Copyright Laws Off The Deep End

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Blog entry by miles125 posted 07-28-2008 12:07 AM 1336 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I had a gentleman present me with a photograph of a front door he liked and asked if i could build something like it. The picture was not the best quality, so i noticed the web address at the bottom of the page of where he retrieved it. The website belonged to a company out of the UK and i wont mention it here. What struck me about the website was what appeared to be an over the top attempt to warn all viewing that these door designs were vehemently protected by UK copyright laws.

So i got to thinking. What possible door design (and these weren’t anything special) could possibly be copyrighted? Do i myself own copyrights? Except mine are basically useless because i don’t have deep pockets and a team of lawyers at my disposal? Is every single one of the 5065 Lumberjocks here a criminal liable for damages if an organisation lawyered up enough decides it so?

Somethings not quite right. Listen to this quote from UK’s “Design and Artist Copyright Society” found here

””10. When is copyright infringed?
Copyright is infringed when an individual carries out one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights (see FAQ 5 above) without the permission of the copyright owner in relation to the whole or a substantial part of the artistic work. The test to determine what is substantial is a qualitative test and not a quantitative one. This means that there may be an infringement even if a small but distinctive portion of the original artwork was copied.””

I ask one simple question. According to the above statement, what front door in existence isn’t in violation in some form of a door before it? I’m at a loss as to how its even possible to build a front door, or anything else for that matter, that doesn’t violate such absurd criteria.

I won’t copy the door i build verbatim. I simply find it a bit distasteful and disrespectful to do so and i’ve written about it before. But what i build will no doubt meet the incredible criteria of violation in this company’s view. Perhaps in time we’ll need a Lumberjock defense fund for just such matters.

As`a reasonable adult, i know from the moment i put my creations out for public viewing, like we all do here at Lumberjocks, that theres a darn good chance it may get duplicated. Big deal. The only alternative is to never let your work see the light of day. Besides, it seems to me the best way to kill creativity, is to immerse yourself in a world of paranoia and litigation concerns, thinking somebody may actually copy your stuff.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

13 comments so far

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4181 days

#1 posted 07-28-2008 12:16 AM

With all the pirating of other types of products, music, videos and computer software, I think some folks have gone copyright crazy. I find it difficult to believe that the majority of furniture is unique in any significant way and don’t understand the need to copyright it.

Personally I have a great respect for copyrights and patents, having published some music and such. I recently learned that the wheelchair crib I’ve been making is actually patented, so I’ve discontinued selling it. These laws were made to protect originality, but they’ve gotten silly lately.

-- Working at Woodworking

View moshel's profile


865 posts in 3925 days

#2 posted 07-28-2008 12:41 AM

A copyright exists from creating something new. unless you specifically put it in the public domain, when you create an original design, it should not be copied unless you authorize it. same goes to books, CD, everything. Now, having said that, copyright exists so that people who invest lots of time into designing something (that is very easy to copy) will not go out of commission. in 99.99999% of the cases, if you copy something to your own benefit by your own skills, there is no real problem – no one will prosecute you. the protection is on commercial production. so, basically, if you copy a design for a commission, you are violating the copyright and the spirit of the copyright.
this is a very complex issue, even more complex than patents. suppose you pass by a door, get impression of it even sub-consciously and produce a similar door, are you violating the copyright? suppose you came to the same design yourself, are you violating the copyright? etc, etc. hundreds of very good questions.
when it comes to court, the judge in this case will probably ask himeself:
1) was the violation pre-meditated?
2) was the damage substantial?

if the answer to both is yes, then there is criminal intent here. otherwise, you will probably get a slap on your hand (fine).

I think that copying designs for commercial purpose is wrong. in your case, there are several options:
1) he can approach these guys and import the door he wants
2) he can ask for permission to copy this once, even for a small fee.

being reasonable in copyright matters helps the world being a better place. I don’t really think that immediately lashing out on the copyright laws without really giving this a proper thought is the right thing to do. I also don’t download music or movies from the internet. I also don’t still cars I can’t afford. Thats life.

-- The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep...

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4247 days

#3 posted 07-28-2008 04:14 AM

You see no problem with paying for a design copyright that is itself an inevitable violation of some other copyright…of some other copyright…of some other copyright…???

I see need for reason and don’t think the issue is black and white. But in doors, there is absolutely positively a design “similar” to any one you can practically think of.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View kevinw's profile


198 posts in 3981 days

#4 posted 07-28-2008 04:45 AM

I work as a graphic designer and it is always a challenge to be original. Pretty much everything has been done before, but I know I personally won’t just do a knockoff of a design that a client likes. I will put it in the mental hopper and try to give them the feel they are after but something of myself into it also. I think the same is true for woodworking and design with it. Where I work they had someone built a table to order because they saw it somewhere but did not want to pay that person’s price. That bothered me. It was a very unique design unlike doors perhaps. Seems like they should have at least changed the design some or refused to accept the assignment.

A co-worker once quoted a design prof on the issue and I think it puts it well “One source = plagiarism. Many sources = inspiration.

-- Kevin, Blue Springs, MO

View moshel's profile


865 posts in 3925 days

#5 posted 07-28-2008 07:09 AM

miles 125, not going to start a flame war here, but i have to respond. the essence of “door” is not copyrighted. I think that anybody can feel easily when he is violating a copyright. when you copy a design from a picture you are violating copyright. this has nothing to do with the question if the designer of the door violated others copyright. thieving from thieves is not an excuse in my book. it can lead you to a very dark places. i can easily give you examples of this. bottom line: if its commercial, ask for permission or pay the price or design something on your own. if it turns out to be very similar to something else and you didn’t know it, thats fine.

-- The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep...

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4402 days

#6 posted 07-28-2008 02:51 PM

sitting on the fence I get an interesting view :)
I, too, am a firm believer in copyrights. My idea, my vision, my source of income. Don’t take it away from me.
On the other hand, what I hear Miles saying is that there are basic elements of a door or table, etc, that you just can’t avoid using. Can someone put a copyright on that?
There was a store in our area that was called something-or-other.. a very common phrase that you hear somewhat frequently in every day life. But then a book was written using that phrase as its title. They found out about the store and sued for copyright violations. The store lost and had to change its name.

There is a line somewhere that crosses over from protecting one’s rights to “just plain silly”. But then we do it all the time. We are in a society that loves to sue to get some free $$.

In the end, however, asking permission to copy is pretty easy and it is the law until we change it.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4329 days

#7 posted 07-28-2008 02:57 PM

Just change the curve of the arch. Change the width of the panel. Change the thickness of the door. Place the hinges in different locations. Alter the shape of the moulding that holds the glass in place. Use a different handle and lock.

All you need to do is make some slight alteration, as Kevin says, and you have your own rendition.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4247 days

#8 posted 07-28-2008 03:00 PM

””thieving from thieves is not an excuse in my book. it can lead you to a very dark places.

No need for a flame war. We’re all adults here.

I see the “very dark places” as being a world where deep pocketed lawyers control ideas and their ability to be brought to fruition. A world where “infringement” or “all clear” depends on the economic status of the accused and the accuser.

Next thing you know we’ll have lawyers lining their pockets by litigating who used more than their fair share of natural resources in the creation process…...Oh wait a minute….

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 4263 days

#9 posted 07-28-2008 03:06 PM

Copywrite has become a farce today as it panders to the lowest common denominator making the value of same practically worthless.
With very few exceptions, you can copywrite anything and Sawdust is right on when he tells you that any minor modification invalidates your claim.

That being said, legal fees can make fools of every one of us.



-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 4156 days

#10 posted 07-28-2008 03:24 PM

It’s hard to believe that in a craft which has been around for 1000’s of years that much of anything can be claimed to be original or that anyone could even claim or prove originality of design unless it’s something made possible by new technology.

I’m not a big believer in copyrights or patents and I think i can say that with some legitimacy because I have 4 US patents to my name(these were encouraged by my company but it’s doubtful anyone one has ever benefitted from them). I don’t believe people create in a vacuum. Everything is a progression of something else. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, therefore all knowledge really, is public domain.

Having said that we’ve created ridiculous laws giving people some protection who lay claim to it and you’d have to respect it if their lawyers are richer than yours …but as Lee says, it doesn’t take much to make it your own.

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View Karson's profile


35154 posts in 4642 days

#11 posted 07-28-2008 03:56 PM

I’ve used Copyright on some software that I wrote and sold, but I’ve never known anyone to rip it off and sale it as their own design. But I did go so far as to encrypt my name and phone number in the program and when it ran it compared the encrypted name to the normal name. If they were different I printed out the correct name and made a statement about the program being violated and the program ran in reduced functionality mode.

I have a couple of projects here on LumberJocks that I have a copyright notice on. Again they were an original design of a common need. I don’t care if someone makes one for their use, in fact I’m helping someone on LJ to try to make one now. But, I don’t want a furniture company dumping out copies by the hundreds. But could I stop it. I don’t know.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View moshel's profile


865 posts in 3925 days

#12 posted 07-28-2008 11:29 PM

I might have been misunderstood here. I don’t like lawyers, lawsuites, etc. I also think that at least in the US, lawsuits are crazy and silly. HOWEVER, I am talking about taking other people work that they use to make whatever money they make, and use it as your own. Thats wrong, and I will stop even calling it copyright, lets just call it simply doing the right thing. I believe that if you ask permission to use their design as base, and if they do not sell in your country, that the permission will be given. and you will feel much better.

miles125, a dark place: should you steal cars from thieves? from lawyers? you can make it a very worthwhile profession.

daltxguy, i also have a patent or two, and they are completely useless (well, not really – I think MS are violating one of my patents :-) ). i also mentioned that there is a big difference in my opinion between patent and copyright. we can go into this on our next NZ lumberjocks picnic.

MsDebbieP, we have no disagreements :-). BTW, the store had very little chance of winning. copyright exists inside its field. so you can THEORETICALLY call your next table Nike or Coke and it will be ok. when I presented this idea to my previous firms lawyers, she smiled a big big smile and said “by all means! it will ensure my lifetime income!”

as someone said earlier here – inspired is ok, copying is wrong. lets leave it with that and with everyone idea of moral and ethics.

-- The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep...

View mhawkins2's profile


51 posts in 3810 days

#13 posted 08-20-2008 07:03 PM

Another hobby of mine, GNU/Linux and open source software, is a hot bed of copyright arguments and discussions. Some of it boils down to ridiculous levels similar to someone claiming you infringed on their copyright because your door is the same rectangular shape as theirs. Then you are left to finding a rectangular door that is older than theirs so you can claim “prior art.” The best conclusion i can draw from all that I have read is obviously don’t copy the door. However you may contact the company and license the right to make one for your client and include the costs in the costs of the door. The original intend of copyrights and patents was to reward innovation but it seems to have entered a dark period where companies use them to prevent competition.

In the end its easier to explicitly state a copyright / license to use with any of your material. For instance if you put a design up here then add a GPL or BSD copyright to it so that others know without a doubt that they can use your designs if that is your intention. Of course those two apply to software but in a sense I think someones furniture design is very similar.

-- mhawkins2 - why does my wife keep parking her car in my shop :)?

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