Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More on copyrights

This is additional information, expanding on my previous post about copyright infringement, to address several questions I've been asked about copyrighted jewelry designs.

You may not copy and sell the projects in magazines, books and classes, or designs you find online.

"But, I made it with my own hands."

Yes, but you are not the original creator. You cannot sell a jewelry design without permission from the designer, any more than you could type up copies of "Twilight" or make your own recording of Lady Gaga's song "Love Game" to sell on Amazon. You would be typing up the story with your own hands, or singing the song yourself, but it's not yours to sell.

Click here for a basic overview of copyright and fair use

"Why would they put their designs in there, with instructions, if they didn't want people to make them?"

They DO want people to make them ... for their own personal use. That means you can wear them or give them away. And it means you can learn from the experience and apply the techniques to your own designs. But as soon as you start selling reproductions of the original, that is copyright infringement and illegal.

"It's not really a legal copyright unless they've filed for it." 

Incorrect. Anything created is immediately copyrighted to the creator. An artistic work is under copyright protection the moment it is "fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device" (Source: U.S. Copyright Office). Meaning, no longer in the creator's mind, but real and complete.  In paper, digital, or beaded form.

Registration is voluntary, and required if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. But registration need not take place in order for the item to be copyrighted in the first place.

"If I buy a bead or a pendant that's made by someone else, and use it in my jewelry, does that mean my jewelry can't be sold because that bead or pendant is copyrighted?"

No. Does the paint manufacturer own your painting? It's not copyright infringement unless you're making copies of the beads themselves and selling them as your own, without the originator's permission.

Out of courtesy, most jewelry designers I know will credit the makers of their components. For instance, I use components created by Elaine Ray and beads made by Wendy Puckett. When I list these items for sale, I always send pictures of the finished pieces to the artists and mention them in my item descriptions.

"How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?"

A patent protects inventions or discoveries, such as a device or machine, or a type of medicine. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, logos or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

"What does copyright protect?"

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, architecture, and jewelry. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

"But I love this design! It would go really well with the other jewelry in my shop. I really want to make it."

I understand. I, too, have seen the work of other artists and said, "Why didn't I think of that?" or "That looks like just something I would make." And nothing is stopping you from making one for yourself. You just can't sell them. With that said, however, there are a few things you could do.

Contact the artist. Acknowledge that the idea is copyright to them and express your respect for that. Offer to link back to their website in your listings and give them credit. Just don't be angry if they say no. Many artists work long and hard to develop their techniques, and they are trying to sell jewelry themselves. They may not appreciate what they see as someone trying to undermine their life's work. On the other hand, they might be tired of making that particular item and don't care if you continue to do so. So, ask. Very gently.

Apply the technique to jewelry of your own design. In other words, don't make an exact copy. You are creative, right? Then you should be able to come up with some new and unusual twist on the technique or idea you admire, and make it your own. Then it will no longer be a copy.

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website 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.

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