Friday, July 18, 2008

The Copying Issue ... Again

Is it ever okay to use another lampworker's design, when it is not a standard technique?

*It is NOT okay if you take credit for it and sell or otherwise represent the resulting beads as your own.

*It is NOT okay, even if you give credit, if you do not have specific permission from the original creator.

What if you have permission from the original designer, and/or the technique isn't completely unique to that person? I think that's a grey area that each lampworker has to negotiate on his or her own. On the one hand, it is still NOT using an original design. On the other, sometimes a design works well for a very precise purpose.

Let me give you a personal example. Recently one of my cats, Mincot, disappeared for nearly five days. I was going spare, let me tell you, because while I had *thought* she was hiding under the bed while I hosted my neighbor's dogs, it turned out that she had gone walkabout --- and I had no clear idea exactly when she had disappeared. I visited the county pound and checked with all the local animal shelters, to no avail. The High-Church Whiskeypalian in me was lighting candles for her safe return and was invoking St. Anthony and St. Francis. More practically, I walked the neighborhood, putting fliers on every single mailbox. My friend Bill says that that while I was walking she might have seen me and found her bearings enough to get home, because she was sitting on the bed calmly and contemplatively washing her toes not forty minutes after I got home, sweaty and worried.

So what does that have to do with lampwork and the ongoing copying issue? A lot, actually. I'm planning to make some cat-themed jewelry for the two nearby no-kill shelters who were so helpful with resources and time, letting me in to check the cats even though they weren't officially open. I will donate the jewelry, they can sell it, and use the resulting profit for the shelter. However, my own cat design is looooong tube cats. Those aren't practical for shorter earrings. And I really find the shape of Teri Persing's Fat Cats to be extremely satisfying! So, on impulse, I tried a couple, in my own organic style. Mostly I wanted to see if I could do them (yes, as you can see in the picture, but definitely not as well as Teri!). They are good enough for the shelter ... but ethically I can't use them. They are recognizeably and clearly Teri's design, even though the people at the shelter will never know and probably wouldn't care if they did.

So I decided to ask Teri if I could make some Fat-Cat style beads for the shelter donation, and for the shelter donation only--NO sales, anywhere, any time. Along with each set would come text crediting Teri with the original design, saying that I was using it with her gracious permission and that any flaws in the execution are mine and mine alone, and pointing purchasers to Teri's ETSY site (see link above) for Authentic Teri Persing Fat Cats (as an example, here's one of her new listings, a silvered frit Fat Cat). That way people could make an informed decision. I told Teri that I was completely happy with an answer of "No, thank you," and in that case would consign the two Fat Cats I had made to the yogurt container of broken and wonky beads that I use as a conservation measure to displace water in my toilet tank (cheaper than a low-flow toilet, for sure).

Teri very graciously said that I could indeed use her design, with appropriate credit, as a shelter donation. She thanked me for being thoughtful, and I replied that I thought it was less thoughtfulness than an issue of basic honesty.
Copying is theft, after all -- you're stealing an idea, the time the originator put in perfecting it, and possibly stealing revenue that would have come to the originator of the idea. On the other hand, I am an academic, and we build on others' ideas all the time --- with permission and appropriate credit. Furthermore, while Teri has branded hers as FatCats, others use very similar designs, as you can see in this last picture, a set of cats by lampworker Diane Kovach.

So there's my personal copying line: specific clear permission, proper academic attribution, a link to the original to let any customer know where to get the originals by the original designer, for a specific, limited, and precise purpose only, giving Teri exposure to people who might otherwise not see her work, and in company with my own cat designs. As time goes by I am sure that I will develop my own smaller cat designs and stop using Teri's. But there's definitely room for disagreement there, and I still waffle my own self, unsure whether this is still Going Too Far and ANY copying is a failure of imagination or Just Plain Wrong, or if this is just beginning to put my take on a fairly standard design and being honest about my inspiration and starting point.

What are your reactions?

1 comment:

Joya said...

Back in the olden' days I found a cute wired people pin that someone had made. I wrote to the artist, asked her if I could make them with a promise to never sell them online. She wrote back that she was flattered and yes, I could make them.

I sent her a picture of my take on her wired people, and she then told me to go ahead and sell them online if I chose. I wrote back and told her I would give her credit, and she said that credit would be nice, but not necessary. Long story short, I gave her credit and sold a ton of them!

I still think it was my ethics and honesty that gave me the good karma to sell so many.

Once again, you have written a great article.