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Intellectual Property? Woodworking Plans and Selling

by Paul
posted 03-16-2007 05:42 PM


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63 replies

63 replies so far

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2906 days


#1 posted 03-16-2007 05:45 PM

I wonder if any of our Lumberjocks are also lawyers. I believe you can copyright the plans itself, but it would be hard to say you can not build it to sell. If you made some changes, then is this the same thing or not? Good questions.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View Chip's profile

Chip

1904 posts in 2837 days


#2 posted 03-16-2007 06:07 PM

Paul,

You are getting into murky territory here. I owned a marketing firm for 25 years and we dealt with infringement concerning intelectual property quite a bit as pertains to photography, copywriting, illustrations and the such, all the time. The bottom line is always – how MUCH did you change it from the original? And sadly, that is always in the eyes of the beholder – in extreme cases generally a judge.

Also, I don’t think there is an issue for woodworkers here unless you take a plan and ramp up your shop to start producing a couple hundred of the items a week (you aren’t going in that direction are you? – laughs). Like in the music and stock photography business, many large companies have whole law firms out there checking for infringement on a full time basis. They are looking for the copiers trying to make a full time living out of infringement. I just don’t think even the Sam Maloofs in the world care or have the financial interest/assets if you make 5 of his rockers and sell them. Just don’t go into business making and selling his rockers full time.

One last point. As you mentioned, changing the original plan as you go along is an integral part of the woodworking process.

I would like to hear from others on this though.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View SteveV's profile

SteveV

78 posts in 2844 days


#3 posted 03-16-2007 06:10 PM

This is an excellent question. Most people that come to me for work bring pictures from a magazine and say “build that”. Where is the line? How many people out there produce furniture in the Frank Lloyd Wright style for resale – lots?

I love wood working but unfortunately I lack a lot of artistic ability so I do rely on others for design inspiration. Is this a bad thing?? I always give credit to the original designer where I can.

View BassBully's profile

BassBully

259 posts in 2842 days


#4 posted 03-16-2007 06:21 PM

I’m no lawyer but I don’t know how they can officially hold you to the agreement unless they had a patent on the design process which is very unlikely. Copyrights protect “intellectual” property which would protect the plan itself from duplication and the reselling of the plan, not the item you produced from the plan. If that could be upheld, then you could never measure any piece of woodwork and duplicate it which I’m confident is legally o.k.

If it was illegal, I would think all of the major cabinet makers would be suing each other right and left because their work is so similar.

It’s my long time theory that the verbiage is there as a deterrence to lessen the amount of competition by instilling fear in the reader. My wife makes crafts from plans and sometimes they’ll have similar wording stating that she may only make five or so replicas. How would they enforce this?

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View Chip's profile

Chip

1904 posts in 2837 days


#5 posted 03-16-2007 10:01 PM

After reading it over a couple of hours after writing it, I don’t think I was clear in my first post. I am in no way shape or form condoning making even 5 exact replicas of a Sam Maloof chair and selling them off as your own.

My points were made in the context of how subtle or drastic the changes are that you make to the original piece before calling it your own and selling it for profit.

I also just assumed that an “influenced by” reference would always go along with the new piece.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Rob McCune's profile

Rob McCune

123 posts in 2843 days


#6 posted 03-16-2007 11:23 PM

Now you are getting into my territory. As a designer, my designs are my livelyhood. I make a living drawing up those plans for people. If those people don’t pay for them, I don’t eat. It’s not like music file sharing where the artist will still be rich even if people share some of his songs on Kazaa. Designers don’t circulate anywhere near the volume to do that. If I draw up some house plans for an contractor, I have the right to be paid every time he builds one of those houses. I would also retain the right to sell those plans to anyone else who wants to buy them. If I didn’t I would have to continually come up with new plans and the price of the plans would go up enormously. Now in the case of furniture plans, no one would ever say you have to buy two sets of plans to make matching end tables. It’s not going to be the same as houses. But if you take my ideas and then make money off of them, you should pay for the ideas just like if I leased a patent to you. Either that, or come up with your own ideas.

-- Rob McCune

View Chip's profile

Chip

1904 posts in 2837 days


#7 posted 03-17-2007 12:18 AM

Rob,

I guess my question would be let’s say I take your plans and I move the garage over to the other side of the house off of the familyroom instead of the way you had it off of the kitchen. And let’s say I make the kitchen 2 feet longer and maybe raise the ceiling a foot. Not a whole lot of changes from your original layout but at what point do you feel it isn’t your home design anymore?

Bill Gates and MicroSoft are masters at this with software. They change the program “just enough” to say it’s their own. And guess what, they still spend billions on an army of suits every year to fend off the original creator’s lawsuit.

This is a very interesting discussion but I kind of think I have gotten it away from Paul’s original question of making lots of furniture, for sale, from plans we buy from companies and other people. Sorry Paul.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3072 days


#8 posted 03-17-2007 02:21 AM

This came up in a forum or elsewhere at one point. I do recall an editorial comment in Wood magazine, that did allow readers to build up to 20 copies of a project from their magazine (for sale) provided it was designed/built by a staffer. If the plans came from a reader, then you had to contact them.

There is a big (although, often fine line) difference between something that is inspired by, (but still recognizable as it’s own thing) and a very close copy. Merely changing a few details doesn’t make something yours. Think back to grade school and copying an entry out of an encyclopedia, and changing all the adjectives is still plagarism.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 2982 days


#9 posted 03-17-2007 02:24 AM

This also is something to consider… Whoever the staffer is, or the reader… they have to find the pieces for sale, find the craftsman, find the buyer… for crying out loud… they’re gonna be awful busy.

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3072 days


#10 posted 03-17-2007 02:39 AM

Just don’t open up a website, or franchise a store exclusively selling one (questionable) item. That will eventually get attention.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

View BassBully's profile

BassBully

259 posts in 2842 days


#11 posted 03-17-2007 05:07 AM

I’m still not convinced that using a design to build a woodworking project is infringing on a copyright. Again, copyrights deal with intellectual property. More importantly, published works.

Rob, you mentioned architectural design is copyrighted. That is true only if it’s an original because according to the copyright.gov site, it states that a building’s design is copyrighted or intellectual property. However, they specifically define a building as a habitable space. Thus, creating a table or chair would not be a habitable space but a gazebo would. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see anything regarding inhabitable designs.

I find it hard to believe that any claim against someone who uses a design from a magazine could stand. Mainly for the reason that the magazine’s design usually isn’t all that original. If you think about it, a magazine may publish a design on Shaker chairs. Where did they get their design from? The Shakers of course. Mission tables, the same thing. What about European Workbenches? What about Americana chest of drawers?

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View Rob McCune's profile

Rob McCune

123 posts in 2843 days


#12 posted 03-17-2007 05:40 AM

Okay to address what I can;

Chip, You are getting into a grey area that only you can define. You have to go with your comfort level. Do you feel in your heart of hearts that the design has changed enough that you can reasonably claim it as your own? What kind of agreement did you acknowledge when you purchased the design. And most importantly do you feel you can reasonably defend your choice in court. BassBully has a point in that a shaker design or a mission design would more than likely be seen as a common enough design that it would not be seen as intellectual property. There is a limited lifespan on copyrights. After 50 years (I think) a copyright has to be renewed or it passes into the common knowledge realm. On the flip side of that, if a designer could prove you actually used his drawings, even once, to build a mass produced article, he stands a good chance of winning a lawsuit.

BassBully, the copyrights that protect a drawing are not ones that cover designs, like in architecture, but the physical written (or drawn) page. The same way an artist owns the copyright to his paintings, a designer owns the copyrights to his drawings. If you go to http://www.copyright.gov/register/visual.html and click on the EXAMPLES link, you will see the second to last example is “Technical drawings, architectural drawings or plans, blueprints, diagrams, mechanical drawings.” In order to win a lawsuit concerning the infringement of a visual art copyright, you have to prove there is some part or parcel of the interlopers produced part, house, machine, furniture, whatever, that would not exist if you hadn’t produced the copyrighted material.

Am I making sense? Now like I said, no designer in the world would fault you for making matching end tables for yourself, or even making some as presents for your whole family. Designers are more conscerned when you make money from their work.

-- Rob McCune

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2837 days


#13 posted 03-17-2007 05:40 AM

Forgive me. I guessed that I was probably opening a can of worms when I posted my query. I thought that while there were perhaps some strong opinions, there probably wasn’t a definitive answer because there are several angles from which to view it.

For example:

1. Are we talking strictly about law?
2. Are we talking about what can realistically be enforced?
3. Are we talking about a copyright on the plans or what’s built from those plans?
4. Someone once said, “That might be correct, but it ain’t right!” Does that apply here?
5. There may be no reprecussions, but is it right?
6. Is there such a thing as “public domain” with historic furniture styles? (Public domain applies to many old songs where no one owns a copyright)
7. etc. etc. etc.

Most people know that a singer cannot record a copyrighted song without paying a fee to the copyright owner. Recording someone’s copyrighted song to sell without permission and a fee would be similar to building a chair to sell from someone’s copyrighted plans wouldn’t it?

We can let this go if you want. See my profile. Sometimes I think about these kind of things.

-- Paul, Texas

View scottb's profile

scottb

3648 posts in 3072 days


#14 posted 03-17-2007 05:42 AM

Good point, and that’s where it could get a little murky. B

ut I suppose for any one person wondering if they should sell a particular project, there are a score making and trying to sell them anyway, without regard to such issues. Karma will come back to bite them, or at least give little meaning to the life of the counterfeiter.

For me, I’ll do the best I can, with what I’ve got with a clear conscience. But, I am an artist. I’ll get inspired by something, and will create a new interpretation of it, or find a new way to apply it. I don’t find as much satisfaction in reproducing something, as creating something. There are so many great ideas out there, and so many more to discover and/or remember.

Will I make projects from a magazine? Sure. Will I sell them? Maybe. Will I set up a shop to mindlessly churn out such things, without finding a way to make them my own? Of course not.

We’re finding new ways to liberate information, the web is doing what moveable type did in the 15th century…. Sure we could argue that the internet is killing spelling and good grammar, but we’re sharing ideas and evolving faster than ever. In some countries there isn’t an understanding of copyright, information is freely shared, if not hoarded.

There is a copy-left movement (free and fair use, but please credit the source), not to mention open-source – take it, improve it, share it.

If we all help each other, we all win. And I think we, as lumberjocks, really understand that!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- http://blanchardcreative.etsy.com -- http://snbcreative.wordpress.com/

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2905 days


#15 posted 03-17-2007 12:34 PM

Thi has been a GREAT discussioin. It is important for people to think about this whenever they use someone’s ideas/plans etc.

This topic became a heated debate at my previous place of employment, as they tried (and actually are still) using the name (and process) of an anger management program that my friend had created – on his own time.

I also know that one of our local figure skating clubs was fined for having a Disney theme for their year-end carnival.

And underneath it all: someone’s brilliance created this idea and is a source of income for them so that they can create more brilliant ideas. I, for one, want to support them on their journey so that I can benefit from whatever they create in the future as well as what I am trying to copy in the present. Hopefully I will get good enough to make my own designs soon.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View rentman's profile

rentman

230 posts in 2839 days


#16 posted 03-17-2007 04:49 PM

I agree with obi,the have better things to do.Or if your still not sure make it a little taller or shorter and make saw dust.Thinking that much makes my head hurt!!!!

-- Phil, Chattanooga,TN

View Chip's profile

Chip

1904 posts in 2837 days


#17 posted 03-17-2007 05:55 PM

It all comes down to integrity. Which sadly is in short commodity these days. An interesting discussion though.

I agree with Paul… I agree with Scott… and I REALLY agree with Phil. Have a great day!

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Chip's profile

Chip

1904 posts in 2837 days


#18 posted 03-17-2007 05:58 PM

Oh, and I agree with Rob too!

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2906 days


#19 posted 03-17-2007 07:04 PM

I doubt there is a clear definition of where is the cut off point. I guess one alternative is to write to the designer and ask permission to build them as production. They might consent without any further requirements. Maybe you could offer some compensation, such as $1 from the sale of each item.

It does bring up an interesting point for those plans in a magazine. If the magazine says you can make 20 copies from a plan, what happens if I buy the magazine twice? Does that allow me 40 copies since I bought two magazines, or am I still limited to the original 20? I did provide compensation in the form of another magazine purchase, so does that give me the use of another set of copies?

Alas, this is why there is so much congestion in our courts today. Everything has to be decided by them.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 2982 days


#20 posted 03-20-2007 12:27 PM

So what’s to stop the Green & Green next of kin from suing Popular Woodworking and Lumberjocks for promoting a Thorsen House Table and all of the Lumberjocks involved in copyright infringements?

This:
It’s a table, they didn’t create it, they altered it.

Same thing with a house. Rob didn’t invent the house, his plans show how he altered it.

I altered it.

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2906 days


#21 posted 03-21-2007 07:16 PM

Let’s hope that is not in the future. I bet PW has already discussed the topic among the parties.

I wonder if there is an open source for project plans? Maybe someone has done more research online and found something. I could see creating plans and contributing if I had some interesting item, but probably not a money maker (least not at first).

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View Woodwayze's profile

Woodwayze

63 posts in 2830 days


#22 posted 03-21-2007 09:01 PM

This is one reason I always try to design my own work.

But when I make a table, am I not just making another table, which might have a virtual twin somewhere?

I believe if you alter details, then you are not infringing copyright. But then that is in the UK..
So design thine own I say!

Hope this helps.

John (UK)

-- Working fast helps you to arrive at your mistakes in spectacular fashion. (Me 2009!)

View Rob McCune's profile

Rob McCune

123 posts in 2843 days


#23 posted 03-21-2007 09:06 PM

Altering the design is in no way infringing on a copyright, I don’t think anyone here believes that. The infringement comes when a person makes money off of my ideas, ones that are truly unique to me, and I don’t see a dime of that profit.

-- Rob McCune

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2905 days


#24 posted 03-21-2007 10:29 PM

I had this discussion with someone recently (about making copies of stuff) and I related it to music: you love a band and you want to hear more of them. If everyone scammed their CD’s they wouldn’t have a profit from them and would probably not produce them .. then you wouldn’t be able to listen to them. If you enjoy the band, thank them by buying their CD.
If you love a woodworking plan, thank them by buying the plan. And if you can’t afford to do that – make your own plan.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2906 days


#25 posted 03-22-2007 05:29 PM

I would like to design my own stuff, but right now I need to see plans to learn more of how it is done. What joints are best to use on a table, how to make aprons for the table, how to assemble a box that allows for wood movement, etc. One day I hope to be designing my own items. Right now I am working on an artist stand that a customer wanted. They found a picture of what they wanted it to look like. I have had to build it from the ground up. It does look like their stand, but I had nothing but a picture to work from. It may not be my design, but it is my work.

I do not mind buying plans for something. But if I were to make and sell the items, do I have to buy a set of plans for each one I make to compensate the designer? A small royalty may be in order for something unique.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

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#26 posted 03-22-2007 06:20 PM

when you buy the plans, it probably says what you can /can’t do.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Rob McCune's profile

Rob McCune

123 posts in 2843 days


#27 posted 03-22-2007 06:38 PM

Bill, when you want to use a designers plans commercially he will usually just sell one set of plans to you at a higher price. Some might want to lease you the copyrights (i.e. you pay a small royalty for each item you produce), but that is kind of a rip-off because someone else will just sell it to you once.

-- Rob McCune

View Kaleo's profile

Kaleo

201 posts in 2884 days


#28 posted 03-25-2007 01:58 AM

I think that Rob M. has hit it on the head. I think that if you are going to make something that I designed for a profit then that is wrong. Also there is a hugh difference between being inspired by Frank Loyd wright or Same Maloof and simply just ripping off an idea or design. I think Mr. Maloofs rockers have to be one of the most copied designs out there. There are some many woodworkers out there that are just making his rocker and putting there names on them. I think that is wrong. If you give the credit where it is due, then that is a different story.

I think the biggest problem is for one person to prove that any certain design is completly theirs. And then trying to foght that in court would cost more money than it is worth.

Half the fun of making furniture for me at least is designing it myself. There’s nothing better than seeing your own ideas come to life. Designing is not that hard, believe me if I can do it anyone can.

-- Kaleo , http://www.kalafinefurniture.com

View Obi's profile

Obi

2213 posts in 2982 days


#29 posted 03-25-2007 04:40 AM

Maybe that’s why I don’t use very many plans. I look at a picture and get an idea in my head and go fromthere. I have a few things on my website that I got from somebody else, but I didn’t alter it and call it mine, I simply posted it inthe same format in which I got it. I left their name on it if their name was on it in the first place.

When I saw the plans for the Greene& Greene Side Table, none of it was the same as I had in my head, except for the breadboard thingies on the side. My legs were thicker, longer and a different type of wood. My aprons were thinner. It did have a simular look to it, so it could be recognised as a Greene & Greene replica.

View Woodwayze's profile

Woodwayze

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#30 posted 04-05-2007 07:56 PM

Agree with Obi…
End of story
John

-- Working fast helps you to arrive at your mistakes in spectacular fashion. (Me 2009!)

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

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#31 posted 04-05-2007 08:07 PM

I made my table EXACTLY as in the picture. HA

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View RayW's profile

RayW

3 posts in 2815 days


#32 posted 04-05-2007 11:51 PM

I work in the software business, talk about intellectual capital law suits …. I think these things were invented to two purposes, to give simple people like me headaches and to make sure there is always something to keep our courts busy. What we need here is a simple solution …

How about this, if I’m going to make a pair of tables for my self then we are all pretty much agreed that it’s ok. If I make a pair to sell or 10 to sell, and I plan to do to make money, simply buy a copy of the plans for each table I sell and include that as a part of the cost of the uint.

I’m a firm believer in “you reap what you sow.” For me, I wouldn’t dream of chaeting someone out of their rightful income. But at the same time you have to ask … who invented the box? I think it’s up to each of us to do what we feel is right, and I hope that the best in human nature will prevail, I do what I can to see that it does.

Just a few thoughts. More than that gives me a headache :)
—Ray

-- Amateur at best

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2905 days


#33 posted 04-05-2007 11:56 PM

sounds good to me.
I hope that no one gets a heachache over this topic!
I think that we each know what is right and we each make our own choices based on our beliefs.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2837 days


#34 posted 04-06-2007 12:10 AM

Boy, did I open a can of worms!

-- Paul, Texas

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dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3059 days


#35 posted 04-06-2007 12:19 AM

Can of worms…might even have some bugs and a few slugs in that can.

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2905 days


#36 posted 04-06-2007 12:29 AM

“cans of worms” make people think and clarify what they believe in.
it may be messy but it’s an important process.
Hopefully people can share their opinions without being offended by others who also have their own opinions.
And then there are those who just read the discussion and gain new insight into a topic

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View roundabout22's profile

roundabout22

90 posts in 2831 days


#37 posted 04-06-2007 09:33 PM

Just to add a little more to this whole thing. A reader asked a question similiar to this, “Can I make something from plans in your magazine and sell it for profit.” The editors response was basically if you can sell it go for it, but you can’t download and sell the actual plans as they are copywrited.

While the magizine didn’t give a limit on the number you could make and sell, which wasn’t the question anyway, I have order plans that do put limits on how many I could sell. One plan I ordered said that I could make up to 120 and if I planned on making more contact them for royalty pricing. Another plan said I could only make 5.

Because of the huge differences I try to come up with my own plans using pictures for inspiration. The only time I’ll order a plan is if it is EXACTLY what I want to build.

-- remember always measure once and cut twice

View cajunpen's profile

cajunpen

14426 posts in 2810 days


#38 posted 04-15-2007 10:18 AM

It’s times like this when I can really appreciate my “level” of work. I can build something and feel confident that the Designer will never recognize it OR want to claim Designer rights. Someday maybe – but not just yet :-)).

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased." http://www.cajunpen.com/

View VTWoody's profile

VTWoody

95 posts in 2802 days


#39 posted 04-20-2007 06:08 AM

Roundabout22,

I think that your response really does hit the nail on the head. While there have been many thoughts on the legality of this or the legality of that, or even the business ethics of a great many situations, it all boils down to one simple issue. It boils down to how the actual designer reads the letter of the law, and how much they believe in the fair use of their own design plans, and how much they feel that a table is a table is a table.

If we take this back to the music industry analogy, you can easil find bands that are very specific about the fact that they will under no circumstances allow people to copy and distribute their music without some complensation to the original band. Metallica is one of those bands, as they were one of the original bands suing Napster. On the other hand, The Dave Matthews Band will allow people to record concerts with professional recording equipment, sometimes even in the venue sound booth, and freely distribute the concert material. There are even bands who don’t give a care whether someone makes money off their music or not.

If the designer takes the trouble to limit the number of copies that can be made for profit, then the copier should ethically and legally respect that decision and pay the designer their requested price.

Being a teacher, I have to deal with this issue in many ways. I particularly liked the encyclopedia analogy mentioned earlier.

Peace and Happy Sawdust Making to all

View Karson's profile

Karson

34912 posts in 3145 days


#40 posted 04-22-2007 05:14 AM

I purchased a plan that had the make 5 of them and then pay us a royalty. But what is strange is their bench is different from the original made in the late 1800’s. So I’m making mine like the original version and not using their plans.

What was even stranger the picture on the cover of the plans was like the original and the detail plans on the inside didn’t match the picture on the outside. I called them and their response if you don’t want the plan then send it back.

It looks like the changes were to track who made the bench from their plans. Some of them were real dumb.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

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bogmer

7 posts in 745 days


#41 posted 12-03-2012 07:09 PM

Here’s the way I understand it.

You can sell a finished project but not a “do it yourself kit”.

The reason for this is that when you bye a plan you get drawings of individual pieces and instructions on how to build it. If you make the individual pieces from wood with instructions to build it then you are in fact copying the plan. If you build the project it is no longer the plan it is now a something else than the plan.

Here I’ll put it in other terms.

If you read a book on a audio tape it’s still the same words but if you take every word from that book and change the order then it’s not the same book. Same goes to music if you play a song on a different instrument it’s still the same song but if you change the notes around it’s something different.

Even better take a poster and cut it into a hundred pieces and glue them in a mosaic. It’s not the poster.

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

617 posts in 2012 days


#42 posted 12-03-2012 07:34 PM

couildnt a person just change the finished product slightly so it doesnt exactly copy the plans?

IMHO if you make and sell plans you better realize somebody is going to build and try to sell whatever the plans show. dont want someone to sell your intellectual property? dont release plans for anyone to purchase

basically unless you have a patent on the final product i think its free for anyone to copy. unethical? probably, but certainly legal

View Jeff in Huntersville's profile

Jeff in Huntersville

402 posts in 1939 days


#43 posted 12-03-2012 07:35 PM

I hope I’m understanding your argument correctly but, by the same (in my opinion false) analogy then, if you took all the pieces of the chair and put them together in a different way it would be something different wouldn’t be a chair anymore. And just as if you put all the words of a book together in a different order then it might be a collection of words but it wouldn’t be a book. Nor would a re-arrangement of the notes be a song (assuming any random re-arrangement doesn’t happen to make a viable song). Who’d want to make or for that matter buy any of these different things anyway?

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HorizontalMike

6967 posts in 1659 days


#44 posted 12-03-2012 07:54 PM

Straight from the Government…

United States Copyright Office:

”...Useful Articles
A “useful article” is an article having an intrinsic utilitarian
function that is not merely to portray the appearance of
the article or to convey information. Examples are clothing,
furniture, machinery, dinnerware, and lighting fixtures. An
article that is normally part of a useful article may itself be a
useful article—an ornamental wheel cover on a vehicle, for
example.
Copyright does not protect the mechanical or utilitarian
aspects of such works of craftsmanship. It may, however,
protect any pictorial, graphic, or sculptural authorship that
can be identified separately from the utilitarian aspects of
an object. Thus a useful article may have both copyrightable
and uncopyrightable features. For example, a carving on
the back of a chair or a floral relief design on silver flatware
could be protected by copyright, but the design of the chair
or flatware itself could not.

Some designs of useful articles may qualify for protection
under the federal patent law. For information, visit the U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office website at www.uspto.gov or call
(800) 786-9199.
Copyright in a work that portrays a useful article extends
only to the artistic expression of the author of the pictorial,
graphic, or sculptural work. It does not extend to the design
of the article that is portrayed. For example, a drawing or
photograph of an automobile or a dress design may be copyrighted,
but that does not give the artist or photographer the
exclusive right to make automobiles or dresses of the same
design….”

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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bogmer

7 posts in 745 days


#45 posted 12-03-2012 09:00 PM

What I understand form HorizontalMike’s post.

You can use a pattern to make the chair and sale it but if the pattern has a flower or a leaf on it then that part of it should be left out.

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HorizontalMike

6967 posts in 1659 days


#46 posted 12-03-2012 11:54 PM

Yep, I think that is it. You can’t put a Stickley Emblem on that Stickley piece of furniture that you just built and want to sell. But you can build and sell as many as you want.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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Rob

407 posts in 1816 days


#47 posted 12-04-2012 12:58 AM

I’m pretty sure if you consulted a lawyer, they would advise you to err on the side of caution, and would probably recommend that you make enough changes to the design that it could not be mistaken for a reproduction of that magazine’s plans.

Copyright law would protect the plans themselves from reproduction, and patent law would protect the invention if there’s something novel about it (i.e., not obvious to someone with average skill in the art). Until recently, I would have suspected your question was more an issue of trademark law, which boils down to likelihood of brand confusion. Maybe a woodworking company produced the plans with the intent of manufacturing the items themselves, so they want to claim sole right to build and sell that particular product design. It could be that they donated the plans to the magazine in hopes that they could foster demand for the product. Or maybe the person who drew up the plans wants them to be his/her gift to the world, and he/she doesn’t want a mega corporation to copy the product and profit enormously without giving the original author even an acknowledgement for the design.

Unfortunately, with the advent of 3D scanners, modeling software, and affordable 3D printers, the issue is being muddied even further. There are actually companies springing up to produce DRM (Digital Rights Management) solutions for physical objects so you can’t use a 3D scanner and 3D printer to replicate the object. For example, a ruggedized cellphone case might sell for $40, but suppose you can print it for $10. The obvious next step is to start selling yours online for twice what they cost you and half what the original manufacturer charges. But maybe yours is of inferior quality. If the company offers any sort of warranty, but you’ve flooded the market with your cheap knock-offs and people are sending yours into the original manufacturer for warranty replacement, it could bankrupt the company, or at least hurt their bottom line until they figure out what’s going on. (In terms of woodworking projects, yours might be higher-quality than the mass-produced versions, so this example doesn’t translate perfectly—but you probably get the point.)

Getting back to the example, the original producer might have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into testing, certification, materials research, market research including focus groups, and advertising. And thanks to all their hard work, you can make a clone with one or two days’ lunch money. The case’s design would be fingerprinted such that the major 3D scanning or printing software will identify it as a DRMed item and refuse to reproduce it. The same logic that someone might use to argue in favor of DRMing 3D-printed objects could be applied to woodworking, as well.

If it’s a pretty standard design that isn’t much different than anything else on the market, or if you’re building just a few to sell to local customers, I would think you’re unlikely to run into problems, but an attorney is the only person who can assess your actual risk. If it’s something really unique and someone might confuse your creation with something from a particular high-end furniture store or a particular toy maker, then the other producer of those products could claim that you’re stealing their invention and trying to profit off of their R&D and marketing dollars. If you have a small shop, then in the end it will just boil down to whether you want to spend $10,000+ in court for a 50/50 chance at getting permission to continue selling the product, but as a lawyer might tell you, they could also potentially sue you for any real or imagined damages.

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HorizontalMike

6967 posts in 1659 days


#48 posted 12-04-2012 02:07 AM

Rob,
My post in #44 is a direct quote taken from the:

U.S. Copyright Office · Library of Congress · 101 Independence Avenue, SE · Washington, DC 20559 · www.copyright.gov

circular 40 reviewed: 09 ⁄ 2012 Printed on recycled paper—u.s. government printing office: 2012-xxx-xxx ⁄ xx,xxx

I have not attempted to interpret nor change anything. And furniture is specifically listed as a “useful article” upon which copyright does not apply. ”...Copyright does not protect the mechanical or utilitarian
aspects of such works of craftsmanship….”

I am not sure it can get much clearer than that. Build all the furniture you want.

Again, the entire U.S. Copyright Office article is here:
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ40.pdf

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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Rob

407 posts in 1816 days


#49 posted 12-04-2012 03:38 AM

HorizontalMike, that is a correct statement about copyright law, but copyright is only one branch of IP law. Even then, there’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law to consider. According to the letter of the law, you’re violating someone’s copyright every time you load a web page, because your computer is creating a local copy of the page that resides on a server (or at least, that’s how it used to be…but now with content dynamically generated on the client-side, perhaps the page on your computer would be considered a derivative work). I don’t think anyone would object to the interpretation that the content was put on the web server specifically so it could be copied to your computer solely for the purpose of your personal consumption, in which case you’re still honoring the spirit of the law (as long as you don’t then repost the content on your own web server or—shudder—print it on paper without getting permission from the copyright owner).

Unfortunately, this ambiguity is what opens everything up to interpretation. I speak from personal experience when I say that intellectual property attorneys can bend the rules or present an interpretation of the law such that it seems like they’re downright abusing both the letter and the spirit of the law.

When it comes to IP law—and I’m sure other types of law—anyone with enough money can sue you for anything, without even proving you’ve done anything wrong. If you decide to fight it, you pretty much have to have $10k on hand just to go through the motions in the court system—in some places, it costs even more. Sometimes the sole purpose is simply to squash you as a competitor or drive you into the ground so they can acquire your unique business assets on the cheap.

For example, my family’s small business came under attack for its name, even though any reasonable person should be able to tell the difference. Suppose there were two companies that sell cardboard boxes, Big Boxes and Biggie’s Box Superstore. You’d think most people would be smart enough to tell the difference, right? Even though the other company only had trademarked their logo because they probably didn’t qualify for a word mark (you generally cannot trademark a descriptive name), they claimed that our company name was similar enough to the name in their logo to cause confusion. If we hadn’t had a website, maybe it never would have come to their attention. But they claimed our markets overlapped because we both have websites and someone in our small town could potentially order one of their products online and have it shipped to an apartment across the street from our storefront, so they argued that someone could confuse our company for theirs, or vice-versa. We tried to fight it for a little while and even sought advice from one of the top law firms in our state, as well as from another business owner who did try to fight and lost, and both said if we had $10k to throw away, we could try to keep our name, but it would still essentially come down to the flip of a coin whether or not we would get to keep the name. So we changed one word in our name.

In another story, my employer recently emerged triumphant in a nasty 6-year-long court case in which a much larger company with practically bottomless pockets accused us of stealing their invention. Nevermind that the invention they filed with the patent office didn’t work because it was not only incomplete, but would have been impractical to use even if someone could come up with the missing parts (patent law requires you to submit enough information for someone to reproduce the fully-functional invention).

Anyway, the lawsuit was very expensive and lasted long enough to open up the market to multiple lower-end competitors who could pursue some of our larger customers while we couldn’t (some customers have a blanket policy of not purchasing from a vendor that’s under litigation). And at no point did the other company specifically state which part or parts of our product infringed their patents (which were bogus anyway, but that’s another story), even after we provided their counsel with all the details of how our product works.

So if you’re going to build and sell stuff exactly as documented in the plans which specifically prohibit that, either get a lawyer’s opinion (if possible, in writing if you think you’ll be selling a lot of these); or don’t ask the question, keep a low profile, and don’t produce enough of these things that anyone would ever notice, much less feel inclined to send you a cease & desist order.

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Rob

407 posts in 1816 days


#50 posted 12-04-2012 04:08 AM

“You can’t put a Stickley Emblem on that Stickley piece of furniture that you just built and want to sell…”

I’m assuming since you “just built” it, it isn’t actually a piece of Stickley furniture—in which case, it would be a Stickley look-alike, but not a real Stickley.

Now, applying the Stickley example to the excerpts of copyright law that HorizontalMike shared earlier:

“For example, a carving on the back of a chair or a floral relief design on silver flatware could be protected by copyright, but the design of the chair or flatware itself could not.”

This means the Stickley emblem is copyrighted and you may not reproduce the emblem. Although the design of the chair or flatware cannot be protected by copyright law, it can be protected by a patent if it meets certain criteria, such as being non-obvious to someone with average skill in the art of furniture or flatware design.

“For example, a drawing or photograph of an automobile or a dress design may be copyrighted, but that does not give the artist or photographer the exclusive right to make automobiles or dresses of the same design….”

To be honest, I’m too ignorant (or deprived, take your pick) to know what those pictures and graphical designs are in the Stickley emblem (maybe yokes?), but let’s say they’re medieval torture devices. In that case, this is saying that the Stickley emblem which contains these medieval torture devices is copyrighted, but you may freely depict these types of torture devices in your own original pictures. It is an independent example, and is not in any way referencing the previous example of a carving in the back of a chair or floral relief design on silverware.

Assuming both the Stickley emblem’s copyright has not expired and the Stickley brand’s trademark has not been abandoned, you would be violating the copyright if you reproduce your own copies of the emblem, and you would be violating the trademark if you put a Stickley emblem on a non-genuine “Stickley” product.

On the other hand, if you’re performing restoration work on an original Stickley, or the copyright has expired and nobody who owned the trademark is using it in commerce, you’ll be fine…unless your lawyer tells you otherwise. ;)

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