Copyright and jewelry crafters

July 28, 2007

Copyright is a sensitive issue in the jewelry making community, as it tends to be in other areas of art. And I suspect that jewelry-design copyright violations (and alleged violations) are more prevalent now than previously because of the ease of accessing design photos on the Internet -and the ease of finding violations on the Internet.

sims.jpgIn the August 2007 issue of Bead & Button Magazine, Editor-in-Chief Ann Dee Allen says it’s a problem with people distinguishing between “creative license versus design ownership.” In many cases, I think that is correct.

How can we know where to draw the line between those two? Unfortunately, there’s usually no easy answer. It’s the type of thing judges and juries decide in court trials on a case-by-case basis.

I think the worst thing about copyright violations in the jewelry making community (and the independent craft community in general) is the negativity they create. Obviously, it’s rude to copy someone else’s design and declare that it’s your own, and people tend to get very angry with one another when it happens.

Designing can be a grueling, time-consuming process, with lots of trial and error – and it can even be expensive (like when you end up scrapping a bunch of sterling wire from a design that didn’t work out). When someone “steals” that work and expense from you, and possibly even uses it to make easy money for themselves, that’s extremely frustrating.

There doesn’t seem to be an answer to the problem, but the best approach to fight it is probably through education. I bet most people who copy designs don’t even understand what copyright is; or they may think that because a design is featured in a book or tutorial, it’s free for them to present (and sell) as their own.

The magazines do make an effort to get the word out about copyright, and they should be commended for that. In addition to Allen’s editorial on copyright, the August Bead & Button includes a one-page article on the topic by attorney and jewelry artisan Sarah Feingold. The article doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but it does cover the basics of design copyright.

The reemergence of this topic reminded me of an effort by Beadwork last year to encourage a “Beader’s Code of Ethics.” Its purpose is to create rules that beaders voluntarily agree to follow, even if violating them would not be a “legal” violation of copyright. The hope is to create a stronger community where people strive to “Do the Right Thing,” which was the title of the Beadwork article by Marlene Blessing in the June/July 2006 issue.


You can download a free PDF of the article here.

The primary rules of the code are:

  • 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 the artist’s permission.
  • It is unethical to teach a beading project learned in another teacher’s class.

(Note that typically, when an artist publishes a tutorial, they are giving you permission to copy their design for your own use, but usually not to sell it, and never to represent it as being your own original design.)

At the end of Do the Right Thing, Blessing recommends the book Your Crafts Business: A Legal Guide for more help with copyright related specifically to crafts. I don’t think I have that one in my library, but I think I’ll check it out.

In an upcoming post I’ll discuss the process of “filing” the copyright of your designs, which isn’t required, but can entitle you to certain money damages in the event that your designs are illegally copied by someone (who has enough money to pay up).



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