We’ve all heard the phrase “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but if you happen to cross another beaders’ site with work that is very similar to your original designs, it can be more frustrating than flattering. So what can you do? This post will discuss copyright laws and what copyright protections do and do not protect.

The U.S. Copyright Law (1976) protects “original works of authorship” whether published or unpublished. The owner of the copyright has exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, and display the copyrighted work publicly. Protection starts the moment the work is created and lasts the life of the artist plus 70 years. If you plan on using the design extensively, you may wish to apply for copyright protection. There is a $30 filing fee and you would still have to prove infringement, which can be difficult. The greatest protection is a design patent from the U.S. Patent Office, but you would need a lawyer and about $1500. This protects the design for 14 years. For more information these laws and protections, visit the site of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Magazine editors (Beadwork and Bead & Button) have also featured stories on this same topic. Below is an excerpt from the article “Do the Right Thing” by Marlene Blessing featured in the June /July 2006 issue of Beadwork:

Copyright law does protect:

  • only the original expression found in an artist’s work, both visual and verbal
  • the more generic your original design is, the harder it is to get copyright protection. Simple geometric forms are hard to protect; the same goes for natural elements such as leaves or the sun. With such forms it is hard to prove uniqueness.

Copyright law does NOT protect:

  • Titles or names: The title for a design can not be protected by copyright. Trademarks protect titles and names, and the process for obtaining them is complex and relatively costly. Unless you have a product whose name you need to brand in order to sell and distribute it widely, you won’t need to apply for a trademark.
  • Ideas: Only when the idea is expressed tangibly-by a sketch, computer rendering, or actual creation-is it protected.
  • Facts: The facts are absolutely available for use by anyone.
  • Formulas or recipes: This applies to a list of materials in a beading project and technical steps. The exact wording of your instructions however, is protected by copyright.
  • Familiar symbols and designs: Common motifs are not protected.

What do you think? Does having knowledge of what copyrights do and do not protect help you to feel better or worse? Have you ran into any copyright issues involving your original designs? How did you deal with them? Please share with us in the comments!