Beadwork Copyright: What it Means
Beadwork copyright issues seem to surface in my life on a regular basis. I have been a victim of copyright infringement, a witness to friends whose work has been infringed and an arbitrator in a copyright dispute between two beading colleagues. The stand out message for me is still the level of ignorance about this issue. Yes, copyright law is a complex subject if you really delve into all the details, but the reason for its existence is actually very simple. It is designed to protect the rights of a designer to earn a living from their work. However, much of the abuse of copyright stems from lack of understanding, so rather than give you a dry account of the ins and outs of the law, I wanted to bring you some real examples to show what is acceptable and what is not and why…plus I’m not a lawyer, so if you want definitive legal advice, please go and ask a lawyer!
Beadwork Copyright and Magazines
Copyright infringement example one: an institution (general term that could apply to a shop, a school or an individual) decided to offer a series of beadwork classes, which they advertised on their website and for which they were taking bookings. There was a fee for each class. Nothing wrong in that – it happens a lot and we all benefit enormously from having access to beading classes. The problem lay in the projects being taught in these classes. Every single one of them had been published in a magazine and was being taught from the magazine instructions. A member of the beading community spotted this and used social network sites to try and alert the designers of the original projects, plus the magazine. None of these people were impressed as none of them had been notified of the intention to teach the classes or asked if this was ok. At the time that the copyright infringement came to light, some classes had already been taught and some were scheduled for the future. So, what happened?
A number of the affected designers contacted the institution to express their shock at what was happening and to make it clear that they had not given permission for their work to be taught. As it turns out, the institution had no idea that they were doing anything wrong. They thought that because the work had appeared in a magazine, it had entered the public domain and therefore could be used in any way the public liked.
Once the error had been explained, the institution immediately cancelled all the scheduled classes. In some cases they were able to re-schedule the intended projects, but with the original designer coming to the venue to teach the class. In the case of classes that had already taken place, at least some of the designers were given a percentage of the money the institution had received from the students for that class. This was exactly the right course of action to take to rectify the mistake. Unfortunately, once the copyright infringement became public, the institution in question was subjected to something of a witch-hunt and suffered a lot of unpleasantness and damage to their reputation. This should not have happened, in my opinion, as the original infringement was made in error and it was corrected and not repeated…mistakes happen.
So, why was this such a problem? Every designer has the right to determine what happens to their beadwork designs. This can include showing them in magazines. However, giving a magazine permission to publish your design does not mean that you have passed your beadwork copyright over to the magazine. You have simply licensed the magazine to use the work in a specific way. As a designer, you are still entitled to earn money from your design, so that could be by selling the pattern at a later date, or by teaching the project yourself. You may license (give written permission to) another institution to teach your project, either for free or in return for a payment to yourself. You may also license (give written permission to) another institution to sell copies of your pattern, in return for payment to yourself, or for free if you wish, but the right to do anything with your work, can only come from you, the designer.
In turn, the magazine will have its own copyright rights, so readers of the magazine are usually bound by smallprint somewhere in the magazine to state that the contents of the magazine are subject to copyright. This means the readers are entitled to read the content, make the patterns for themselves, but they are not entitled to sell that content in any form without the express permission of the magazine and the beadwork designer.
Beadwork Copyright Infringement Example 2
A designer proudly posts a photo of their latest beadwork design somewhere on the internet: this could be on a social networking site, on their own webpage, or anywhere else. The design receives lots of admiration. A couple of weeks later, the designer finds out that someone else has copied the photo of their work and pasted it into a gallery on their own website, a gallery which claims to show the work of the beader. No credit is given to the original designer.
In this instance, no money has changed hands: the second beader is not trying to sell the work of the designer in any form. However, anyone who sees the work in this ‘other’ gallery will be ignorant of the fact that it has been designed and made by someone else. The original designer may be receiving publicity for their work, but unless credit is given, that publicity is not going to give any reward to the original designer for their hard work and talent. Moreover, I personally cannot understand why, as a beader, you would feel ok about taking credit for someone else’s work.
What happened? The designer contacted the other website owner, thanked them for sharing the work, but asked them to either give credit to the designer, or remove the image from the website as the designer had not granted permission for it to be there. The website owner did nothing. Unfortunately this happens a lot. Even if the original posting of the photo had been done in error, there is no excuse for continuing to disrespect a designer’s wishes once you have been informed of the situation, but policing the internet is pretty impossible as I write this blog, so sometimes as a designer, you just have to ‘suck it up’.
Just to be clear: there is no crime in sharing a photo of another designer’s work – designers love that – but always acknowledge who designed it: don’t take credit for something you didn’t do!
In another twist to an example like this, the beadwork copyright infringement involved another beader selling a tutorial for a designer’s pattern. In this instance, the original designer was clearly being deprived of the income to which they were entitled. If you are trying to make a living from selling your designs, this is really not funny. If you have ever created a design of your own, or even just dipped into the blogs about design process on here, you know how much hard work, talent and creativity goes into bringing a design to life and writing the tutorial. Why should someone else then steal that and profit from it? As a designer, you might decide that you are happy to share your design for free, or you might allow someone else to sell it, but once again, you must give permission for that to happen. It is not up to someone else to decide how they use your design without asking you. As a beader, if you suspect that you are buying a pattern that hasn’t been created by the person selling it, don’t just buy it – check it out first and if you find there is a problem, try to alert the original designer. You wouldn’t (I hope) watch someone take another person’s mobile phone in a public place and not try and stop them or not tell the victim what was happening. A beadwork design is really no different.
Beadwork Copyright: Example 3
A beader sees a beautiful photo of some beaded jewellery, labelled with the designer’s name. The beader contacts the designer and asks for a tutorial. The designer has not yet written the tutorial and explains this, so the beader asks if the designer would mind if they had a go at making the piece by copying the photo. The designer says this would be fine. The beader finds some beads that look similar to those in the photo taken by the designer, although the colouring is different, and sets about replicating the design. Pleased with their efforts, the beader makes a tiny modification to the design, then shares their work, taking credit for it. The original designer happens to find out about this and is very upset. Who is right in this instance?
Well, the original designer believes that their copyright has been infringed, but the beader argues that they have worked hard to create the thread path and they made a tiny modification, so it is now their own work. This is true, but the designer did not grant them permission to work from the photo and then share the results, only to work from the photo for their own personal enjoyment. The beader did not credit the original designer with providing the inspiration, plus both are happy to agree that the beader copied the original photo by the designer. So, unfortunately, the beader has over-stepped the mark and infringed the designer’s copyright.
What’s the lesson here? If you are asking permission from a designer to do something with their work, be very specific about what you are asking to do with it. If you decide later on that you want to do something else, ask the designer again. Respect the designer’s wishes and their right to say ‘yes’ to one request and ‘no’ to another, however much you might think they are being unreasonable. You never know if a designer has a personal reason for allowing one thing to happen to their work, but not another. It is their work and remains their work during their lifetime and usually for a few years beyond their death. If you asked someone to borrow their mobile phone to make an emergency phone call, you wouldn’t then phone your best friend half way across the world and chat for an hour (I hope!) – that wasn’t what you asked to do and in all likelihood the mobile phone owner will be happy enough to help a stranger in an emergency, but a lot less happy about paying for a horrifically expensive phone call for a chat!
Beadwork Copyright Example 4
A beadwork designer is walking through a craft fair or browsing an online craft sales website and sees an item for sale that looks exactly like one of the designs they created. They ask the vendor about the work and the vendor says that they made it from a pattern or book or magazine, not from their own design. The designer explains that they designed the item that is on sale and they didn’t give the vendor permission to sell it, so they want a percentage of the profits.
Can the designer do this? Well, actually, yes they can. It’s back to the issue of the designer having the right to dictate what happens to their design. Even though the vendor has done all the hard work in making the piece of beadwork, copyright dictates that the designer can demand a percentage of the sale price, to acknowledge the work they put into creating the design itself. In reality, the beading world is divided on this one. A lot of designers recognise that if a beader buys their book and particularly enjoys making a project, they may want to make it over and over, so may end up giving some of these away to friends or wanting to sell them at craft fairs. A lot of designers are fine with this idea – I am one of them. However, if you are that beader, setting up your craft fair or wanting to raise some money for charity, it is still polite to check with the designer and to give the designer some credit when you make the sale – maybe include a label that says ‘Designed by [designer’s name], beaded by [your name]’. I can’t think of a designer I know who would do this, but legally, if a designer found out about you selling their designs as finished beadwork, they could demand a percentage of the money you make on the sales.
Beadwork Copyright: Common Infringement
I want to finish with one scenario that I’m sure a lot of you will recognise. A beader buys a pattern legitimately from a designer, then starts making it and perhaps takes the project along to their beading group, either to make or to show in its finished form. Someone else in the group admires it and asks about the pattern. The beader, wanting to be kind to their friend, offers to bring in a copy to the next meeting. This friend makes the project, then shows another beading friend, who asks if they can have a copy of the pattern, and so it goes on. None of these people even suspects that they are doing anything wrong – just helping out a friend.
Turn back to the designer. Maybe they are trying to earn a living wage from selling their beadwork designs. Maybe they spent eight hours putting beads together and then pulling them apart and then putting them together slightly differently until they finally created that wonderful design. They photographed every step of the way, then spent four hours writing up the pattern (this would be quite a simple pattern without too many steps). They then spent another couple of hours testing the pattern and modifying it, then a couple of hours making the design in a couple more colourways. Total time spent on the design: 16 hours, plus the cost of the materials to make all those samples. Even at minimum wage, this would be £114 for their time, plus the materials, so the pattern probably cost at least £120 to create. The designer can’t sell it for £120 – that would be plainly ridiculous. They decide to sell it at £5. This means that they will not even cover the cost of that pattern unless they sell 24 copies. In the example above, three people used the pattern…maybe more, but the designer only sold one copy and this does not even cover the cost of the beads they used to make the samples, let alone pay them a wage.
This problem is not unique to the beading industry – it happens with all sorts of products: you borrow your friend’s book instead of buying your own copy, so the author loses out on royalties on that sale. You borrow a friend’s music instead of buying your own. We all do it without even thinking. Yes, it’s great publicity for a beading pattern to be shown around, but as one designer put it, ‘It won’t buy food for my children’. So next time, think about what your actions mean to the person who spent their time creating the design that you are enjoying.
Before you leave thinking that the beading world is rife with thieves, I must say that I know a lot of people in the beading community who are really thoughtful and know their copyright. I am often approached by people who have enjoyed my work and are asking my permission before they use it and I am enormously grateful to these people for their support. So, yes there are beadwork copyright problems in the industry, but many of these come from mistakes not malice and on the whole, I feel very lucky to be part of such a lovely community.
If you feel this has helped to clarify some of the issues for you, then please share this as I hope it will help others. If you are a designer wanting to find out more about protecting your work, then try this blog.