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Ethics and Copyright for Beaders
Ethics and Copyright
Copyright law is deceptively simple at the most basic level. All original creative work is automatically copyrighted to the author at the time of it's completion. Holding a copyright on something means that you have the exclusive right to display the work publicly, make copies of it and distribute those copies whether you are selling them, giving them away or lending them out. It also means that no one else has the right to do those things without your permission.
What Can and Can't be Copyrighted
In relation to beadwork, copyright covers instructions, patterns, diagrams, designs, photographs and finished work. It does not cover ideas, techniques, or facts. Techniques (stitches, thread paths, etc.) are considered "processes" and to be protected they would have to be patented.
What this means to you is that if you learn a technique from a book, magazine, website or class you have the legal right to pass on that information in your own words. There are some ethical considerations to take into account though. Is this an original technique developed by your teacher that hasn't been published yet? Are you taking potential customers away from your teacher?
What Can I Do to Protect My Work?
As I mentioned previously, your work is protected by copyright as soon as you finish it, no notice or registration is necessary. However, you cannot sue for copyright infringement until your copyright has been registered with the United States Copyright Office. Furthermore, if your copyright is not registered prior to the infringement, you cannot collect statutory damages. So if you have a financial stake in protecting your work it's probably worth the time and money it takes to register your copyright. To register a copyright you must submit the correct completed form, $20 and identifying material. For instructions or patterns you would send copies, for an actual piece of beadwork you would send photographs. You can get the necessary forms along with instructions from this site and this site. More information on registration procedures can be found here.
Questions and Answers on Ethics and Copyright
When and how should I give credit?
Whenever you sell, give away or publicly display something you made from a pattern or design created by someone other than yourself, give them credit. Whenever you teach an original technique developed by someone other than yourself, give them credit. If you're inspired to create something beautiful after viewing someone else's work, mention it. You can never give too much credit. It's easy enough to give credit when you display a piece on a website but what if you're selling a piece at a show or in a shop? One nice way to deal with this would be to include a card giving credit to the designer. You could also use this card to give other information about the piece such as materials used, methods of construction etc.
Can I sell beadwork I make from patterns or instructions I find in books, magazines or on the web?
Only if you have the author's permission to do so. The first thing you should do is go to the source of the design and look to see if the author has given permission for this or not. Just because they posted the pattern for you to use doesn't mean you can sell the finished product. If there is a statement to the effect that the patterns are "free for non-commercial use" that means, no, you cannot sell it. If there is no clear statement one way or the other, contact the author to find out for sure. On the web this is easy, there are very few websites that don't include an email address. With books and magazines you can contact the author by writing to them in care of the publisher.
Advice for Pattern Posters
Think about how you want your patterns to be used. Do you mind if people sell the items they make from your designs? Would it upset you if someone printed out a copy of your design and gave it to a friend? What about a dozen copies? Can your instructions be used to teach a non-profit class? What about a for profit one? How about a bead society program? A newsletter? Identify your feelings ahead of time and then clearly state your position on your website. Don't be afraid to make a big deal about it. This will save you hurt feelings in the future as well as helping to clear up the confusion so many people feel on this issue.