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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Give Credit ReDux

In my last post, I showed a work I created as an entry to a juried exhibit called "Beads of Whimsy."  This was among my very first beading projects and I was very proud of myself for making the effort, but sadly, I knew nothing at that time about copyright or appropriate beader's ethics.  Everyone who voted in my poll either thought the necklace in question was my own design, or that I was crazy to have asked the question.  I agree with that assessment.  But the more deeply I explore the subject of copyright and ethics, the more confused I find myself.

In this post, I will first show you where I started with this second (and not so blameless) entry.  One of the very first things I saw in a beading magazine was this gorgeous front page Bead & Button necklace by Linda Gettings.  The project was called "Bead Around the Bend", and you can see the front cover of the magazine and purchase the tutorial at this link.  I fell instantly in love and immediately tried to make the project with the result pictured here.  The pretty curved center section is created by beading around a bendy straw.

 Now to me, this was a copy of her necklace, indeed the most accurate copy I was capable of producing at that point in my beading career.  Obviously, I didn't have the same piece of glass she had used.  I found two focal beads instead of just her one, and the colors, while similar, are not the same.  I strung my entire neck strap with bigger beads, because my peyote covering of the bendy straw from the dollar store was done with size 8 seed beads, and their size gave the piece a nicer flow and proportional agreement.  I was new, and didn't yet realize the benefits of magnifying glasses, hence could not imagine using size 11 beads for ANYTHING!

This was the first magazine project I had attempted, and I was not very pleased with the directions.  They suggested (I am paraphrasing here) that I should increase and decrease as needed to make my peyote fit around the curves in the straw.  WHAT?  So I blindly faked my way through that process, quickly discovering the difference between even and uneven count tubular peyote stitch.  I developed a very clear understanding of when a step up is necessary and when it is not.  But, as I worked along, I thought to myself, this is just not a very good solution to this technical problem.  At this point, I had learned peyote and netting, and I thought the netting would be a much better solution to covering a curved surface.  So I gave that a shot with this photo as the result.
I was pretty pleased with myself.  The netting adapted easily to the shape of the glass without increases or decreases, and I thought that seeing bits of the glass straw through the netting was a nice thing as well.  I gave this necklace a more casual feeling, using big ceramic beads and matte glass in the focal area and in the stringing.  Here's a peek at the netting up close.  As you can see, I was still not keen on size 11 beads, (didn't know what a delica was) and I liked the chunky effect the larger ones provided.  Ms. Gettings had done several configurations with her straws and used several different color schemes in the article, and this is one of the possible configurations, but the technique and overall feeling of the end result are really quite different. 

When it came time to start the second Beads of Whimsy necklace, I thought I would do a variation on this work, but I would use a configuration that Ms. Gettings had not used. Plus, since the theme of the show was "whimsy" I thought the beaded bendy straw might represent a really bad hair day for an insect; antennae gone completely out of control.  I hunted around until I found a cloisonne ladybug and leaf bead, and set off on "Ladybug's Bad Hair Day" below.
I tried yet a different technique for the covering of the bendy straw, using Russian Spiral Weave, which is a netting variation, to get a denser look than what the netting had provided, and a nice texture I imagined might simulate a bug's feeler.  I think my bug bead was pretty dwarfed by the necklace, and my intention was probably illegible, but I found it a whimsical idea, and had done my best.  And remember, in my worlds of fashion and theater, both designs and ideas are freely copied, and I didn't yet own the cheaters required to read the copyright info in the magazine. So I entered my work.  Thinking it was MY work.

Are you holding your breath?  Do you think I was busted in some significantly horrible and public way?  It didn't happen.  I have no idea if my work was considered plagiarism or not by those who juried the exhibit, it may have been. I was not accepted to the show, which was OK with me.  I was proud of my effort and looked forward to trying again. 

At this point I should ask you if you think my entering this necklace in a juried show was unethical.  Some of you would say "Yes, absolutlely!" Some of you might think this work, with its color scheme, whimsical intention, different technique, and double strand configuration is sufficiently different and vote me a thumbs up.  But Ms. Gettings would disagree with you.  Let me share her perspective with you.

A year later, I thought I might be ready to sell my second bendy straw effort. I loved the first (my "copy"), and I wanted to keep my Ladybug, but the one with the ceramic beads I could part with.  I had my Etsy shop open, and I was a few months into my Etsy Beadweavers membership.  By this time, I was aware of copyright law, and when I thought about posting the necklace for sale, I was not sure whether it was a violation of Ms. Gettings copyright or not.  So I posted a picture of the piece for my Etsy Beadweavers Team members and asked what people thought.  Some members suggested I contact Ms. Gettings and ask her, so I did.  I found her response surprising.  I don't know if there are ethical reasons I should not post her words, but it seems better to me than paraphrasing, so here they are:

"Marsha, You are quite correct. I have copyright's on all my designs. A few years ago I traveled to different bead societies and shops with a copyright lawyer explaining exactly what copyright means in the beading world.  It is actually intellectual property belonging to a designer. In this case, the intellectual property is the use of the bendy straws as the unusual part of the design. Since I don't make duplicates of any of my designs nor do I sell them, and, you were kind enough to ask, as long as you give me design credit and list the following web site to see more of my patterns, I am happy to give you permission to sell your piece (nice job by the way!) at your Etsy store.  Thanks for asking me first. You have no idea how many emails I get from people telling me where they have seen people selling my designs or teaching classes without my permission... Cheers! Linda G"

She was kind, pleasant, informative, and even supportive, but I was puzzled.  My understanding of copyright law at that point included the idea that the use of a material could not be copyrighted.  But here was an artist, who had an intellectual property law professor (I looked up the lawyer's credentials) backing her up, saying that anything I might do with a bendy straw would fall under her copyright. 

I decided immediately that I did not want to sell her design, and I never posted the necklace to my shop.  I began drawing ideas for designs with bendy straws. There had to be things that could be done with this material that were not a part of Ms. Gettings intellectual property!  I came up with a couple I really loved.  Here's my favorite:

But I never could actually bring myself to make this piece.  I bezelled some rivolis, but I was too uncomfortable to net the straw and install them.

I began to understand Ms. Gettings position.  The shape of those bendy straws is recognizable.  And in Etsy's explanation of copyright , it suggests that if a work is recognizable, it's a copy and not usable by anyone for selling or even DISPLAY, except the original artist.  So potentially, my display of these images is illegal.  But I'm going to take a chance on that, in the interest of making my point, and given that I have mentioned Linda Gettings name and credited her with the design involved repeatedly.

While I now understand the concepts involved a little better, and I respect Ms. Getting's right to her intellectual property as she has claimed it, I'm not convinced that this is in the best interest of the beading community or even the artists involved.  Here's a wonderful article on why the absence of copyright in the fashion world is a good thing for the industry.  I stumbled across it when someone mentioned after my last post that clothing was exempt from copyright protection.  It contains links to other equally interesting articles, so if you want to keep reading, have at it.

I've decided a second poll would be inappropriate.  I think what I did was wrong.  And my ignorance was really no excuse.  I know what my own ethics are at this point in my beading career.  I scan my beading magazines quickly and put them away.  I have stopped buying beading books, although I have an impressive library because I was initially a voracious consumer.  I consult my beading library for technique information. I take an occasional class, in the interest of technical advice and skills.   But I find my design inspiration outside my window, in books other than those which feature beaded articles, in the beauty of the beads and stones I work with, and inside my own head.  I am all done with making the designs of others.  Life is too short, and my beading time too limited.  I have plenty of my own ideas waiting to be made, and I don't want to wonder if I have achieved "de minimis," a tiny enough percentage of someone's design to be free of infringement. And I think when I am entering a design contest of any sort, there is even more reason to be sure my entry is my own design.  For me, if it looks enough like a duck to be recognizable as one, then it's a copy of a duck.

I really enjoyed the the many perspectives, and range of ideas in the comments on my last post, and although I am not giving you a chance to vote, I welcome your words again, if you have something to add.


  1. Excellent treatise. It should give pause to many of us to really consider whether or not copyright serves those of us in the arts. It could be an interesting debate.

    Patricia C Vener

  2. Great post!!! I really enjoyed reading it!!!

  3. Very interesting and thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. Wonderful post, and a really interesting read.

  5. Great post...I agree with about not following others I too find inspiration out my window (although being a relative new beader I have to look up how to's all the time)

  6. Thanks so much for your comments and support. I personally would love to see the beading magazines take more reponsibility for posting copyright and ethics information in every issue in a place where it could not be missed. While some readers possibly understand what should not be done and do it anyway, I think many are just ignorant, as I was. And yes, the benefits, as well a negative ramifications, of copyright in the beading community would make for an excellent discussion.

  7. I love glossy magazines, looking at the items made and reading the articles. I even like the ads in the beading magazines! Sometimes, though, it becomes difficult to know if a design I am working on is really mine or if somewhere in the past I saw something that is coming to my mind and I think it is mine. It takes some of the fun out of the whole process. Good article, thanks for sharing.

  8. Marsha, Your light stepping through the critical copyright path should be expected reading for all beadweavers and aspiring competitive beaders. Very well done, inclusive and exemplary.
    I appreciated reading that as me, you stopped buying beading books and magazines so as not to be influenced so much by other's works.
    I found the only way to continue doing your own thing is to say NO to many of them as they can be so attractive and addicting. I keep up with published technical info only.
    I appreciated our corespondance about this subject.
    I agree with all you said here.

  9. Interesting post, Marsha! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Geez.. This stuff goes way deeper then I thought. I definitely enjoyed your post and it puts copyright in a whole new right for me. I certainly don't subscribe to the 10% rule, but I also don't think that anything in the future made with twisty straws belongs to Ms G. I find her argument interesting, and this sort of thinking might apply to physics, but to say that anything, ever, that includes bendy straws and beads is hers and hers only is a bit hard for me to understand. That's like saying that any painting that is done on a certain size canvas with acrylic paint belongs to one artist and one artist only... Where do you draw the line? Could someone claim that any beads on a microsuede backing can be copywrited? There goes bead embroidery. In my opinion a copy is still art, is still valid but it should not be entered into contests and challenges and credit should be given to the original author. And how do I define a copy?
    If it's recognizable, (if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck),then it's a copy( a duck).
    Obviously, this is a lot more complicated then I ever thought. Makes me be a lot more introspective and question my inspirations and makes me never want to buy a magazine again...

  11. Marsha, I am so glad you have brought this subject to light. I am wholeheartedly for asking permission to use another’s design and respect the copyright laws. My only problem is who decides who has the copyright on beading around items? I bead around rivolis, beads, cord, wire and such and I can make something and sell as my own because "everyone else is doing it". Someone else came up with those ideas, but others can use them and get them published or enter competitions. Who gets credit? I may have already made that years before the published one. I just didn't get it published first. What if someone had already beaded around a bendy straw, years before Linda had, (no disrespect intended) but never got it published? Is it still Linda's or that other person? (Just an example). It doesn't seem fair that if you use a specific object to bead around, basically, you have to search the beading world to see if someone has done it or published it already, before you can call it your own. What if you are just beginning to bead and it pops into your head to try something on your own, you make it and want to sell it or enter a competition without knowing there is a similar item out there. An example of one artists is Sheri Sarafini's. I can tell her work as hers, as she has a definite style, yet, I see others who are entered into competitions that I think are hers, but they aren't.Yet they are allowed to be published as their own work. Will you get in trouble for it? It seems there are and have been a lot of gray areas that I, for one, do not get. I am not trying to be a smart alec here, but those gray areas are there. I can see why some people don't fully understand the laws. Oh, and when I come up with an idea and draw it out, I always give it a copyright mark with my initials and the date I drew it up. Does making that copyright sign make it mine? Is it totally my idea? What if someone comes up with a very similar idea and copyrights it and gets it published. Who gets credit? My date could be months or years before hers. Just asking these questions as they are bound to come up. I have a couple notebooks with some of my own ideas that others have closely resembled and have had published. Seriously, these things need to be addresses.

  12. I want to add a light note to this. I can just imagine Ms Gettings going around the country with her lawyer and explaining why no-one else but herself can bead around a straw ! It is like walking around with your body guard or an enforcer !
    What needs to be pointed out, is that it was Ms Gettings lawyer, someone she pays to do this. Her exclusivity to this design is just her and her lawyer's interpretation of copyright and not an opinion that would necessarily stand up in a law court. That is why Ms Gettings proceeding is more like strong-arming people into doing this her way, and as her argument was so weak, she needed an enforcer with her.
    I would have loved to see this in person!

  13. I loved reading this post, so interesting and well written. Makes me think.

  14. Thanks for posting this. I agree with others views in that I dont see how the use of certain materials can be copyrighted to one person. In this case the bendy straws but if you go down that road what else is copyright? That kind of interpretation would suffocate the artistic world. I do agree that a design should not be copied but equally see that sometimes in innocence two different artists can come up with very similar designs. I read of lot of beading magazines and frequently come across projects which I 'recognise', which just confuses me even more.

  15. Hi Marsha,
    I believe strongly that if Ms. G's necklace was copied exactly, or that the new piece resembled hers enough to possibly be mistaken for it, than it is a copy. But your Ladybug piece was so differant that it could not be mistaken for her piece. She has a copyright on the design,and copying that design would most likely be illegal. Her technique for beading around a bendy straw, if copied, would probably be unethical, but doubtfully illegal and not even unethical if the new piece varied in color, technique and form from the original. She does not have the copyright for the bendy straw itself, so she can't tell other people that they can't use a bendy straw in their designs at all.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I have a lot of common sense.

  16. You all delight me. Thanks so much for your words, thoughts, and for reading and thinking!

  17. Wonderful research! I enjoyed reading and learning!

  18. I always find articles on copyright interesting. I have myself done a lot of research on copyright as it applies to fanfic and beading. For beading, you can copyright a design, but you cannot copyright a technique. A design consists of form, color, sequence, size and other factors. Technique is how it is put together. So, while you could copyright a necklase made of a sequence of big red, little red, big red beads, you could not copyright stringing them on wire or crimping.

    Basically, you copyright what you do, not how you do it.

  19. Thanks so much for the post. I guess I will put away my bendy straws, LOL. I bought two to create an "inspired" by piece that would look totally different. Now I'm afraid to use the. I guess the granddaughter has a new toy. :-(

  20. It is disgusting how much misinformation and downright lies are being told about copyright in the beading world. They are essentially creating a stranglehold on beaders in the interest of greed and selfishness.

    The designer of the necklace with the bendy straws does not OWN copyright to beading around bendy straws! Nor is it unethical for you to use bendy straws in your designs. If it were, than all of us who use tila beads in our pieces would be violating the copyright of the very first person who made a piece of jewelry with tila beads.

    One of the biggest lies told about copyright is that the writer of a pattern has the right to tell you how you can use that pattern. This is NOT correct. The pattern is the copyrighted item. The item you make from that pattern is NOT.

    I am so tired of the fear and bullying going on over copyright.

    If you want to learn about copyright-read the information on the governments copyright web site. Everything I've seen in beading magazines has been seriously incorrect.

    1. Bead Knitter, I agree with you. This is why the beading magazines call what they are promoting "Beader's Ethics" not copyright infringement. And I believe they do this because no one would want to offer up their beading patterns (which are hard work to create) for publication for FREE in these magazines, knowing that beaders worldwide could copy their designs and sell them without crediting the designer of the work for the design. Who in their right mind would do that?