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. http://www.bead-patterns.com/
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.