Three authors of step-by-step instructions, Joanna Gollberg, Don Friedlich, and Alan Revere offer their opinions about how makers should utilize their step-by-step instructions. This is the third post on the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of step-by-step instructions. The previous two posts offered my opinion for Protecting my Step-by-Step Jewelry Designs? and Can I duplicate published patterns as my own work?
The crux of the issue is what happens after step-by-step patterns are published, then used as tutorials for education or creative inspiration. The replies from Don Friedlich, Alan Revere, and Joanna Golberg are below edited only for clarity and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.
One more point, while my examples here have a jewelry focus, there are tutorials available in all media and the issues are the same.
An interview with JOANNA GOLLBERG:
How would you feel if someone made a copy of a project from any of your books and then sold the work as their own?
I have actually seen this occur, I saw someone on Etsy selling a pair of earrings from a project in Making Metal Jewelry: Projects, Techniques, Inspiration. I do not care if someone does this, as those projects are put out there (not as my work), but as free designs for others to use. (Sort of like in the Dover design books, I like to think.) However, my HOPE in putting projects out there is that people will use the projects as a design guide and will change them suitably to come up with their own designs. I know this does not always happen, but that is what I hope people will do. If they don't, it does not bother me personally. I keep my designs for my business out of the books.
Or alternatively, if they wanted to sell the work with an attribution such as “from the design/project of" [insert name of the book or name of the maker here] or something to that effect would be fine too.
I didn’t notice any proviso in the books in my library. Is there a statement in any of the books that say, "the step-by-step projects may be constructed only for personal use and not sold as a commercial item?"
The Art & Craft of Making Jewelry
© 2006 by Joanna Gollberg
Page 47 showing step by step
instructions by Joanna Gollberg.
No. They cannot copy any of the text and reprint it, and they could not copy the project and say it is their own in print as a step-by-step anywhere, but they could certainly make the projects and sell them. I think it is a little shameful for people to call those projects their own designs, but if they make them, it is their own WORK...just not their design. I hope they would recognize the difference, but also realize some wouldn't. It takes all kinds, you know. I am happy to help people make things.
I want people to start with my books' projects, then branch out on their own and make their own designs once they have practiced the skills and techniques from my designs. If this does not happen, that's OK, too. I think it is so important for people to make things with their hands. I love to be able to help other people do this.
Have you ever discussed this issue before with Lark Books (or another book publisher)?
Yes. My editor and I have discussed this. When I put a design out there in a how-to book, I cannot call it my own, for my personal use only. I have given permission for everyone else to make it by printing the designs in a how-to book. That is why I am careful about what designs I put in my books.
Interview with DON FRIEDLICH:
Don Friedlich produced one series of step-by-step instructions as a chapter in the book, Professional Goldsmithing. In this example, Don Friedlich's instructions were not generic tutorials of a technique, but a clear step-by-step tutorial by the jeweler of his own work.
Harriete asks: How would you feel if someone made a copy of your step-by-step project in Alan Revere’s book Professional Goldsmithing: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques and then sold the work as their own?
Don Friedlich: My first reaction is not to be happy about it. But, when Alan Revere did the book, I knew it was possible. He stated it upfront when he contacted me.
Harriete asks: How would you feel if someone make a copy of your step-by-step project and then wanted to sell the work with the attribution “from the design/project of Don Friedlich”, (or something to that effect)?
Erosion Series Brooch © 1985
Slate, 22k gold, 14k gold, sterling,
Artist: Don Friedlich
Photo Credit: James Beards
Don Friedlich: For me, doing that piece would be really hard for someone else. That's always my best defense to being knocked off. The "you have to be crazy to try this" defense. In general, I have a real problem with people copying others' ideas. There will always be some cross-pollinating going on, but it is a matter of degree.
A woman at the shows once knocked off my slate work. She had come by my booth for years, sometimes with her family, to see my work. Then it appeared in her booth. I was quite upset. Plus the work was made poorly and much cheaper than mine.
You feel a little violated.
Harriete asks: Is there a statement in the book that says that the step-by-step projects may be reproduced only for personal use and not sold as a commercial project?
Don Friedlich: I don't recall if there is anything in the book about it.
Interview with ALAN REVERE: Alan Revere published a book titled, Professional Goldsmithing with step-by-step instructions by several different jewelers.
How would you feel if someone made a copy of a project from your Professional Goldsmithing: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry Techniques book and then sold the work as their own?
I think they are acting dishonestly if they claim the design is theirs. However, if they acknowledge that it is classic or traditional and they made one for sale, that's more honest. Unless noted otherwise (as in The The Art Of Jewelry Making: Classic & Original Designs, which explicitly states the pieces may be copied for non-commercial purposes) when I publish an instructional book, I am giving away the information and will not protect the rights.
Is there a statement in the book that says that the step-by-step projects may be constructed only for personal use and not sold as a commercial item?
Only in The Art Of Jewelry Making: Classic & Original Designs because it is about other people's work.
Purple Bead Identity Necklace © 2001
Recycled tin cans, brass, electrical wire
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
A similar necklace featured in The Art &
Craft of Making Jewelry by Joanna
I hope that this discussion about step-by-step instructions has been enlightening. While there are many books offering step-by-step instructions, it is clearly the intent of the authors to offer this information for education, fostering creativity, skill development, and personal enjoyment.
Thereafter, it becomes the maker's responsibility to understand that if they faithfully reproduce the step-by-step instructions, they are not the designer, they are the maker. Using designs or construction methods from other authors/designers in your work will always be a copy or imitation of the original. Whether it is copied from a step-by-step book or an image published in a book, magazine, or online, it places an ethical limitation on how you can show or sell this work.
The really challenging part of making anything is coming up with your own ideas. It also offers the greatest reward. At some point, I think it is important to close the book, put it back onto your library shelves, or turn off the computer and start doing your own problem-solving and creative designs. This is when your work will truly start to blossom and become (your name here)'s work with a unique identity.
P.S. Books mentioned on ASK Harriete are in the sidebar to the right. These are affiliate links. IF you purchase a book, this blog may receive a few pennies.
This post was updated on January 14, 2022.