When is a design belong to you?

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Forum topic by RickB posted 02-22-2010 07:21 PM 2198 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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48 posts in 3165 days

02-22-2010 07:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question


Had some friends visit over the weekend. The wife of the couple is doing more craft fair jewelry stuff to help make ends meet. While we were visiting, my wife pulled out a candle lantern that I had made to show it off. The friend exclaims, “you could sell that at a craft fair. That is wonderful.”

Well, actually, I couldn’t sell it. I made it from a set of plans that I purchased. It states on the plans that I cannot resell the plans or the actual thing that the plans describe.

Which made me wonder, when does a design belong to you? When can you sell it? Some hypotheticals:
1) I take the candle lantern and make it wider, taller, shorter, etc. How about then?
2) Lets say I saw a picture posted here of something I thought looked nice. I go home, sketchup my own plans and build it. Could I sell it?
3) Lets say a friend makes something from a plan. I go to his house, pull out a tape measure, draw some pictures, take some notes… I basically glean from the object everything I need to make it. Can I go home, build it, and then sell it?

Please note: I’m just curious. I have no intention of starting to build objects and try to sell them. I am blessed with a job and do not have the time nor inclination to try to start selling my stuff. Maybe, I’d be inclined to design and build some things for this friend to sell, and let her keep the profit. Maybe…



11 replies so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3140 days

#1 posted 02-22-2010 07:59 PM

interresting question
for what my 2cent is worth
I think you have to twist the design
and ad a little extra to it before you
can say you have inovated it and
just got inspired from the other
I think that´s what all the big
companies does


View DannyBoy's profile


521 posts in 3890 days

#2 posted 02-22-2010 08:04 PM

I would say that if you see something and do the design work on it yourself to make, it is okay to sell. That is, as long as it isn’t a trademark. You wouldn’t be able to look at Mickey Mouse and build/draw him and then sell it. Likewise, if your design is too close to a patented item, then you probably will have problems as well.

If you purchase a plan (or get one for free as a download or get it through a magazine), then you probably don’t have a legal right to use the design to build something to sell. The only exception I can think of is if the plans specifically say you can.

Consider looking at a Morris Chair. There are thousands of variations of these in the world. Many of those are copyrighted designs. There is probably even a patent out there somewhere too. But, if you like the look, draw it all out yourself and build it, I doubt that you will have any problems with anyone. It is a very accepted design and isn’t necessarily ripping anyone off.

Now consider looking at a specific table design that is obviously more artfully inspired than just a flat board with four legs. If you like that design, figure it out and build it to sell, then you run the risk of infringing on a copyright or patent. So, basically, it depends on the specific item you are “copying”.

I’m not completely versed on this so there is probably a better, more legal definition out there. However, this is what I have always believed to be true.


-- He said wood...

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 3065 days

#3 posted 02-22-2010 08:10 PM

My 2cent worth also

I agree with Dennis, just modify a little, Even the wood variations, Door pulls/Hinges Etc.

If you built it, it is yours I think you should be able to sell it if you want.IMHO

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View BOB67CAM's profile


269 posts in 3096 days

#4 posted 02-22-2010 08:23 PM

well my opinion is u mention you wont do this very often, so its not like youll be mass producing them and sell 1 to 1/4 of the homes in america, you have 2 or 3 to sell if u decide to
99% of people are not looking for patent ripoffs and so on, they are looking for nice peices for their home to sit and look at
but my thing even tho im incredibly new in wood working and i love challenging myself, or maybe i should say “crash coursing” i always try to take certain ideas from the peice that make me like it and if its in a case such as yours, a lamp id look at more lamps and find others i like for other reasons and melt them into 1, then your definitely safe

-- if you dont have it, build it, especially when its a stupid idea

View KnickKnack's profile


1090 posts in 3591 days

#5 posted 02-22-2010 08:27 PM

Whilst agreeing, in principal, with what’s been said above, I’d like to point out that, just because something is written in a contract, even if you’ve signed it, doesn’t mean that any given clause is legal, or enforceable. Lawyers love to try and get away with as much as they can, thinking, usually correctly, that it will frighten you into believing that any piece of legalize written by a lawyer must necessarily be OK.
It isn’t.

“non-compete clauses” are a classic example – employers write them into your contracts, but, depending on your country (and state within the US), they are often basically a waste of ink. WikiPedia, amongst other places, is full of interesting examples of unenforceable contract clauses.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View CaptainSkully's profile


1600 posts in 3583 days

#6 posted 02-23-2010 05:12 AM

Norm has measured stuff with the owner’s permission, and then gone and built two copies for a woodworking show that he gets paid for and sells the plans/videos for for twenty years. I wouldn’t sweat it. Unless your production starts to cut into Stickley’s market share, it’s probably a non-issue. I’m sure the PBS lawyers have Norm covered. Nobody in their right mind would sue a woodworker. No money in it…

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3093 days

#7 posted 02-23-2010 06:21 AM

Someone owns a copyright to that candle holder, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone would ever notice if you made and sold a few.

A far more pertinent question would be could you sell enough of them for enough money to make it worth your while. SWMBO is an arts & crafts phreque. She and some friends ran an annual weekend craft fair for 20 years and began buying materials and making their stuff about six months before their fair. They thought were making tons of money, but one year I figured out that she was recovering the cost of the materials and “clearing” about 25 cents per hour. – lol

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View yarydoc's profile


417 posts in 3169 days

#8 posted 02-23-2010 07:25 AM

If they sold you the plans why could you not sell the item. Wouldn’t the plans be yours?

-- Ray , Florence Alabama

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3615 days

#9 posted 02-23-2010 07:28 AM

Look up the difference between copywrite and patent laws. They’d have to patent the product in order for you to not be able to make and sell it. For instance, if I came up with a jig I can copywrite the literature, or the explanation on how to build it. But I’d have to patent the product if I didn’t want you to steel it. But, you’d just modify it and make it yours anyway. Trying to patent a woodworking product is a joke in my view, unless it is of course a tool, jig, etc that can benifit your wallet. But a candle lantern?

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Wiley's profile


71 posts in 3055 days

#10 posted 02-23-2010 07:50 AM

I’m not a lawyer, but I have a decent amount of experience in this area through my knitting and fiber arts background. Around there, the rule of thumb is that no matter how much you are altering someone’s pattern, you can’t sell it as your own. Eg. taking a pattern for a crocheted catapillar, altering the pattern to make it slightly bigger and then selling it would be a violation of copyright. If, on the other hand, you create a pattern from scratch based on looking at something and coming up with your own (“hmm, a catapillar made out of a series of crocheted balls, I know how to do that”) that’s ok.

To sum up: if you understand the mechanics of the project well enough to sit down with a blank piece of paper and draw up a plan for your project without consulting any part of the original plan you bought, you’re probably ok.

-- "When you lose the power to laugh, you lose the power to think straight" - Inherit the Wind

View Rushman's profile


13 posts in 3306 days

#11 posted 02-23-2010 09:24 PM

Someone may own a patient pending on a candle stick holder, but I doubt they own a patient as long as they have been around. I think a patient is only good for 10 years. The CS holder would have to do something change it’s own candle, proven to be fire safe.Something very different from the original patient…not sure.

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