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Bill Hudson

Miniature Artisan Ethics.

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Bill Hudson

Since it has been quiet here for some time I thought this topic might stir up some conversation.

 

Most of us have learned techniques from other artisans over the years but we have done our own thing with that knowledge.  But what about those who obviously copy another artisan’s work, maybe alter it in looks a bit and then sell it as their own design? What is our recourse?  

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WeekendMiniaturist

We have had this conversation on our Petitpointers Yahoo group multiple times.  While this does not constitute legal advice, unless someone is willing to take legal action the teacher can only ask the student to cease and desist, unless you will contact an attorney.  In my opinion, it is a personal and moral responsibility of the student to give credit for the design. 

 

In my specific experiences, I'm 100% positive that I would be quite grumpy if someone took my class instructions and then taught the class again, with my instructions.    I have to separate a monetary and time issue from my ego to examine why I'm grumpy if someone innocently shares my instructions with someone who couldn't come to class.  I don't generally repeat my classes... so if it shows up again... and you were not in the class then I assume you are really skilled, or someone shared something with you.  Most of the time, when I teach, club members are only charged for the supplies, so what am I getting all bent out of shape for?  Can I stop you? Probably not, and it makes for a lot of negative energy in my creative world... but I like to think that there is balance in the universe, and I should not be worrying about it, and focus on bigger things like my huge task list that I've been avoiding in real life.

 

I have brought home techniques from Guild School and other classes at other Miniature events and taught them in my miniature club, but I've never copied the info I have received from other instructors and distributed it to my club members.  (I paid to attend a class, I'm not sharing that info, as everyone has the opportunity to pay, attend, and learn from the crème de la crème!)

 

If I teach a quilt class, because I'm inspired by another artisan, am I guilty of infringement?  My resources come from my personal real life quilt collection and books... but does another artisan's presence in the marketplace keep me from teaching that same class?  I am 100% sure that other miniature quilt artisans have inspired me to make a quilt.  But the techniques I offer,may be unconventional from the current classes... oh when the real life world openly began quilting with a machine, and submitting it to be judged, vs. the accepted hand quilting, there was a lot of emotion, but today we have a huge market for new machines, because someone was a maverick, and put a tilt on the real life quilting world...

 

In our world of Petitpoint, we have discussed that all designers indicate copyright in their instructions and in our world of charting a Petitpoint design, we recommend that the designer indicates if the chart is for personal use only, and/or to tell the stitcher if the design can or cannot be sold after stitched.  If I master a skill, does it keep me from selling, or trading with another friend in the miniature community, for someone else's item? 

 

However, it two people see an auction for a rug from a real life auction house, and two designers choose to chart it, nothing keeps both of those two people charting a design and selling it.  Who will I buy from?  The person who has stitched it, and tested their own design, the person with the best price?  The person with the best color recommendations?  The person I like the best?  All of these items come into play.  I may buy it from both of them.  Who knows?

 

It is a sensitive issue, and I'm guessing the student would not want to offend the teacher, but what is the goal of teaching?  I do believe it is wrong to copy a chart and give it to a friend, however, is it wrong to turn around and sell it after you have finished with it?  There are thousands of charts on eBay right now... if it were illegal to sell a chart, eBay would not allow it... you can't sell a gun on eBay.   And what about my kids when I pass away... they are not going to want a collection of copyrighted Petitpoint Charts. I can leave them very specific instructions in my will, but since I don't have those instructions included right now... well I should get busy and make an amendment.  When I suspect that another designer has confiscated another designer's chart... I don't buy from them, they have lost a customer.  But it is a huge issue for copyright infringement when designers stop selling their charts.  As a person who collects to have a miniature library, I have to meditate and go back to my position of contentment to keep myself out of a larger moral dilemma, and accepting charts for something that I covet to collect.  The world is much more simple if I can just buy them from the chart designer for the rest of their lives... and it took a few years to come to that conclusion that I didn't want to accept copies from my friends, and instead, I would support our current designers. 

 

I would ask if the original item is in public domain.  If it sits in an museum, today, museums are requiring licensing... does each teacher obtain licensing?    We all get our ideas from someplace... a book, a picture, an internet search, a visit to a museum....our own home and circle of friends, each of us must clarify our goals in teaching, and our legacy in teaching. Imitation is... truly, the sincerest form of flattery... as human beings we cannot help ourselves sometimes and covet things we cannot buy.  Incredible Miniaturists will probably always have a market to sell to as long as the economy doesn't collapse.  As Artisan's and Teachers part of that demand of your services goes with risk that you will be imitated, but I also know that if you are liked, people buy your products and services. 

 

Write a book for us on this subject...education has great power to change outcomes.  It is an opportunity to clarify your position and you can lead, and leave an incredible legacy for generations to come!

 

Tamra/Indiana

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ElgaKoster

Good question Bill, I don't have an answer for what recourse to take, we are such an international community these days too, so it might be quite difficult across country borders. But none of us likes blatant copying.

Tamra, you just about did write a book :-)

Copyright can be a tricky question, also perceptions of copyright can differ from country to country, something Tamra mentioned for example, teachers having to pay a premium to museums for scaling down an antique and teaching it in a class, is an unheard of concept in South Africa and the first time I heard somebody mention it at Castine it was very strange to me. I have always thought of museums as custodians and not owners, and what about the furniture pieces that are still in American museums today of which there are many books full of detailed scale drawings of many famous pieces that were done many years ago, some of these books written with notes to woodworkers on how to copy these. Copyright ideas must have changed with the years too.

I think teachers obviously teach with the intent to equip students to use the techniques in their own work. Some of those students will become makers and sellers in their own right. I think what is important for me as a maker of antique furniture is that I use my own resources of books and images to build a piece and not copy a plan I got in class.

I find it interesting that some of the great furniture makers of the past like Chippendale and Hepplewhite published books with their furniture designs, they obviously didn't feel threatened that they would lose work because of other furniture makers copying their designs. Looking at their books I get the idea that they knew they were good and that they wanted to be the trendsetters at the time and those designs certainly have stood the test of time as they are still copied today both in full and miniature scale.

As somebody who is teaching for the first time later this year...would I like a student to just copy and sell furniture of a plan I gave them, the answer is no. But I know the likelihood is there that one in a few hundred students might do that, personally I choose to not let that bother me, the chances that I would want to make that piece again is very slim in any case as I am always eager to move on to the next piece.

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bonni.b

I think you're right, Elga. By teaching any class we're opening the door to the few who will copy and sell the piece, without giving credit. I think it's the instructor's job to stay one step ahead of, well, everybody, and move on to the next piece. Or else don't teach - if you put it out there, even with copyright written on the pattern, chart or instructions, you're letting go of that idea. 

 

It's been interesting to me that woven designs are not subject to copyright. Jacquard wovens that are more like prints are, but this or that plaid or weave structure can't be copyrighted because weaving goes so far back in time that pretty much nothing is new. This could be a clue to why I'm incorrigible in "getting inspiration" from anywhere I find it. 

 

Possibly Chippendale and Hepplewhite balanced the income from sales of measured drawings against the reality of how much one furniture builder, or even a workshop of furniture makers could produce in a year. Just because someone has the plans for a chair doesn't mean it will be the same quality as the original designer's. I guess that's how I approach teaching - if this were easy, and fun, everyone would be doing it. So I might as well profit by teaching them my techniques, and work on keeping my own work fresh, new and better than anyone else's.

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Bill Hudson

I can see where an miniature is of something readily available or is common where any two or more people could actually produce a miniature of it. I have several pieces that were in a museum that I measured, photographed and built in miniature.  Any one else could go to that museum and do the same thing.  I understand that. I would have no problem with that.  But what if the person, producing a miniature obviously from "your design" from plans you furnished for a class, has not taken your class?  Shouldn't there be a recourse?

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ElgaKoster

Whether the person took the class or not, it isn't right to copy and build from plans supplied in a class, in the Castine School Program booklet it says the following and this should apply to all classes teached worldwide in my opinion. "Out of courtesy to our instructors who have spend a good deal of time designing and developing a class project, we ask that you do not go home to produce, teach and/or sell the same project made at school."

Personally I am very grateful to all the great teachers out there willing to share their knowledge and many years of experience with students, I have learned so much over the last few years that would have been difficult to figure out by myself.

Recourse... I guess each teacher that this happened to or will happen to in future, must decide for him/herself what they want to do about it.

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metalchips

Bill, this topic has been discussed many times over the years, but there never seems to be a clear answer.

 

Society these days is almost encouraging copying ... music, tv shows, video. 

 

I guess it all boils down to how much money one would like to spend in taking someone to court with so little to gain. I never found it was worth my time or effort. I would send a polite cease and dissist  email if I had the contact info, but that was about it.

 

As has been said, if a buyer knows your quality, likes you and your work, they will buy no matter what.

 

Interesting thread.

 

Cheers,

 

Tom

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Wm. R. Robertson

There are some good points made here on this issue that has been discussed for years without answer. At one time the Guild was going to try to deal with this among their fellows and artisans, I have no idea if they ever did anything.

While the courts offer a way to deal with it tends to be very expensive for very little return. If one was active out in the show world it is possible show organizers would do something if brought their attention. Part of the problem here is the originals are no where to be seen any more and the public only sees the copies. This even makes it hard to let the customers know what is going on.

Now the whole thing becomes really hard when you go in search of the "proof", if party "A" makes a perfect copy of an item and party "B" copies the same item, and both are well skilled could the miniatures not look alike and function the same way? Hard to prove. Now if party "B" offers a set of plans with drawings that are clearly copied from party "A", that is easy to prove.

I think about the only thing one can do is pick up the phone call the person.... And just ask what they think they are doing?

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WeekendMiniaturist

Assuming the person did not get the plans from you, how did they get your plans? Besides the obvious, there are many possibilities in this 'string of thought', the person could have purchased or borrowed the finished item from someone else.  Oh yes, and I found notes from a Therese Bahl  (I'm not sure I have spelled this properly)  painting class from GS in a pile of stuff that I purchased at a mini show... so it is possible that the person could have bought your plans from a miniature donation that was sent to an organization for fund raising. 

 

Still, I do not observe a lot of selling of items from GS classes, I cherish my class projects too much to sell them!  Those projects represent a lot of sweet anticipation.

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Bill Hudson

So what I am hearing is that in the event of ripoff just ignore it and not fret; don't get stressed out. Doesn't that just encourage more ripoff?

If the person is an artisan or fellow in the Guild, shouldn't they be held to a higher ethical standard? Is it possible that there could be away to file a complaint with the board and have a follow up on it and if the complaint is valid a letter of reprimand should be issued? 

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Wm. R. Robertson

I don't think we are saying ignor it and don't fret over it, however I would say don't stress over it..... Stress does you no good. The fact is you can not control the actions of other people and in some cases any one trying to punish them will never do as much to them as you would wish.

Now, if this person is a artist or fellow of the guild and you have clear proof I would send a letter to the board or ethics committee. I think you would clearly have to state what is being copied, how you know this and what would you like done about it.

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Bill Hudson

As I understand it there is not a defining action. It is only a personal decision.  If it is a high ticket item, something the artist is known for, then it might be a good idea to follow up on a complaint.  If the item is just table filler for shows and sales then it is not worth the stress. Even if it is a serious theft of intellectual and artistic material one must have indisputable proof before filing a complaint.

 

I think word of mouth is a better way.  With the internet, now word can travel over the world almost as fast as you hit send. There again one has to be careful not to flame or be untruthful.  Even so there are those who's peanut butter and jelly toast aways lands on the floor jelly side up.  I am a firm believer in karma, sooner or later they are going to step on the toast trying to pick it back up.  I think sooner or later people will know who works on the edge of unethical in producing and selling work.

 

If you do decide to complain be prepared to be barraged with really nasty letters or e-mail from the offender.   :P

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Gee

All true, It is a matter of civilisation not to copy and to give credit to the one who learned you something, or brought an idea to your mind.

 

However, in a world that gets tougher by the day and the 3D printer working it's way up I am afraid that in say 10 years from now copying items has become daily business.

And the items would probably cost next to nothing.

There will probably always be a market for handmade items, but I hear no-one about the 3D printer and I do think hat will be a far bigger problem

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Warren Barnard

I was on an ex-friend's business website a couple of months ago and amongst his model railway laser cut kits was a copy of a building I had done for a museum display, he even used a retouched photo of my building, I got angry for about a minute and and then remembered why he had become an ex-friend a year earlier. I don't know where he got my cutting drawings from but I had moved on from making the original and will be continuing to move forward making new and different miniatures. To me it's not worth the stress, In this line of work their is enough stress doing what we enjoy and wanting to be better at what we do. Let those who can't do take what isn't theirs, we've moved on.

 

3d printing IMHO will never be the bee all for model making, I have one and I know they will get better, but at the end of the day it's just another tool that take's skill to do something worthwhile with, It doesn't join all the pieces, it doesn't create the look, It doesn't paint or finesse a finished piece. It produces a plastic 3D shape, not much more. Anything more takes an artist, a miniaturist a craftsperson or whatever we call ourselves. I have hand tools, power tools, computer controlled tools, all take me, to tell them what to do, well when I know what they want me to tell them to do. :ph34r: :ph34r: :unsure::wacko::blink:B)

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ChrisF

I think before talking about copies or copying work the more important questions that need to be answered first are: What is an original design? What makes any object an original? What is the percentage of deviation to another item needed to make it original?

 

If a miniaturist builds a chair after vintage patterns with some small change is it still original? If you look into particular eras there are only so many possible designs to keep the piece authentic. So where does the copyright begin and end? If the patterns/designs are old enough and available there is most likely nothing one can do.

 

With that being said, I would imagine it quite difficult to prove that a certain technique being copied is indeed an infringement. Can you infringe work processes? Can you prove that you alone came up with a certain technique in the first place? With knowledge so easily available through today's technology I think that it would be next to impossible to prove where the information/knowledge came from originally.

 

I don;t believe there is a satisfactory answer out there. Would I be upset if someone copies my work? You bet I would be. I've had this discussion so many times in academic settings where plagiarism is the bane of our very existence and even there, where the rules are set and apparently clear cut, so many exceptions and methods to circumvent exist that it makes anyone having to deal with issue miserable and disillusioned.

 

So, from personal experience, all I can say is that there will never be an end - once you begin. Once it (whatever this 'it' might be) is out there, it is open season for all. Sad but true.

 

The only, rather humble, advice I have to offer is: Everyone has to decide where to focus your time and effort. It takes a lot energy to be upset and angry - so if you plan to expend that energy make sure it is worth your time and effort. 

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