Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Design Ethics for Beaders: Part Two

We’re going to continue our examination of beading ethics today, with a look at online tutorials, projects and designs. But before we begin, we should address some of the excellent questions that came up in Part One.

First, it’s important to note that any discussion on ethics is purely theoretical, and there is a distinct difference between ethics and pattern copyright, or intellectual copyright. The rules of ethics vary between regions and groups, but the basic purpose is the same - to guide us. Ethics help us to know what we should do, not what we can or can’t do (legally or otherwise). If you are faced with a design or inspiration dilemma that has no definite answer, it comes down to what action you are comfortable with, in the present and in the future.

Next, what is the difference between technique and design? Peyote stitch, herringbone weave, wrapped loops, macramé knots - we know these are all examples of techniques. It is the combinations and applications of techniques in a finished piece that make a design unique. A technique can be used very simply, but in a variety of ways, or made complex and elaborate.

For instance, herringbone weave is a common way to make a cuff bracelet. There are hundreds of different ways to combine bead shapes, sizes, and colors with this simple technique. The more complex the application, the more unique the design.

Herringbone Highway Cuff by Aryd'ell Hotelling

Herringbone Highway Cuff by Aryd’ell Hotelling

Spur of the Moment Bracelet by Beth Stone

Spur of the Moment Bracelet by Beth Stone

Sometimes, even the simplest techniques can produce a very original design. You’re probably familiar with the trendy floral necklace characterized by a strand big colorful beads connected by simple loops, and an asymmetrical focal. It’s an easy design to dissect and recreate, which is why there are hundreds of them all over the internet. But, this design (probably) came from a single person - a single designer with a great idea, who now has to compete with all of the inspired copies, many of which are nearly identical in execution and style.

Another example is the Scrabble tile pendant. Someone had to formulate, test and execute that simple but ingenious idea. It’s not clear whether or not he or she intended the technique to be free and fair game for jewelry sellers. Perhaps the creator is happy to have inspired so many crafters, but it is just as likely that they really regret not getting a patent for their idea. (Here again, we put a toe into the realm of copyrights and patents, but just for the sake of argument. There are hundreds of tutorials available for Scrabble tile pendants, which may or may not indicate that it was originally offered as a 'public domain' kind of technique.)

Part Two: Online Tutorials and Projects

Can I use techniques in my work that I’ve learned online*?

Of course! Just like in magazines and beading books, online tutorials for basic techniques are usually shared to help artists learn. Basic methods such as peyote stitch, decoupage, and crochet are available to everyone - to use and to share. There can be exceptions of course, if a designer has developed a never-before-seen technique that is very unique. One example is Keplar’s Star Weave by Gwen Fisher. In these cases, however, it is unlikely that the designer will share a free, public tutorial for the technique.

* In this discussion, we’re talking about publicly published tutorials, such as those found on blogs, craft websites, and forums.

What about complete projects?

There are many bloggers, bead shops, and webmasters that share complete tutorials for making finished projects online, for free. There are a variety of reasons for publishing these projects, including selling the materials, encouraging beaders to try new techniques, and even increasing one’s readership and SEO. Because they are free and public, anyone can follow the instructions and make the designs.

However, unless the designer or instructor indicates that the project is available for commercial use* it is meant only for learning and enjoyment. Some bloggers will indicate in the tutorial, or elsewhere on the site, that projects are for personal use only. Many don’t, for some of the same reasons that book and magazine publishers don’t include prominent disclaimers - it’s just common sense. These kinds of tutorials are intended for hobbyists, not professional crafters.

* Typically, commercial use means to sell finished pieces, offer the project for commission work, donate finished pieces, or display them for promotional purposes. Mass-producing the project is a different matter, and is almost never allowed by any designer.

What if my project is different from the original?

This is always the place where we can become unsure. If you presented two variations of the same project to a jury, each person would have a different opinion on how different they are. One of the best ways to examine how original a recreation or inspiration is, is to compare the projects side by side. Would a beading novice recognize a connection between the designs? Are any additional techniques, stitches, turns or components incorporated into the new piece? Would the original designer recognize their ideas upon seeing it?

This question is also covered in the last discussion of Design Ethics for Beaders. Many of the same questions and answers apply to books as well as online tutorials. They also cover beading patterns - like complex patterns for peyote stitch that create a distinct image.

How do you feel about online design ethics? Questions and comments about these topics are welcome!

Further Reading:

The Beadwork Ethics Quiz on Beading Daily
State of Confusion by Regretsy (Contains some profanity)

Give Credit Redux and,
Another Look at Giving Credit Where Credit is Due by Haute Ice Beadwork

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  1. Thanks for this, much food for thought. I do think that once an idea become extremely common place that it does become 'open season' in a way, such as the scrabble tile necklace.

  2. That could be the case, but on the other hand, do a million wrongs make a right?

    It really depends on how the original designer shared their idea. We all consider Cellini Spiral to be a 'public domain' technique, but it was developed, named, and shared by a single artist. It's sad that her name isn't as common as the stitch she developed.

  3. Great post Mortira. And I am laughing, because I have been working today on a "Seed Bead Only" bracelet design and followed your link to some bracelet designs that I really didn't want to look at right now! It's so easy to be influence by what to you see and have the track your mind is on re-directed. I think this is a wierd world! The applicability of copyright to beadwork designs is certainly appropriate in the case of a precise copy, but what about all those "spin-offs." Theoretically unethical and illegal, but then, why does Bead Style magazine exist? Just to keep us all up to speed on what is off limits? LOL. You linked to my own blog articles here, and you know where I am coming from, and that I am playing intentional devil's advocate. But it's all a very slippery slope with elusive footholds. A beautifully written article as usual. -Marsha

  4. For me, this always comes down to a simple question: Do I want to make jewelry, or do I want to design jewelry?

    As far as ethics, I don't find it unethical to make and sell an item from a pattern - purchased or free. Since this is a perfectly legal action, I have no problem if you want to do that. I DO find it unethical to claim that design as your own.

  5. I found your post very interesting, since over the years, I have encountered a few situations where people fought about this subject in a beading forum and things got very ugly,and nasty remarks were cast since not everyone cares about ethics unfortunately or their view is somehow distorted, or they just don't care how hard another person worked to achieve a certain design. Since beading is a favorite hoby of mine, I find this situation sad. Unfortunately, I rarely have made a real effort to design a unique piece of jewelery myself, since there are so many things I still haven't tried or learned yet, I don't have the time. I do like to change the colors and change the design a little when I feel comfortable about a certain design.

  6. Thanks, Linda! One of the things that makes this issue so much more difficult is that sites like Etsy are encouraging people to take a hobby they love and try to make a living from it. Unfortunately, this means that many people will pick up a needle once, and then open a shop. When this happens, the temptation to sell a piece designed by someone else is pretty strong. I like to think that if you're ready to design without anyone's help, your work is also ready to sell. :)

  7. Hi Mortira, I just finally got around to reading your 2 articles on copyrights, and I thank you for approaching the subject as an ethical issue, as in "letting your conscience be your guide." My feeling is that Laws were created for people that have no Ethics.
    I do sell my Indespiral tutorial in my Etsy shop and allow people to sell whatever they make from the pattern; however, I have been known to ask people to refrain from re-drawing my pattern, and have reported many, many violations of my copyright on websites, Pinterest and Facebook. I believe that it has had a negative impact on my 'reputation' as a bead artist, and my production/publishing of new, innovative designs, and really wonder if the beading community really cares about such things anymore, as I am seeing more people using the 'Fair Use' excuse. Thank you again, and I do think your blog is wonderfully informative and friendly.

  8. I find this very interesting and as a software developer my company has been involved in patent infringements. In one case, the judge ruled that if something is published on the internet, then it becomes public domain.

    You bring up 2 specific cases, the scrabble necklace and cellini spiral. My belief is that these two cases represent "public domain" rulings since they are so prevalent. Patents have time limitations and so do designs. And in history, ideas have always been created by different people and groups at the same time. And variations on a design is considered a new design. That is how the software industry works.

    I would be curious to know what the legal ruling is for Fair Trade. Because in the end, it is really about the law and copyright infringement.


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