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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

I want to think and talk,  for a couple posts, about plaigarism and copyright in the beading world.  I recently read, in Beadwork Magazine, an article by Marlene Blessing, the editorial director, which includes the following:

- It is unethical to copy an artist's work without that artist's 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 that artist's and publisher's permission.
- It is unethical to teach a beading project learned in another teacher's class."

Since I have named my source and quoted directly, I sincerely hope that my using these words here is not illegal in any way.  But I have to wonder, why is this information not front and center in the magazine? Why is it not on the page that tells me it is illegal to copy any part of the magazine in print so fine I need my magnifiers to read it?  Maybe it should be obvious to all concerned?

I'm going to tell you a story about how easy it is, especially as a new beader, to run afoul of these ethics.  And in another post, I am going to show you how I believe I did so myself.  In this post, you get a chance to vote on whether or not I did in the case presented here.  I don't think so, but your thinking may be different from my own.  It all involves judgement.

I started beading in August of 2007. Almost immediately I stumbled upon a call for entry for a local bead art juried exhibit called "Beads of Whimsy."  I decided, why not give that a try?  Two entries could be submitted, so I decided I would create two pieces.  In retrospect, that was both a bold and a foolish move for a spanking new beader.

The first piece began in a Right Angle Weave Workshop class.  The class was two sessions, and we could make a necklace or a bracelet, creating the RAW base in the first class and then embellishing with bicones in the second.  I got home after the first session, which was my first introduction to RAW, ripped out what I had done in class and decided I would use the technique and basic necklace shape taught to create a piece based on one I had seen in a book, and admired. I think most beaders begin because they love something they have seen and want to make something similar. 

So there are my code violations.  First, I tried to make something like an award winning necklace I admired, and second,  my work began in a class.  Although not specifically spelled out in the "Code," original work probably only rarely begins in a class.  But in my defense, my finished piece is not remotely recognizable as a project from the class, which included bicones (or stone chips) and no fringe.  I can't show you that though, because I'd have to copy the class material, which is protected by copyright.  You would have to take my word on it.  Or since a class was involved, I am condemned.  Your judgement is called for.

My "DaVinci Code Book Club Necklace"
As my homework, I created the base for the necklace and in the second class session, I made a start on fringing the piece, and then worked on it for weeks.  I have always loved gradation as a design element, so I thought I would gradually blend my colors.  As I worked on the piece, I listened to The DaVinci Code on CD.  The black and white became symbolic in my mind of the men and women in the ritual ceremonies in the book, and the apple focal, which I had made for me by lampwork artist Marcia Parker, was the perfect touch.

 I think publishing a photo of the piece that was my inspiration here would be illegal, as I would have to scan it, and that act alone would constitute copyright infringement, but I was able to find a photo of it on the net (please click on this link) with a thank you to our friends at Fire Mountain Gems, who sponsor the Bead and Button Magazine Bead Dreams competition.  This work won a second place award for finished jewelry in 2004.  Copying this piece would have been in violation of the "Code of Ethics" for sure.

But did I know that?  Now of course, at this point in my beading career, I had not read the fine print in the magazines and books I was looking at.  And I also had not read copyright law.  I had been costume designer for competitive ballroom dancers for twenty years, and in the fashion world, design trends come and go very quickly in the form of knock-offs.  A professional dancer appears on the circuit with a great gown, and everyone wants to look just like her!  I had personally designed a gown that was copied so frequently in the course of a few months that all 6 finalists for the national championships of the American Smooth style one year were wearing a knock-off of my design.  The next year, it was all over Europe as well. And I have copied as much as I have been copied.  But for me, it is business as usual.  I am not saying it's right or wrong.  It just is.

Test this for yourself.  Watch a big awards show, the Ocars, the Tonys, Golden Globes; you pick.  Observe how the ladies are dressed, especially the ones who look really fantastic.  Then visit Macy's or Bloomies or even JC Penney in a couple weeks, and I guarantee knockoffs of the best looks with be on the racks for you to purchase for your prom.

So the idea that I might have done anything wrong here, especially given that my outcome is both structurally and visually different than the work that inspired it, did not even occur to me.  But if you look closely, the basic design elements are the same.

In retrospect, I believe this piece is my own. I don't think it is a result the teacher of the class would ever have expected, and I do not think it is a copy of my initial source of inspiration, even a "derivative" one, for those of you who know copyright law. But as I said earlier, this all involves judgement.  I show you both here, and invite you to vote in the poll.  Is it a copy?  Is it an original work?  Should I be crediting the artist who made the original necklace with the design or inspiration?  Should I have asked for her permission to sell the necklace on Etsy in my shop?  It is for sale.  I didn't ask for permission.  Am I ethical?  What do YOU think?

In my next post, look for the other "Beads of Whimsy" entry, which I think DID cross the line.  Check back in a few weeks and vote again.


  1. Well since FMG themselves say "The pieces featured in the Gallery of Designs are copyrighted designs and are provided for inspiration only. We encourage you to substitute different colors, products and techniques to make the design your own." I would say you just did what they asked you to do. You were inspired and then you made it your own. Your materials, technique and look are quite different. I think the only thing your piece has in common with the inspiration piece is you both use black and white ... But I bet I can find an even older design that is similar to both of yours. So when is a design an "original"? Jewelry has been created for centuries and if you look hard enough you can probably find a design that is similar to a recent "original". Is it crappy to copy? Sure it is - but hey - jewelry designs come and go, just as fashion designs do. Personally I'm more interested in figuring out my next new design rather than worrying about someone copying an old design. For someone who sells the same design over/over, copying would be more of an issue since it could cut into their revenue. I get too bored making the same thing - so I move onto something else ...

  2. Cserpent, your thinking is very much like my own. In fact I laughed, because I frequently struggle to have the patience to make the second earring. And in my experience, if your new piece looks like something you found inspiring, and you contact the original artist, almost always they say, "Thank you for asking," and grant permission to proceed. I do think entering a juried show or competition places additional burden of proof of originality on the artist however. But (flip-flop) as you say, there's not much really new under the sun. To me, it is a deeply complex issue, but there are those who find it quite "black and white".

  3. Your design is not a copy. The only thing in common is the graduation and color scheme, not the materials or the technique. It has a similar feel to it, but the similarity is so slight, that if I had the two side by side, I would never in a million ears think that either one was the copy of the other. I think you might have been inspired by the colors, and that it perfectly acceptable. Beautiful necklace Marsha!

  4. There are lots and lots and lots of black and white graduated color scheme necklaces out there. Yours is a completely different technique.

    I had a situation last spring where I opened up my new FMG catalog and was looking through the seed beads when I noticed a necklace that was a finalist from one of their competitions. The necklace was almost an exact copy of one of my original pieces - which was published on the cover of Beadwork magazine in 2007. The only thing that was changed was the color scheme and the addition of a focal piece in the center of it.

    Now, according to copyright law, that might not be copying, since it can be argued that this person changed 10% of my design. (There are some nuances in copyright law that talk about derivatives of a design, but I won't go there right now.) But if you look at it from an ethical point of view, it is clearly a copy, and it bothers me that the people at FMG didn't do anything about it, even I contacted them repeatedly.

    I don't want to discourage someone from using any of my designs as an inspiration, but for someone to copy my piece, change the colors and then enter it in a competition as an original design is not an ethical thing to do.

  5. I agree with you Vanbeads. If an "inspired" work looks enough like the original to be recognized, then in my book, there's a problem. But exactly when a design has evolved into uniqueness can be very hard to nail down. I expected at least a few readers to question what I did here, but I don't think most would pick it out as a copy, even looking at both pieces side by side.

  6. For me, the code of ethics as written above inspires more questions than it answers. I think it is because the concepts "copy" and "beading project" are not clearly defined and don't mean the same thing to everyone. Is it copying if you use the same stitches but different colors? Is it copying if you use differently sized or shaped beads? Is it copying if you never saw the original item but made something similar anyway? When you protect a "beading project", what are you protecting? The stitches? The colors? The style? The design elements?

    When it comes to classes, what I have been told by my local bead store is that stitches cannot be copyrighted but instructions can. Otherwise, once you learn right angle weave, everything you make with that stitch would belong to your instructor. On the other hand, you shouldn't be able to copy the instructor's written materials to sell or teach with unless you have permission.

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  8. I don't think you crossed the line with this. The original piece had wire wrapping, which was a main focal point and I don't believe yours did. Your gradation was much more subtle from one side to the next (and I think much nicer than the other). I think it is a nice gesture to list someone who inspired a piece, but I don't even think that was necessary with this piece.
    Thank you for such a great blog post. The subject of plagerism is a touchy topic and everyone seems to have their own measure of it.

  9. I subscribe to the 10% rule. I love your Da Vinci piece; when I first saw it, I was reminded of the Bead Dreams work, but prefer yours because it's "softer" and has no wirework - much more than 10% difference. I have a whole file of "inspiration" pieces and books I refer to frequently but have no intention of copying or using patterns from them. Am I infringing on a copyright because I like a particular design element? I recently finished a necklace with 2 large chunks of ammonite, just about the time you posted pictures of several pieces, including one with 2 pieces of ammonite. Does that mean I infringed on your copyright? Since I probably started mine before you started yours, did you infringe on mine? Aren't these silly questions?

  10. I do not see this as a copy. It is your own design, the color scheme is similar, but I believe a lot of people have used that color scheme in their own way. You put your own take on it. I am glad that the bead mags do put the copyright issue in now and then. I am not creativity minded, although, now and then I make my own thing. I rely mainly on other's patterns to make or for inspiration. I have been cracking down on myself lately to create my own and when my brain is not cooperating, I use others patterns. I have put it on myself to ask permission from every designer I can. Out of many designers, that I e-mailed, I have received the okay to make and sell. I have had only one that never got back to me. Some have limits on how many you can make of each design, and others just want the credt, which is fine with me. I do not mind doing that. Personally what makes me mad is when one blatantly copies a pattern and does not give the credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, I have seen items published in the bead magazines that are credited to someone who stole it from someone else. Some of these designers have a specific style and I am able to tell it is that designers, yet someone elses name is there or it is not credited to the true designer. There are a lot of different techniques that can't be copyrighted and regardless, I think people can make similar items without realizing it.
    Finally, if in doubt, contact the designer and just ask. It takes just one minute to e-mail and ask.

  11. An issue on which so many have strong feelings! Thanks to all of you for your respectful and thoughtful discussion!

  12. Marsha, I don't believe your design is a copy. As others have said above, the only real similarity is in color and graduation. We buy the magazines specifally for inspiration, admiration, to kick start our muse or to learn a new technique. To some degree, we ALL copy other's work, it is how we learn. Is there anyone out there who has not copied someone else's work at some point? The line is drawn however, when you call it your own design and don't give credit. It should not be entered into a contest unless it is more your own design than another's.
    Your necklace is gorgeous Marsha and I think it is your own.

  13. Marsha, this topic can be polarizing much like politics because there are two camps that can be very extreme and often overshadow more moderate voices. I believe most will not find your design to be a copy nor requiring design inspiration credit. It's a totally different piece. Just like it is not a significant difference to only change the color, it's also not a copy if only the colors are the same. Ultimately, this is not a clear area and a "look" is not necessarily a unique design. Nor do I think it is a copy if it reminds you of someone's work, it's so much more complex than that simple test implies. There has already been much written about "technique" versus design but little understanding on what those two terms truly mean. And intent does matter in courts and in this debate. There's a relationship between the designer and the artist (I do believe craftsmanship is artistry, not something less than design, but an often necessary partner). When respectful, that relationship creates a beautiful body of art that all can admire, that grows and evolves. We fight the copyright battles that must be fought, forgive the innocent mistakes that occur and embrace the evolution our art takes in anothers' hands as something beautiful on it's own merits. Isn't that inspiration's gift?

  14. I agree with most all of the comments here. I, like all of you, deal with all the same issues. My creations are all OOAK, however,how can they be? Someone, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME had done something similar before. I have about 100 books about beading and beading designs, but I still consider my designs OOAK. For me, if someone was to 'copy' my work I would first be flattered and then be curious as to why they needed to 'copy' my work. Even my peyote stitched bracelets - where each of my patterns are hand designed - have been inspired or designed with something else in mind!

    Marsha, I really like your design, it is very soft, elegant and beautiful. For me, your work is, as always, OOAK and I love to watch you create each item! Keep up the good work! ~KM

  15. So confusing, it makes me scared to come up with any new design! As a new beader, I have already come up with some beading designs on my own, only to see them later in books. What if I hadn't seen them and proceeded with publishing them? What can be considered a "technique" that can be copied and a "stitch" that is copyright? I have no idea!

  16. Mandy, I think you shouldn't drive yourself crazy with this. I think if you are not making a copy intentionally, then you are probably OK. I think the worst thing that happens in a typical infringement is a Cease and Desist letter from a lawyer. I think if you behave in a respectful way and are not making a direct copy of something you have seen, if your design happens to look like something else, it's co-incidence, not copying. In order to get in BIG trouble, I am thinking you'd know what you were doing was wrong when you did it. Just my thoughts on the matter tho, not legal advice for sure. :o)