February 17, 2012

Copyrights, Patents and the Ethics of Jewelry Design

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 ..... to read more.



  1. HI,
    I too have looked into this due to the fact I created several items I'd like to keep as my own. Jewelry is very difficult to protect because there are so many of us creating using similar art forms. I wouldn't know where to start pointing the finger unless the copying artist actually copied bead for bead, color for color and measurement for measurement. I use all the knotting techniques I've learned, seen and have been inspired by and sometimes it comes close to another's work...totally by accident and not with any one particular piece of inspiration in mind. My short experience with the creative world of art, however, has brought me to find many internet photos of jewelry being sold that were copied from some of the first books on macrame that I learned from! It bothered me deeply.
    We work hard at coming into our own and keeping our work fascinating, personal and ever evolving. Respect is the word to live by.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this, Szarka! I recently encountered an issue for posting a picture of a bracelet that I had made that was similar to someone else's. It had been posted on a site where I have a small group of beading friends so it took me completely by surprise when the person who sells the tutorial for a similar piece and her supporters (some of whom were quite nasty about it) insisted that I had claimed that it was my original design! Yes, it was similar to her bracelet; no, I never claimed it to be my own in any way, shape or form; I made it for myself, I never said it was made for a sale; and no, I had not purchased her tutorial on it. Unfortunately, I did not mention where the inspiration came from which was my mistake. The picture was immediately taken down from the site (by my request)and I apologized to the designer but all of this has left a bitter taste in my mouth. My question is do we have to feel compelled to buy tutorials on something that we can do on our own just because of this copyright issue or do we all have a bit of leeway to create and build on something that we have seen in passing. I might add that I have never 'copied' anything right down to the minute details but have done similar techniques....so who makes the decisions about what is considered a technique and what is considered a design?

    1. It seems to me that you had no intent to take advantage of someone else's design. We certainly don't have to purchase a tutorial for something we can make on our own. (By the way, when we purchase a tutorial, the designer still owns the design.) Isn't it too bad that we can't all be more courteous and just contact the single individual when there is a concern? This seems to be a potential problem with the on line share groups. I'm sorry you had this experience.

    2. Thank you, Dr. Karen. Although the designer herself was very gracious about the whole matter, we did have a discussion about it because I was looking for answers. She told me that I should sit down with my beads without a picture of her work in front of me (which was not the case in the first place) and just play around with them to see what I could come up with on my own. But then, right after that, she said that her supporters had a nasty reaction because, quote' Without designers such as herself, these people would have nothing to bead'! I had to laugh at that.....if I can sit down and come up with something on my own, why can't her 'supporters'? Simple....she makes money off them but not off me!

  3. Anonymous17.2.12

    This may be well and good for a complicated design, where both the design and specific beads were used in the reproduction, but certain designs have been 'invented' by many, at various times and in just as many varied locations! Who is, in this case, to say who was first?
    I'm a member of a site where many photos of jewellery are posted. Several that have been posted lately are identical to some necklaces that have been sitting in my workroom for two years! If I now post photos of mine, am I then the 'copier'?
    Sorry, but I think that for most jewellery designs, this discussion, and patenting just wouldn't/couldn't apply.

    1. The laws pertaining to copyright infringement DO apply to all of us who create and sell jewelry. Your point is well taken that more than one person may develop a similar idea; yet, we do need to be cognizant of the potential of the issues I mentioned in the article. I think we all benefit from our collective efforts to honor individual designs rights.

  4. Anonymous17.2.12

    I agree with "anonymous" but I also agree with some points in the article. I feel bad for the first commenter b/c I know how nasty and presumptive people can get on the internet.

    We're all inspired by something. For me it's ancient, indigenous cultural art. I gravitate to particular regions, usually Western Asia, although lately I've been kind of domestic with Native American inspired ideas. I try to be low profile because I worry about being copied all the time... but if I stay low profile, then no one will ever find me - HA!

    Anyway, since my inspiration is ancient, then I don't think anyone out there can claim I copy them... but someone else might think differently. I have been accused of that and once I investigated this person's work, which I had never seen, I found that we were nothing alike. It's just that I bought the same Hill Tribe flower she claims was hers. No, sorry, the Hill Tribe people in the Himalayas created it.

    There's no way this issue can be black and white. I see mostly gray.

    1. Gray is a tough color; yet I hope the article I wrote encourages us all to be aware of our rights and those of others.

  5. Anonymous18.2.12

    That is why I don't put any of my designs on here!

  6. I think the four guidelines from the articles are spot on, but like anonymous says it is quite easy to invent designs that are already out there, especially if it is simple ones - "Wait, I also wrapped wire around a bead and hung it on an ear wire. How dare you!"
    The only designs I copy directly and purposefully are bought tutorials - I assume the writer is ok with that. I never claim them to be original designs.
    But I may well be guilty of copying something I saw in passing and forgot about.
    I think we know when we are crossing the line ourselves, and I aim to not do that.

    1. Thanks Nana Louise. I tried to write guidelines that we could all consider.

  7. Anonymous18.2.12

    I can certainly understand someone being upset if it is a pricey art piece that is copied but to be upset about some $30 bracelet that is similar to yours seems silly. Designs will be repeated in stringing or wire working. It is inevitable. If people are that concerned they should go and get a patent. Otherwise, relax.

  8. queenie50cat18.2.12

    Well learning a lot here-I am a newbie and am in the learning phase of design. How is one supposed to learn without "copying" a design that was already seen. How do you know if a design is ok to be copied? Eventually I'd like to be able to sell the jewelry I make. If designs are posted in tutorials, magazines, emails, ebooks, books, etc. how do I know if I can make something similar. I understand like Anonymous says about a pricey art piece of jewelry, but indeed where do you draw the line and how do you know where that line is?

  9. Anonymous18.2.12

    I wouldn't get upset if someone copied my work. For me the joy of making jewellery is coming up with designs from my own head but I think it is unrealistic to think that your ideas won't be copied once they're out there. When I had a shop, a woman came in, took photos of my work and bought the beads from me to make it with! I always look at it that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that if someone is focused only on copying you it ensures you'll always be blazing the trail;)

  10. Anonymous....saying imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I agree with....but, whatever you do, don't tell that to a designer. The ones that I have had this discussion with would turn their opinions on a dime if you said that to them!!

  11. Thanks for this article, it's great to educate the beginner and remind the experienced. I used to struggle with this concept because truthfully there are very few 'new designs' out there that are actually new. I myself have come up with an idea only to see something similar posted a few months later.

    Personally, when I see a tutorial of something I know I can create on my own, I'll purchase the tut out of respect for the designer and then will give credit to them for the design. I purchase the tut because I appreciate the time and effort they took to write/photograph their work, and hey, there just might be a tip or trick in there I hadn't thought of! ;)

    I think the truth of the matter is that when designers get upset that their work has been "copied" it's because they're worried they won't make as much money. Now, that's not to say that someone who takes a tutorial and resells that EXACT tutorial as their own isn't wrong, they are, THAT is stealing plain and simple. I suggest, to be safe, if you take someone's design or tutorial and change it to "make it yours" you give the original designer credit for the original design, it's just morally right. Those who don't, just don't have morals, in my opinion.

    Any time I've made another artists design (from tutorial) and wanted to resell it, I've contacted the artist. Only once have I been told "No, don't sell my design" so I didn't.

  12. If we really respected copyright, patent and intellectual property laws, then we would all be stuck at simple stringing beads on a rope...Art is too dynamic to be copyrighted.

  13. Lpshiner21.2.12

    Excellent discussion! Good points both ways- I make jewelry as a hobby and don't sell anything. I made a beautiful necklace about five years ago to donate to a charity silent auction- a multi stranded beaded piece with various stones, pearls and a purchased Murano- style glass starfish focal pendant. I used basic techniques but no instructions or photos to work from. It was * my* design, insofar as that goes- but of course where did it come from? Probably a distillation of all the beading books/magazines etc out there. I had never seen one like it until about a year later I opened a new issue of Bead Style mag or something- and there was a tutorial for almost exactly the same necklace! No 'patent' infringement- I hadn't copywrited the design- it was OOAK. I'm sure the designer never saw my necklace- it was a coincidence. I was rather pleased- obviously my design skills are OK! If someone saw the magazine tho, they might accuse ME of copying- but my piece predated that issue by a year or so. The more stuff gets out there, taught or posted online, the more it's going to be integrated into the public conscience, and the more we will see it show up in others things. None of this is to condone outright copying or stealing- that's wrong. But there's a gray area there- well illustrated in this blog and comments- well done!

  14. Anonymous21.2.12

    I agree with everyone as well as the original article. But I think it leaves us all in a bit of a quandry. For example, I can't remember for the life of me where I learned how to make a figure 8 out of wire, but I had to have seen it described in detail somewhere such as a book, magazine, DVD, etc., when I was first learning. So does that mean that I can't use a figure 8 link in my wire jewelry??? I feel especially bad for the first commenter because the person selling the tutorials is obviously making money off of other people "copying"/duplicating her designs, so why was she upset in the first place? Just because someone else can do something similar to what she can do-without buying her instructions-should not have been a big deal especially since the item wasn't even for sale. Anyway ... in the process of learning how to make jewelry I have read countless books, magazines, and watched dozens and dozens of digital tutorials and DVD's, some I've purchased while others were free. And to be honest, there are probably less than half a dozen that I actually remember where I learned the technique from; and one of these I honestly believe that I came up with the exact same thing prior to me seeing the written instructions with the author claiming it as her design. So who is to say who "designed" something first (as in Lpshiner's comment)?

    Obviously it is something for us to be conscious of when we are making jewelry. But I guess one of my strongest opinions is that if a designer does not want their design "copied", they should not publish, or sell-for-profit, instructions (which are usually given in great detail) on how to duplicate it unless they state - clearly, in big bold text - BEFORE the tutorial is purchased by a consumer, what their terms of "duplication" are along with contact info in case another designer wants to ask permission to use their design.

    If this was the case, I imagine a lot of sales (magazines, books, DVD's, pdf tutorials, etc.) would decline greatly.

    If you think about it, say, in terms of a diamond engagement ring for example. How often do we hear about copyright infringement in the case of an engagement ring even though the vast majority of them are ever so similar???

    Don't get me wrong ... I am not in favor of stealing. I just think there is a lot of gray area where techniques are concerned; as well as the economic aspect of designers (and publishers) selling detailed instructions. Some publishers, and maybe designers as well, might go out of business if it were not for the instructions and inspiration they make available to all of us.

    In fact, I just looked through one of my magazines and out of 40 projects with detailed instructions in this publication, not a single one says anything at all about the designs being copyright protected or even has the copyright symbol. The only copyright discussion I found in the entire magazine was the fine print by the publisher that the magazine may not be duplicated. (There, it also mentioned that the designer would be paid for their project submission only if/when their project was published.)

    So, as a newbie, am I to assume it's all right with these top designers to duplicate their designs since they don't state anything to the contrary, or more acurately, anything at all, on the subject??? Just wondering...

    Comments, advice, thoughts are all welcome!

    1. I totally agree with D! about art (and ideas, in many cases) being too dynamic to copyright! I also agree with Lpshiner and many of the other commenters here.

      That's what I'm confused about....isn't copyright more about the written word that some abstract idea? I totally think that is where the gray area enters this arena!

  15. Before I say anything else, let me say this: I agree that it's unethical and sometimes a violation of copyright law to deliberately copy another person's designs and sell them as your own. I don't do it. Ever.

    As has been indicated in several replies, we all have a finite set of supplies to work with, assuming we are purchasing and not making our beads. There are only so many techniques for dealing with those beads and other materials, and there is bound to be duplication. It's difficult, if not impossible, to determine who had a design first. We all look at others' jewelry and become inspired by what we see. So the ideas, the techniques, the beads. . .they're all part of a set of supplies and information that we all have access to.

    I'm running out of patience for this issue. Certainly we shouldn't copy others' designs and sell them. But assume you have come up with something utterly unique. If somebody 1,500 miles away copies it and sells it at venues in their local area, what harm has it done to you? None. You didn't have access to that market. (A worldwide market like Etsy is another matter.)

    The waters are being muddied by people trying to claim rights to ideas, designs, and techniques that are part of the public realm, and not the property of any one individual. Example: there's a style of bead, mainly being done in ceramic clay, that I really like. SEVERAL people are making and selling these beads, in all kinds of colors and finishes. It's a particular geometric shape, actually, more than a unique design. I had thought about making the same style out of polymer clay. The difference between the two types of clay would dictate that different techniques for the final step in producing the bead would have to be used. The ceramic artists have basically one option: shape the bead, alter the shape, and then fire it. But the polymer artists have two options, both of which I worked out in my head before I ever tried to make the bead: either alter the shape before curing, or alter the shape with a particular tool after curing. Pretty obvious, and pretty simple to figure that out. But lo and behold, I stumbled onto someone's blog, and she posted a tutorial showing the after-curing method of shaping the bead. And she had a note at the bottom of the tutorial saying that people could not sell any piece of jewelry they made with the beads they learned how to make in her tutorial.

    Give me a break! This woman took an obvious technique - that I'm pretty sure she was far from the first to discover - called it her own, and tried to prohibit others from selling jewelry made from it. Certainly she could never legally enforce her statement. But when people who have no right to claim a design or a technique, and start claiming it, it dilutes the sympathy any of us might have for those who really have come up with something unique. I don't knowingly copy other people's work. But my advice, if that happens to you, is to feel flattered, modify your original design to be even better, and move on with your life. Many people who've been copied have said that they were then forced to come up with other designs, and they grew as designers because of it.

    What makes this subject even more difficult to deal with, is if you come up with a unique design, and I change some of the elements and make it myself, how much change is enough change? THAT'S the issue that I don't hear people defining, and in my opinion, it's the one that needs to be defined more than anything else.

  16. Very well said, Jenny...well said! That is definitely the problem I ran into with the bracelet that I made....I thought I DID change it enough to make it mine because I did not use bead for bead. So exactly....how much change is enough of a change AND WHO DECIDES THAT!! You definitely hit the nail on the head, Jenny!

    1. Don't worry, just keep creating!

  17. Anne V.12.9.12

    I think the issue of how much change is enough is really the heart of the whole problem. I agree that taking someones specifics and adding a little embellishment is wrong, as is stealing a person's tutorial-but a lot of items evolve the same way from common techniques or colors or beads even though the artists are far apart.

    I have been told that a 30% difference in the design is sufficient to make something yours-but how do you know you've changed something 30%? Is your 30% different from the 30% some other artist would need to make an idea theirs? Is a different metal enough? Different beads? Particularly if the main idea is based on common techniques or patterns like in the chain maille world.

  18. Here is my two cents!
    When taking a class with a jewellry 'designer'...it is expected that you will use the knowledge and technique shown to create something of your own.
    Yet, the fact remains...the initial design was taught by someone else.

    It would be mad to expect each and every bracelet or necklace one has designed to be given 'credit' to the person who showed you the various techniques that are now used in ones own creation.
    Yet, that is what this fine article suggests.

    I am an art dealer first ( for over 40 years)...a jewellry designed second. I am well aware of copyright laws....and well aware the difficulty in splitting hairs over claims. But I appreciate the need to have property rights and find your article a great learning tool for all.
    Thank you for this contribution...once more cheers to Magpie!