According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created in tangible form.
Here's what I believe. I believe that all art and all information belong to all people. I believe that the point of all our endeavors is to ennoble each other, and when we share our gifts, we edify all humanity. To say, "This is mine, you can't have it" about an idea, an image, a piece of information, to me is wrong.
But to copy someone else's work without giving them their due acknowledgment, and taking the credit (and money) for yourself, that's also wrong. And illegal. So, don't do it. This includes selling jewelry that was made by following class, magazine or book instructions. Which is why I never copy anyone else's step-by-step project when making jewelry to sell.
Melanie Brooks of Earthenwood Studio explains copyright and expresses the frustration of an infringed artist (quoted with permission):
"When you make something new, the finished item has a copyright attached to it, inherently. It is your property, it belongs to you. When someone sees it, and makes something exactly like it and sells it, teaches it to others, or otherwise distributes it for commercial gain, that violates your copyright. This is theft, it is copyright infringement. To prove this, you may have to legally register your copyright, in order for a court to recognize it, but you do not need to have that legal document for a creation or design to be yours.
"I think that people do not realize these things about copyrights for the most part. I think people often buy craft magazines, or see neat crafty stuff on the internet, and think it is free for them to take as they please. It is not. Even when there are tutorials and classes to teach how to make something, the original creator holds the rights to the copyrights on those items, unless otherwise noted.
"What that means is that you can make the items you learned for yourself, and for gifts, and for fun, but once you start to make them for profit, you are infringing on the copyright. You are essentially making money on someone else's hard work, research, and creativity, and that is just not right. Even if its just part time or once and a while. It is incredibly difficult to make a living as an artist, and when I see my full time artist friends (and myself) struggle because another artist or company is producing or teaching their hard earned work for profit, it is very discouraging."
I try very hard to avoid copying other artists, not only because of the laws, and the artists' feelings, but because I would not be expressing my own truth, I would not be sharing my own spirit, if I simply replicated what others have done before me.
We are all pieces of each other, and everything we think, say, do or create are pieces we've taken from others, somewhere along the line, consciously or subconsciously, and assembled in a new way. But blatant COPYING is something else entirely. Think of it this way: J.K. Rowling didn't invent boggarts, giants, wizards, centaurs or transfiguration. But she reassembled the pieces and breathed her soul into it, so, voila, she's rich as God's stockbroker and gets to sue you if you even think the word "Hogwarts" too loud.
Truly artistic work is infused with the spirit of its creator, their hopes, dreams, losses, tears -- their soul. And through their work, their soul touches others -- reaches into those deep, hidden core places we didn't know we had until the artist showed us. Copyright infringement is a form of identity theft, and copying someone else's art is soul theft.
Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website JLHJewelry.com. She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.