rules on copying retail furniture?

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Forum topic by chopper6322 posted 10-17-2011 08:18 PM 2155 views 1 time favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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59 posts in 2381 days

10-17-2011 08:18 PM

Hey all, this is my first post on lumber jocks but of course i’ve been reading it for a few months now and love it… I’m working on my first furniture project, an Early American style TV stand, and they sent me a picture from a retail website of what they wanted, and short of customizing the size and using a different kind of wood, it will be essentially a carbon copy of the one from the website. Are there any copyright issues, or just woodworking etiquitte issues with doing this?

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

25 replies so far

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2744 days

#1 posted 10-17-2011 08:26 PM

Yes, most commercial or custom furniture has a copyright on the design(s) by the designer, mine does. Most times, you can make a piece for yourself but not for resale or commission. If you want to do this, I would call the manufacturer of the original and ask them what their policy or procedure is. If they are not agreeable, make a design change that is agreeable with the customer.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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Newage Neanderthal

190 posts in 2518 days

#2 posted 10-17-2011 09:17 PM

Intellectual property law only protects non-functional design, after that it becomes a patent issue. Most furniture is primarily utilitarian, which means the design needs to be independent of the function. Conceptual Separability is what prevents most furniture and the like from getting protection under copyright laws. I can only think of one case where a designer was able to get any sort of favorable outcome in court, and that was with clothing. Another case wear copyright is nearly impossible, just look at all the perfectly legal fake designer glasses, as long as they don’t use the logo or symbol for the company they’re good.
A lot of people will claim copyright to their writings etc, however, it takes more than just adding your own copyright symbol to make it so.

-- . @NANeanderthal on twitter

View ShaneA's profile


6910 posts in 2566 days

#3 posted 10-17-2011 09:38 PM

I would not worry about it unless you were making some sort of production run. By the time you use different wood, different demensions, different joinery techniques, you have a different product. I prefer for people to bring me a picture of what they want or like, saves some time in the designing aspect.

View knotscott's profile


7980 posts in 3343 days

#4 posted 10-17-2011 10:02 PM

Furniture has been being made for a very long time, and just about everything is a copy or variation of something else…there are really very few original ideas anymore. Single pieces made by a hobbyist for family and friends shouldn’t be a problem, but legal or not, it seems intuitively wrong to take credit for someone else’s design whether sold or not.

As far as your project goes, I wouldn’t worry about it much…make some subtle changes so it can’t be called an exact copy, and tell people is was “inspired” or “influenced” by the original!

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View allmyfingers's profile


40 posts in 2614 days

#5 posted 10-18-2011 02:30 AM

i spent 20+ years in the wholesale furniture industry. Only once did i see a successful lawsuit over a copied design. the home furnishings industry is rife with copycats and i’m confident that no one cares about your one off copy of a piece of production furniture. “have at it and sleep well” the Lawyers will NOT be beating down your door over this.

-- I cut it 3 times and it was still too short?!?

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1730 posts in 3036 days

#6 posted 10-18-2011 03:26 AM

I always have customers show me pictures of something they’ve seen in a style they like. By the time I fiinish their project, the piece may look like the picture, but that’s usually the end of the similarity.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View sras's profile


4790 posts in 3097 days

#7 posted 10-18-2011 04:39 AM

Is there something about the piece in question that makes it different from other early American style TV stands? Early American has been around for a very long time. TV stands have been around for a very long time.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4186 days

#8 posted 10-18-2011 05:05 AM

I would say you have nothing to worry about, for two reasons, both of which have been touched upon:

1. How unique can a TV stand really be? You’ve already said you are changing the wood type and the dimensions. Those changes alone are probably enough to put you on solid ground.

2. It’s not a production run…. just a one-time thing.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

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4719 posts in 3211 days

#9 posted 10-18-2011 06:25 PM

I think certain types of furniture has been standardized as to construction details and should be considered public domain. No matter who makes a drawer, the construction details are standard. You can’t say a drawer is a protected design. You don’t have a problem. Traditional furniture was designed hundreds of years ago. I’m sure there are no patents or copyrights on a 300 year old design. Modern furniture is a different story. The design element here is in the actual appearance of the piece, not the construction details.

View chopper6322's profile


59 posts in 2381 days

#10 posted 10-19-2011 02:46 PM

Thanks for the insight guys, I’m going to go ahead with it with the credit for inspiration going to the original company, assuming they designed it to begin with. I appreciate all the help and will hopefully post pictures when it is complete, being my first piece of furniture i am pretty excited about it.

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2937 days

#11 posted 12-01-2011 10:15 PM

I just did a quick search about copyright and came across this thread, interesting stuff. I’ve been asked to make a couple of pieces, ‘the same’ as in a catalogue. The manufacturer states at the back that they ‘will vigorously pursue any infringement of copyright….’. which is a bit of a joke really, seeing as the designs don’t strike me as having anything unique about them at all. You could look at all the details and identify them with earlier pieces or periods. Here’s a brief description of one of the jobs:-
Potboard with two drawers – the kind of thing you’d see in the kitchen of an old estate house circa 1850.
Oak top, painted frame – that’s a Provincial/Farmhouse style right?
Beaded at the bottom of the aprons and rails – surely that has been done a million times with either a Stanley No. 45 plane, or a router.
That’s it, it really is a simple design.
I can understand them wanting to protect their design, I can understand them wanting to protect their investment in marketing, but I just don’t get how they are granted copyright in the first place.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2744 days

#12 posted 12-01-2011 10:21 PM

If you were to make hand made dovetailed drawers and a real wood top, you will have left their design(s)

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 2890 days

#13 posted 12-01-2011 10:33 PM

I’ve built a lot of things from pictures and never had a problem. If it was that big of a deal everything would look the same. Build it and forget it.

-- Life is good.

View helluvawreck's profile


30765 posts in 2834 days

#14 posted 12-01-2011 10:43 PM

I don’t any problem at all in going ahead with it.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View ShaneA's profile


6910 posts in 2566 days

#15 posted 12-01-2011 11:08 PM

Go for it, furthermore I see nothing unique, that has not been done before on the pictured design. Yours will be different in the end in some way, no worries, you are not doing a production run. Good luck.

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