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A Question for the Professionals from WoodCentral
discussion began with a woodworker who wandered into a craft show --
and ended up touching on what
constitutes a "high-end" quality of woodworking, and the
issue of copying other woodworkers' designs. First, we had the
question of the quality of items exhibited at juried shows. - Editor
blundered into a craft show. It was the most high-end show I have
ever attended. There were two furniture makers attending. Their stuff
was well designed. The wood selection was excellent...the finishes
were similarly excellent.... However, in each case doors were mounted
with those hinges that don't require mortises, yielding a gappy door
and a cheap-looking plated hinge. What's the story here?" - Bill
response to this came from a participant familiar with craft shows,
who talked of this one specifically -- and others in general. -
show is juried, but if your
work is of sufficient quality, produced mainly by the craftsperson,
not knockoffs or obviously mass-produced, and if you follow the
guidelines, it's not as difficult to get accepted as you might
imagine. The hefty exhibitor fee weeds out the worst of the riffraff
and the buyers are usually savvy and tasteful enough to make few
acquisition mistakes on the higher-priced offerings....When
you ask five figures at a craft show and the smiling customer pulls
out his or her checkbook without batting an eye, that's
high end." - David B.
next response is the one that took the entire discussion in a
different direction. - Editor
love art fairs ... I have seen plenty of craftsmanship
'inconsistencies' over the years...Some customers are more
discriminating than others...The only thing I see at art fairs that
bothers me are woodworkers who blatantly steal other designers'
unique designs. But that's another issue!"
- Thomas S.
was, however, the issue that focused the rest of the very long
discussion summarized here. The following was the first salvo. -
work suffers the most: boxes, turned items, and so on. The only
salvation is to constantly keep changing designs, materials, and
features to minimize the knockoff damage to one's business. The
notion of copying as the 'highest compliment' no longer means
anything beyond dishonesty and theft to the individual craftsperson
trying to make a decent or even break-even living.-
was not, however, the only perspective on the issue. - Editor
furniture looks similar. Most of what comes out of the College of the
Redwoods looks similar. Federal furniture looks similar. Windsor
chairs look similar. Queen Anne furniture looks similar. In fact,
period furniture is classified by how similar it looks to other
furniture of that period. Given this historical precedent, one could
reasonably expect that any new design that is generally attractive is
going to be adapted by other woodworkers. The best that one can hope
for is that the new style will be known by the name of its original
designer -- a Krenov cabinet, a Maloof chair, etc.
more I think about this topic, the less clear it is where the moral
line is located. I am not sufficiently talented to design my own
unique style of furniture and might not like to live with it if I
was. So everything I have ever made is a more or less copy of
something someone else made, which may have been in turn a copy of
something else...Do we have to wait for a designer to die
before we can more or less copy the designs, or wait 100 years -- or
what? Should there only be the Krenov cabinets and Maloof chairs in
the world that these designers made themselves -- forever?" -
previous poster came back into the discussion. - Editor
question, and there's not always an easy answer... One obvious way
(but not the only way) to draw the line is legality. If someone
a design, whether or not they possess a design patent, and another
reproduces that design and sells it as his or her own, that can be
moral issues aren't so terribly complex, in my opinion. If you make
items for your own use, from design books, published and copyrighted
drawings ,and don't make a habit of selling them, you're fine. If
someone owns a design and you make and sell it without consent,
especially if you make a business of it, that's not fine. If you see
someone's original work in a craft show and it's of their design and
a distinctly novel design and you think 'you know, I could make those
and sell them, too,' and you give in to the temptation and do it, you
may not burn for it, but I'd say it's immoral." - David B.
is one of the responses. - Editor
question of right and wrong tends to be rather subjective -- hence
the need for courts and, of course, friendly discussions One
question to consider: why is it deemed right to copy designs of those
who are long dead and presumably anonymous, yet wrong to copy
anything else? If it were really a question of morals rather than
peer pressure, it would be equally wrong to copy an anonymous and
furniture, buyers are often ... conservative -- a
of the market wants something that looks familiar, at least a little
familiar. Pretty hard to truly be completely original and still be
able to make a living." - John
another woodworker entered the discussion. - Editor
cannot make a copy of a protected design for your own, the same as
you cannot make a computer program for you own use, or make a
recording of a movie at the theater for your own use. Any
derivative work must make significant changes for it to be considered
new.... Nobody thinks it is right for someone who wants a new car but
can't build one on their own to steal one, so why is it OK for anyone
to steal the design for a piece of furniture because they can't
design one on their own?
is very common for woodworkers to spend a small fortune on tools and
equipment and even on classes and workshops to acquire the skills to
use those tools, along with classes in veneer or inlay or how to make
a 'X' style chair. What I seldom hear is any reference to woodworkers
taking the time to acquire any design skills." - Robin
a previous poster in the discussion presented his view in a different
manner -- this time suggesting (in not so many words) that imitation
truly is the sincerest form of flattery. - Editor
many people would have heard of Krenov if others didn't copy and
adapt his style of furniture? Has anyone ever seen a Krenov original
vs. something made in this style? Was your appreciation of his style
increased by seeing something made in this style by someone else? Was
Krenov diminished (or enhanced) in any way by someone else making
something in his design style? ... I
have come to the conclusion that if you want to be a famous
disigner/maker of furniture that the only route to this fame is to
get many others to adapt/copy your style."
- Bill T.
of course, prompted a rebuttal ... - Editor
me ask you, do you think Mozart really had to be copied before he
became famous? Beethoven? Stravinsky? Mondrian? Miro? Picasso?
Escher? Balzac? Proust? One can find numerous artists, writers,
composers who won't be copied for many years because they can't
copied. It may take years to deconstruct their art to imitate its
individual and idioscyncratic essence. Try to compose an Elliott
Carter piece, any piece. Not even his style is that easily
deconstructed, and believe me, there are few musicologists who can
even approach understanding him at the level required to imitate him.
Nope. Not gonna buy it. Not so." - David B.
and a rebuttal to the rebuttal. - Editor
is famous only because his scores have been copied thousands of
times. Elliott Carter(?) isn't because they haven't." - Bill T.
was much more to this discussion on the original site (follow the
link in the subhead), but for now, our question to you, eZine
readers, is this: what do you
think? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts in next issue's Feedback section.
Note: Tangentially approached in this discussion is the issue of
making woodworking items to sell from others' plans. Plans from
Woodworker's Journal - - including those distributed as free plans in
the eZine -- are copyrighted material. Readers are welcome to make
the projects featured in these plans, and to sell the completed
projects. The plans themselves, however, are subject to copyright
protection; any distribution of them beyond your own personal use --
whether you are charging a fee for this or not -- is a violation of
Woodworker's Journal copyright and is prosecutable under the law.