materials chosen to make that project and ultimately the finished product is quite set apart from whatever that designer envisioned.

Sticky wicket, eh?


Kathy V in NM

beadbabe49 said...

Actually, as I read the laws it says that the design is copyrighted but you cannot copyright technique. Where I get lost is when does technique become design?
For example, Russian Leaves are done using a specific technique so the leaves can't be copyrighted. I imagine that's why I see so many designs using them in various ways in jewelry. But, the leaf is also a design, a component, if you will, so I'm not sure why they're not copyrightable...but in the case of the leaf, apparently only the finished piece using the leaves is copyrightable.
So I can teach the technique and if I design a bracelet, for example, using russian leaves, I can teach that bracelet, but not someone else's bracelet design.
At least, that's how I understand it so far.

KV said...

Okay, Bobbi -- don't know if you get catalogs or catalog supplements from Fire Mountain Gems, but their latest supplement arrived today. There are two design ideas (p. 175 and p. 176) under which is the following wording:

"Inspired by Anna Nehs Draeger, October 2004 issue of Bead and Button magazine."

"A pattern similar to a design in Bead and Button magazine in 2005."

During the past year, there were several articles written on this subject in some of the better known beading publications. When I unearth those, will send on the info to you.


Kathy V in NM

Lidia said...

This post has really got me thinking. To make matters even more confusing I have to say that even if an artist/crafts person claims that their work is original it may or may not be. I have noticed work with copyright symbols that were made and taught by other bead artists ages ago. Particularly the technique of combining herringbone and peyote stitches. I have examples that date back to 2000 that are surprisingly similar to the ones that you are referring to that were taught by a well known bead artist and author. I really can't say whose came first. There is always the possibility that two individulas could come up with the same design/technique and then one of them believing theirs to be the original creation feels they should have the copyright on it. When ever we ever we use someone elses work as a starting point we cannot be 100% certain that they even have the rights to it in the first place. Sorry about rambing and adding to the confusion. What's really most important to me is that people continue to teach and add to the collective knowledge.

Violette Severin said...

Maybe we all need the advice of an attorney. I have published posts where I regretted it as soon as I hit the button. Sometimes I wasn't sure if I could repeat things I read in magazines even though I referenced the magazine. Some of the DVDs I have reviewed I didn't like. I have been wondering if my words were considered libelous. By the way, your comment on Sharon B's blog about Georgia O'Keefe gave me a great idea for the March challenge. I haven't decided yet if I will do it but her work is certainly inspirational.

beadbabe49 said...

That's really interesting kathy...I'll have to check that out...maybe since they were not sold, but just ideas, that makes it ok. I'm pretty sure fire mountain wouldn't open themselves up to charges of copyright infringement!
yes, lidia...I think you're also right. Sometimes an artist thinks they've come up with an original design and it's actually something that's been done before...and sometimes several artists come up with very similar designs at the same time. With so much in print nowadays, I can see that happening a lot more often than you might think it could!
hi violette....I don't think you have to worry...there is something known as "fair use" where you can quote a part of a copyrighted work for the purposes of "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research". Sounds like your comments would certainly fall under criticism or commentary.
(yes, Georgia O'Keeffe's work has always been an inspiration to me too)...

KV said...

Hi, Bobbi -- found those articles a while ago.

August, 2007 Bead & Button -- article by Sarah Feingold who is an attorney.

June/July 2006 Beadwork -- article by Marlene Blessing.

October/November 2007 Beadwork -- article by Mary Tafoya who references Marlene Blessing's article, which is apparently still available on the magazine's website.

If you don't have the August, 2007 issue of Bead & Button, let me know and I will be happy to scan it and send it on to you.

Your confusion is quite understandable, especially when one thinks of how truly ancient peyote stitch or nebdele stitch are and then if anyone could possibly claim they invented right-angle weave -- aargh!


Kathy V in NM (email is kathyvberg@aol.com)

beadbabe49 said...

thanks kathy...I'll check them out again...I have all the issues of Beadwork and Bead and Button since they both began, but thank you for your thoughtful offer!
And a quick note...and I could be wrong! but I think david chatt says he invented the single-needle right angle weave...that before him it was always done with two needles...and he could very well be right, but who would know for sure!

beadbabe49 said...

Just read the August 2007 B & B but I didn't find the last article helpful for my specific questions...I know the finished piece is copyrighted by the original designer. But the technique isn't. So if you make a bracelet, say using freeform peyote, the finished bracelet is copyright protected, but you can't copyright the techinque of freeform peyote. So far copyright is simple.

I think the parts where it gets confusing for me is also where it gets confusing for others.

But I did notice that in the article she said her writing didn't constitute legal advice...which leads me to believe that we probably would need a lawyer to figure out just exactly where copyright begins and ends!

Maybe it's a case by case situation, I don't know?

Purple Girl said...

a note on the teaching side of things (you mentioned that you would not use someone else's instruction sheets...)

A friend was teaching a class, out of town, a few years ago. A woman in the class had taken classes from him before and they had always gotten along. This time, however, she seemed to be angry at him from the very start.

At the break, he asked her what was wrong. She told him that he was teaching the very same class she'd just taken - right down to the instruction sheets! She was angry at him for cheating! Turned out that a woman in a class he'd taught previously had simply photo-copied his sheets, and turned herself into an instructor. His pupil was very surprised to realize that it was her friend who was the liar/thief/cheat.

I'm not sure if he could (or did) take legal action, but know he was hurt and upset, and worried. He makes his living by teaching, so this really mattered to him. Rules are great, but only as long as they are followed, and respected.

Sounds like you're bending over backwards to not step on anyone's toes. Bless you, Bobbi.

beadbabe49 said...

That is a very obvious case, purple girl, and I've heard of the same thing happening myself...in fact a friend of mine who writes how-to books about beadwork ran across a woman who claimed to be HER! And was selling her books, claiming to be the author...I thought that one actually took the cake myself!

I'm getting a lot clearer on this issue myself, thanks to all the comments and information this post has gotten.

I hope it's also helped anyone else who has questions and if not...well, comments are still open if we want to continue this discussion.

LJ said...

Bobbi -

One issue of B&B had an article on copyright - and in the same issue, there was a pattern for a beaded bead that I'd first learned from a book by Carol Wilcox Wells. When I emailed, remarking on this, they told me that the woman who'd done that bead for the book hadn't complained.

It's the muddiest issue. I wrote and asked - "what happens if I find a new way to use a stitch, or come up with a piece of bead work on my own, and then see that someone else has had the same idea and published it?" Their answer was pretty vague.
And it happens. There isn't that much new under the sun, is there?

And I figure that all you can do is your best. I like the idea of saying, "inspired by"...because that's usually what it is - you get inspiration, or learn a new stitch, but then you make it your own because that's what we do...

And if we're sure of where we first were inspired - there's always the option to try to contact the artist.

I don't think there IS a clear answer.

Sue in western Washington, USA said...

Okay, I didn't make it all the way tthrough everyone else's comments, but in terms of teaching the sea whirl things (or something else someone else has created/published) I would simply ask Phyllis for permission.

beadbabe49 said...

I think that's about right, lj...there are parts of copyright that are clear and everything else seems to be determined by individual interpretation until it goes to court and then the legal wrangling starts. I don't think many artists have taken anyone to court because of the cost and the obvious difficulty of establishing originality...

sue...I'm not interested in teaching the sea whirls or much of anything else in the bead weaving line...I'm teaching bead embroidery and I teach my own designs (like the beaded hand portraits I do), so copyright isn't a problem for me right now. And I didn't want it to be in the future either, so that's part of the reason for this post.

For myself, I was wondering about selling finished work since I do sell jewelry (and I have asked phyllis about making one of her other designs, so I'm not stepping on her toes there either).

What phyllis has said to me is that she prefers to teach her own designs and would prefer not to have someone else teaching them as that makes it hard for her to make a living. I respect that totally, since I know all the work it's been to come up with my own original designs...

again....I was just wondering about that fuzzy area in copyright and from all the responses so far, it seems like it's going to stay fuzzy...as lj says, there is no clear answer sometimes!

freebird said...

I've read all the comments and I am still unclear. Can you scan a whole article out of a magazine as Kathy V said she would do? Can you cut a figure out of a magazine and use it in a collage without altering the heck out of it? (Like cutting one tree out of a picture of a forest). I end up not even using my stamps alot of the time because I don't know what the company is and if they are "angel" stamps. I admit I am a chicken but I find it really restrictive. Afterall, people paint the Golden Gate Bridge and someone must have held the design copyright. Is that okay?

beadbabe49 said...

As I read the fair use law, kathy could copy it since she was using it to educate me (us) on copyrights...the collage question gets it's own heading, as collage artists deal with images directly in their artwork. I do know that there are sites that list which stamp companies are angel companies and which aren't, and a friend of mine who uses stamps in her work will only use angel stamps...she will not even buy stamps from any other companies, since she sells her work. And I'd guess you can paint or photograph the golden gate bridge, but you couldn't build another one just like it without the architect's permission.
But yeah...there are areas I'm still unclear about too!

Hélène H said...

Well, as far as the Golden Gate Bridge is concerned, should it appear in a feature film, in France you would have to pay a fee to a special architectural fund. I don't know about the USA. Painting is something else I believe.

Scanning a magazine is probably not very legal, but then lending a book isn't either. Everybody does it though :o)

Cutting out a picture out of a magazine you bought is probably OK since you bought it.

FireMountain Gems - I have always wondered if they didn't buy copyright when they sponsored artists and contests.

Personnally, I wouldn't sell the sea whirls. However I might sell jewels including see whirls.

I take classes with a French bead artist and she claims we have lost many techniques as times goes by. She just rediscovered a technique to restore vintage beaded bags. She is very sensitive to copyright infringement but I think she'd be angry mainly if people copied the distinctive look of her jewellery. But then in France we're really behinders, we don't have many bead artists so it's a little different...

beadbabe49 said...

I've wondered if the copyright laws in europe are very different from ours, helene...