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augustlan's avatar

If you use designer home decor items for 'inspiration', are you breaking copyright laws?

Asked by augustlan (47394points) May 27th, 2011

In decorating magazines and online stores or design blogs, I often see high-end items that I know I can make for much cheaper than the originals. Some of them wouldn’t be exact copies, like this chandelier, as it’s easy enough to change some details. But others, like these vases would be pretty much identical.

I assume if I made them for my own use, that would probably be ok, but what if I made them to sell on etsy or something? Would changing a few details be enough to make it legal? Would it still be unethical? Would it matter if I planned to use reclaimed/recycled/already owned items as a base?

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15 Answers

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Strange little glitch just happened, and I lost the response that I already typed out.

I don’t know the answer for sure, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone comes along that can give you a definite answer. However, I would be inclined to think that it isn’t a problem – after all, we have plenty of generic options on the shelves of stores. I doubt that you would run into any issues.. but again, I’m only guessing.

Jeruba's avatar

Don’t department store chains do knockoffs of high-end designer items all the time?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

That was my first thought, also. I think as long as you don’t attempt to use the actual brand name, you should be fine.

marinelife's avatar

There are designer knock-offs of gowns. I imagine if you marketed them through the same channels, they would come after you, but not if it was on etsy.

HungryGuy's avatar

It probably depends on what country you live in. In most countries (with the possible exception of the USA), it would be perfectly legal and moral to make replicas for your own personal use. But if you sell them, then that would be patent infringement in most countries.

Jeruba's avatar

There used to be a store nearby (here in Northern California) with a name something like “Impostors” that carried relatively inexpensive lookalikes of designer watches, handbags, jewelry, and other show items. I can’t believe those were pemissioned copies. I think they were just copies. I never actually went in and had a close look.

augustlan's avatar

A friend with some experience in art/copyright had this to say:

“It’s very difficult to patent a decorative design. Chances are the items you displayed are not patented at all, and probably couldn’t be.”

“It is not unethical either. In fact, if you have the talent, then it is your responsibility to discover new ways to make the product more efficient. The good of all is more important than the profit of the few. Making it from recycled material is even better, and would further remove you from any creative infringement that a passing self inflicted guilt trip could justify. Have at it!”

and later:

“I know the ethical struggle you face. Feels like cheating. But it’s not at all. Doing these things with your eyes and hands is no different than running a race with someone upon your legs and feet. Just because they cross the finish line first doesn’t mean that you can’t finish right behind them, and with better form.”

What do you all think?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Sounds right to me.

marinelife's avatar

@augustlan Your friend is wise.

Jeruba's avatar

That seems to me like enough to go on. Besides, if someone did come after you for an excess of flattering imitation, I think the first thing they’d ask you to do is stop selling them online. If they made a persuasive case and you stopped selling them, it seems like that would be the end of it. And I don’t think that would bar you from taking them to your local craft fair or placing them on consignment in a boutique.

augustlan's avatar

Thanks, everyone. Knowing my proclivity for starting projects I never finish, I’ll probably never get around to actually doing this, but if I do… I’ll feel better about it. :)

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Hoping for photos and links if this project takes off. :)

augustlan's avatar

I’ll do my best. :D

iamthemob's avatar

“It’s very difficult to patent a decorative design. Chances are the items you displayed are not patented at all, and probably couldn’t be.”

This is spot on – it’s near impossible to patent a decorative design because if the purpose is decorative, then the creation is outside the scope of patent law (which, simply put, cover inventions of practical use).

When it comes to decorative items, pretty much the only things you’re going to have to worry about are therefore copyright and trademark.

“It is not unethical either. In fact, if you have the talent, then it is your responsibility to discover new ways to make the product more efficient. The good of all is more important than the profit of the few.”

This is a little muddier. You’re not really making anything more efficient (because you’re creating decorative items) but repurposing some items with information from others.

That right there in many ways is enough to get you enough to have put enough creative inspiration to make it your own work, even if it’s clearly a copy to most. What you don’t want to do is copy something like the decorative designs that are actually essentially trademarks as well – the Louis Vuitton “LV” is perhaps the clearest example.

I’m certain that what you’re doing here, though, doesn’t approach that. The art world, in the end, is meant to feed off itself, and the creative feed the more commercial copycats. But in the end, if you’re making crap copies, no one’s going to buy them. So it’s still up to you to make it look good enough to get. ;-)

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