Thursday, September 29, 2011

Should you sell jewelry you learn from a published project or in a class?

This is the real hot button topic, isn't it? I've been engaged in a very lively discussion with Cindy,  a new fellow beader. She's agreed to allow me to share our exchange thus far, and we'd both be interested to hear opinions and possible solutions to this and related issues.

Cindy was making things she learned from a book, being somewhat new and not ready to forge her own designs yet. During one convo she said she thought that she could sell her work as long as she mentioned the original artist.

I said: It is generally considered acceptable to make and sell pieces not your own design but only in limited quantities. For instance, at your own home show, local craft fair, to private clients, or giving as gifts. But I've had my own designs being re-created and sold on Etsy where I sell my own work--the same design, and for less money than I asked for my piece. I did not like it but the beader doing it took great umbrage when I asked her to stop selling it on Etsy. She felt that once a design has been published it is totally up for grabs. So it's an ethical question that continues to be a discussion. What do you think? You made the piece so you should be able to sell what you made, right?

Cindy said:  I totally understand how recreating someone else's work and selling it would be upsetting. I have very mixed feelings about it but of course at this time I haven't created something of my own to be copied so have a limited view and feeling on this matter at this time. It is confusing because you buy a book, magazine or etc. to learn how to create items but then not being able to sell them after you make it is disappointing. I guess the feeling might be if you don't want it copied then don't produce instructions on how to make it. It is a very complex situation that I'm not sure there is a clear answer to. When I become more adventurous and confident in my beading perhaps I will then be able to come up with my own creations but until then I need all the help I can get.

I said: You are among many jewelry-makers who don't make up their own designs but want to sell their efforts. I get it completely. It is a fine line--for all of us. Designers realize that people want to make our projects. It's why we teach and sell to magazines. That's how we earn a great part of our living. But we also sell our finished work. So when students (classroom or magazine followers) take our designs and mass produce them for sale, it takes away from our livelihood. It's the "making money from another person's design"  that's the bugaboo, and not one easily resolved. All magazines ask that readers be sensitive to the authors rights and not take advantage. OF COURSE people want to sell what they learn to make. But is it okay, or when is it okay?

If someone learns to make my original bracelet from a magazine, should they make and sell it over and over on Etsy?  Many artists don't publish tutorials for this very reason, and that's sad for students who could learn so much from those pros.

How about at their neighborhood craft shows? I say sure if it's not in my home town.
On their own web site? HM, maybe. So ask me. But don't you want to make your own originals?

On Etsy?  I say this overlaps my market, so I'm not gonna like it. Shouldn't I get a commission as if it was a licensed product? If you want to make and sell my designs, please contact me today! We'll make some sort of contract where I get a small percentage of your sales and you can make and sell as much of my work as you like.

And speaking of licensing... I have Disney jewelry I made for myself to wear when I go to Disney World. I DO NOT and WILL NOT EVER make them to sell or even to give as gifts! Even tho' the form of my jewelry and the use of materials is quite unique, it is not my mouse. So I walk the walk, beady peeps. (But anyone from Disney can contact me about officially designing for them. My designs are definitely Mouse Couture.)

If someone takes my class, can they now go and teach that project in classes of their own?
Only with my permission.

Should someone buy my tutorial once for $10 and then charge other people $25 to learn that project from them in their bead shop?
That takes bread from my table, unless they buy my tutorial for each student and THEN tack on their fee as an instructor.

Who invented peyote stitch, anyway?
I hear this a lot. It's "just" peyote  stitch. You didn't invent that. True, but chances are the published project in question is more than just peyote.

I think seed beading is different from other jewelry making. The materials are similar, while other jewelry designs can switch out types of beads, chain, or wire, and become much more original even if the same technique is used. It is not as easy to invent something new in a seed bead work. Perhaps this is why beaders appear much more proprietary.

What do you think?
Can't wait to hear what you all say.


  1. favorite can of worms.

    There are so many issues involved when people make something from my patterns. I've tried to make it easier to sell from them by offering them in two editions: "for personal use only" and "for personal and commercial use." And I am happy to say that many of the newer pattern designers have also followed my lead in that. Others are stating clearly whether or not they give permission for commercial use. Some do; others do not. It is the individual artist's right to decide, not the end user's.

    The copyright laws are, in part, about who is allowed to profit from someone's creation. Just because a beader spends a few dollars on a magazine with instructions does not mean that she has purchased more than the simple right to make something from those instructions. That's it. She can keep it; she can give it away. But she has not in any way purchased the right to profit/to sell.

    Copyright is also about giving credit where credit is due, giving proper attribution. Many of these "hobbyists" never acknowledge the original designer in their photographs, blogposts, much less in sales literature. By omission, they are taking credit for something that is not theirs. That is (almost) as hurtful as taking the financial profit from the artist.

    As designers, I believe we need to be quite clear about what is and is not acceptable to be done with our instructions/patterns. As beaders who use other artists' instructions, I think we have to make all possible effort to find out what the artist does and or does not permit. Never assume. Just because something is out in public does not for one second mean it is "public domain." my box now...(before we get into the difference between technique - which is not copyrightable - and design - with

  2. How ironic you post this on a day this is happening to me. What do you do when someone inquires about something of yours and basically says they are going to copy it anyway because they live overseas? I asked the person to at least not use the same name for the item, since she was obviously going to copy me. Now she has not only copied me, but it selling the tutorial and kit!

  3. My opinion is that it is ok to make something and then sell it when you decide you don't want it. It is NOT ok to make something with the intention of selling it.

    Example: I make a bracelet I saw in a magazine because I like it, or I want to learn some new stitch/technique. Then a season later, I decide that I no longer want that bracelet. I own it, so I would be perfectly ok to sell it.

    However, if I made a bunch of copies of the bracelet with the sole intention of selling them, that is wrong.

    For me, it is all about intention.

    But I still read the magazines and look at tutorials, because sometimes you can pick up a technique that can later be incorporated into an original work.

    Here is a the post I did on copyright and jewelry design.

    Side note: copyright does NOT apply to clothes/fashion design. Go figure.

  4. ok, I had a long comment typed out but it went away... the gist was:

    Making one and selling it - Ok
    Making one or more for the purpose of selling it - not ok

    My obligatory copyright blog post:

  5. Great post Leslie. I asked a very similar question a few weeks ago, about purchasing kits. My question was, if I purchase a kit and make it, then someone admires it and asks me to make one for them, how do you reply? Now that I have the basic techniques under my belt, I am slowly developing my own style, so I would rather make something for someone that is an original "me". So then, do I not wear things I've made from kits or patterns, in fear of someone asking me to make "that" for them?
    My personal feeling for the question you posed is that I have so much respect for the Carol Dean Sharpe's, the Nancy Dale's, and Linda Roberts of the beading world, just to name a few, that I just could not try to sell something they had created, as my own design. I think it will come back to bite those who do, simply because sooner or later, the client is going to realize that the person they are purchasing from is not the same person who so skillfully created the design.

  6. Flights of Fancy DesignsSeptember 29, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    I like to sell only my designs, i do look to others for inspiration but not copying. I look at bead magazine, clothing catalogs, for inspiration on color and shapes. Before i started making jewelry i was limited on color, and i found many colors that go together that i never would have thought before! i don't think it is ethically right to copy someone elses design and sell for profit. I am sure some of my designs for earring make look similar to other you may have seen but i do feel earrings can be limiting if you want them to be stylish. That's just my take. i have have relatives show me commerical designs and ask me to make them, i have told them no, because it is not my design.

  7. As a new beader I find this a challenging quandary. My own personal opinion on this matter is thus. This is a legal vs. moral issue, if it is not copywrited then it is up for grabs legally. The question is how do you stop somebody from selling your design when they live 5 states away and you have no clue they are selling it? You don't. Morally the person should ask permission to use your design. Some people don't even need directions on how to make items they can figure it out just from buying one your pieces. (I'm no where near that talented lol) I personally am not doing anything fancy yet but I have started to do some wire wrapping. I do not buy alot of magazines so I don't know if I have been trying to copy something someone has already done. Therefore I see all my pieces as being original designs since they are things I have come up with. I do sell items in a local boutique and online on my own Facebook page. However I was planning on taking some classes to pick up some better techniques now I am not sure I want to do that. I don't want anyone to try to say I stole their design.

    1. you shouldnt limit yourself for fear of reprisal. Live your life and do what you need to do to express your creativity. Amateur artists begin by imitating the works of art before them until they are able to use the techniques they have learned in their original works. This has been going on for centuries. Learn,copy,redesign, then create an original and dont pay any mind to anyone that tells you boo about "stealing".

  8. This is why I'm starting to think it's better to not get the magazines, for 1 thing, I find, on the cover, things I did out of my own imagination 10 years ago or more, and I have decided that if you work in the medium long enough, you will have the same idea's as someone else that is coming up on the same design problems and limitations that any medium has. The other thing about the trade pub's is, I don't want to be accused of copying anyone's design, when there is a resemblance, I really did think of it before I saw it in a magazine, and it's coincidence entirely. I, personally, only use the magazines to learn new stitches to incorporate in my designs. And I do like seeing other people's work in the trade pub's.

  9. I don't make jewelry to sell, only to wear, so I don't have a dog in this fight. But I do not believe it is fair or ethical to use another designer's pattern to make quantities of that item to sell. Using someone else's design as inspiration and then radically altering it, using your own ideas and creativity, so that it's not recognizable as the same piece -- that seems more fair.

  10. Good comments so far!
    Inspiration is different than imitation, that's for sure. There are also going to be overlaps and relationships in ideas and even in use of materials without any intention of copying per se, because we are all exposed to the same world, same events, inventions, technical bursts, fashion fads, and cultural identities. Simultaneous inspiration? I believe in it. We are the only Earth species to make conscious art, are we not? Perhaps each incident has to be evaluated on its own, for its intent and purpose.

  11. While I may begin learning a technique by copying another's work, or even learning from a book or video tutorial I cannot seem to stay to their established design. My knack for making alterations always kicks into overdrive.
    I take pride in my unique designs; my heart even swelled with pride at my sister spotting one of my pieces at a booth (thinking the seller was copying my design came running to inform me)...fortunately it was a fellow beader who not only does a different type of beadwork, but who also had offered to carry a couple of my pieces to round out her selection.
    So, back to the question at hand. Considering the pride I feel in what I create I would likely take umbrage at anyone copying it to sell, especially if they do not give credit for the unique design. To date I've not run across any copycats.

  12. Whether these practices are fair or not, they are quite common. As a designer, I continue to innovate and create new designs, so that those copying and republishing instructions for my work are only stealing a small portion of my investment.

    At beAd Infinitum, we have recently labeled ourselves an "Angel Company," a term borrowed from the rubberstamping community. As an Angel Company, we encourage others to make beadwork with our designs, for sale, hoping that they will make lots of money and come back to buy more patterns. When we make beadwork to sell ourselves, we use hard to find materials (like unique handmade lampwork or ceramics), and unpublished variations of the original designs, so that our buyers are unlikely to reconstruct precisely what we have for sale ourselves.

    We have finally managed to talk ourselves out of getting so irritated by these topics, with our "we'll just write another pattern for something new and different"-attitude and our "it's OK to sell"-declaration. Because there's not much we can do about the reality of copyright theft, these changes of mindset have given us some peace.

  13. As children, we all learn the same alphabet, but each individual's handwriting is unique. People who focus on making others designs are limited, designers have liberty of expression. If you are good at what you do, you will prosper. No one can steal your creativity.

  14. Here is a question I had recently from a delightful student who took a class from me, and my answer to her: Q: If I sell a pod necklace, which I see as you, is that ethical? I don't know about art boundaries, and want to be respectful. I'm actually keeping it for me, but I've had requests. And since I can never make replicas , it will never be a copy.
    My answer: Thank you for asking. This is always a sticky issue. When I teach, my aim is to help students totally nail what I'm doing if that is their wish to make it for themselves, and to also help them on their journey to find their own voice in their jewelry if their desire is to sell jewelry. So if you're wearing something that you learned in a workshop from a teaching artist who also sells his or her jewelry, and someone sees it and wants to buy one like it, the best thing to do is to say "This is so-and-so artist's design. His/her jewelry is available at ..." If, on the other hand, you want to give one as a gift, then I feel it's okay. Sometimes stuff like this can be hard to discern -- after all, I don't own circle shapes! So you need to also decide if it's mostly a copy. If you've copied, don't sell. And there's also another reason not to sort of along the lines of the little boy who cried wolf. If you copy other artists' designs and sell them, then when you start doing your own original designs, people will question whether it's really your own design. Not a fun place to be in. I've designed things before that I've decided looked too much like another artist's work, even though it was a natural progression of my own design process, and decided not to sell it simply because that person got there first, even though I got there on my own. Does that help? Does that make sense?

  15. Suggestion to Shirley. If someone asks you to make a piece exactly like the one you made from a kit, you can agree to make it (and even charge for your labor) if you have your friend purchase a new kit from the designer. This way everyone wins...the designer gets credit and income for their design/kit, you can be paid for your labor/beadwork skills, and your friend has a gorgeous new piece of jewelry!
    Sparkles and smiles,

  16. I loved this discussion!!! I fall into the camp that says that a project learned in class or from a published magazine can be gifted, sold to family/friends, and even sold at local craft shows. However, I think that marketing that item on Etsy or other internet venues crosses into the Yucky and doing so without attribution is just plain wrong.

    Another interesting can of worms: INSPIRATION vs. EXPLOITATION. When does a piece based upon the work of another cross the line? I just blogged on this volatile topic and would love some feedback!

  17. Thanks for posting this. Rather than just copying what an artist did, it's the right thing to do to contact the artist, ask for permission and possibly buy kits from the artist. At bare minimum identify and acknowledge the artist who created it initially. With blogs and email it doesn't take long.

  18. My thoughts on this are as such, if you publish a book with designs and charge 20-30 bucks, it is silly not to allow others to sell what they make so long as they are giving your design the proper credit. Until recently I didn't know that you really need to read the copyright inside the cover before you spend your money on books with designs. I lucked out, the books I bought allow readers to resell what they make. They can sell the design, but they can sell the jewelry. I applaud that designer because why would you spend a fortune on a book to only make the jewelry for yourself alone? Not everyone has the gift or vision to create their own designs. If you are publishing the details to recreate your designs, it seems wrong not to grant limited copyright permissions. I understand that a designer doesn't want to lose money in their nitch. So it makes sense to avoid selling on a site like etsy. However if you have your own site, your own loyal customers, you give credit where its due, its silly not to allow it. Think of a Coach purse, knock offs have been around for decades. Coach doesn't publish a how to, yet there they are competing with cheap knock offs. The beauty for a designer is they can say its a Joe Black Original or whatever their name while someone else can only say that its a Joe Black design. In much the way we are commercialism junkies, a name is worth so much more than just a name. This is a large part of designing anything. With name comes respect and notariety and the ability to publish or not. If the ego is there to publish why not then allow others to use and sell your designs? You want a limited commission? Provide that in your design bio and specify what you are asking. If you want to deny others the ability to sell their work of your design, keep it off the internet, out of books, and don't publish. Just because copyrights protect, thats the legal. The ethical fact is you wouldn't publish if you weren't looking for money or fame or both. The biggest form of flattery is recreation. Yet for jewelry designers they seem blind to that. Wake up. This artist's page is great, you can reteach her projects to others for a fee so long as she gets her fee. In other words buy the kits for $10, teach the project for $20, then you both win. If more would view it as a win win instead of mine mine we would be a better place.