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Intellectual Property? Woodworking Plans and Selling

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Forum topic by Paul posted 2692 days ago 6660 views 2 times favorited 63 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Paul

649 posts in 2695 days


2692 days ago

I’m curious about something. And I’m not questioning anybody, because even as a hobbyist I’ve done it, too. But maybe someday, it will be at least a part-time business.

I’m not sure where I read it, but I believe it may have been a footnote that came along with some plans I ordered from a woodworking magazine. The note indicated that it was perfectly okay to build the project for my own use and enjoyment. But it was not okay to build the project in multiples and sell it. It struck me as a copyright issue similar to buying a musical CD for your own enjoyment, but it not being okay to copy it and sell it. Or better, a musical artist that can’t record another’s copyright song without paying a fee. The plans were copyright protected so I can’t build it and sell it without permission (and a fee?).? I assume all plans published in a magazine are copyright protected.

I rarely build a project exactly the way the plans say to do it. I’ll substitute dowels or a tenon for biscuits – change a dimension slightly to fit the lumber I have on hand- leave out a detail I don’t like. So, technically I’m not building the piece in the copyright plan . . . . sooooooo where’s the line?

What’s the law? And even though I’m sure “the law” isn’t likely to track down ordinary Joe/Sue making a meager living in anytown, USA, (I haven’t lost any sleep over it), what’s the correct practice?

-- Paul, Texas


63 replies so far

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2764 days


#1 posted 2692 days ago

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 2695 days


#2 posted 2692 days ago

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 2702 days


#3 posted 2692 days ago

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.

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BassBully

259 posts in 2700 days


#4 posted 2692 days ago

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!

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Chip

1904 posts in 2695 days


#5 posted 2692 days ago

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 2701 days


#6 posted 2692 days ago

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 2695 days


#7 posted 2692 days ago

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

3647 posts in 2930 days


#8 posted 2692 days ago

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 2840 days


#9 posted 2692 days ago

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

3647 posts in 2930 days


#10 posted 2692 days ago

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 2700 days


#11 posted 2692 days ago

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 2701 days


#12 posted 2692 days ago

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 2695 days


#13 posted 2692 days ago

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

3647 posts in 2930 days


#14 posted 2692 days ago

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/

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MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2764 days


#15 posted 2692 days ago

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)

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