This month's Bead&Button magazine has an editorial (PDF)
about ethical behavior as it relates to beadwork designs. For those
zealots who believe ``information wants to be free'' (such as myself) it
is a bit surprising that such an ancient art could be subjected to a
strict copyright regime. At one extreme is the question ``how should
artists and publishers be compensated'' and at the other extreme is the
question ``how can you own a pattern of beads?'' From the article: ``It
is unethical to teach a beading project
See also: Sarah Feingold's article (PDF) in the same issue on how copyright law applies to beadwork
This is a third draft
Sarah Feingold's editorial in the August 2007 issue, coupled with the editors comments (presumably in the same issue?) about the ethical use of beading designs came to me through a distraught friend. My friend helped to ``disseminate this message by including a copy of these statements'' in a conversation with me, even though she most certainly did not agree with them. Neither do I.
Before I respond, let me state that I have no beading experience, nor am I a lawyer. I have relied on my friend for some information about how beadwork is done. She was distraught by the possibility that she had done something wrong by teaching the square stich at an independent bead store. ``Is it possible that someone `owns' it? It's been around forever!'', she told me. ``Beading is an ancient art!'' She was almost in tears - of fear, of hurt, or of anger, I couldn't say. I felt all three emotions myself.
I found the list of four ``unethical practices'' highly distasteful. The only morsel I could find my self agreeing with was the unethical practice of representing the work of others as your own. That is indeed unethical, but that practice should be condemned by everyone in the beadwork community, not just subscribers of Bead&Button. Indeed, any designer or publisher who claims ownership of any design that utilizes the square stich is engaging in this unethical behavior. A publisher that claims ``all rights reserved'' on a design that utilizes square stich is impling ownership of something that is not ownable.
FREE SPEECH, NOT FREE BEER
For more upbeat reading, I'd like to share a list of values for beadworkers, or any other craftman, who aspires to high standards, be they professional, workmanship, or ethical standards. It is possible to achieve all three of these through consistent and principled actions. I have come to understand these standards through two people's writings: Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, and Lawrence Lessig, of Stanford Law School. Please be aware that I cannot speak for these eloquent individuals; I am not associated with either of them. I know of them only through their (freely available) writings.
Even though these ideas have been developed in the space of computer programs, and have propagated to other areas of creative expression such as music and movies, I think they apply equally well in beadwork design. A computer program is a list of instructions that is clear enough for a computer to follow them. A beadwork design is a list of instructions clear enough for a beadworker to follow. Another interesting analogy could be made to recipes in cooking: a recipe is a set of instructions good enough for a cook to follow. The major difference is that instructions for trained human beings are usually ambiguous enough in language that different people will end up with different results even if they follow the same directions. Good directions help minimize those differences, but a most people can tell the difference between a professionally prepared dish (or beadwork piece) and the work of an amateur, especially as the complexity of the work increases.
Richard Stallman has worked for the cause of free computer programs since before 1985 when he founded the GNU project, motivated by ethical principles he knew implicitly, and he has articulated them as follows.
- The freedom to use.
- The freedom to study.
- The freedom to help others.
- The freedom to improve.
In the context of computer programs, these freedoms can be guaranteed only by software released under the GNU Public License. Without legal protection granted by copyright, the GNU Project could not protect their customers' rights; someone could sell a program that they produced, and then deny users the benefits of the freedom that is their right. The GPL prevents this. I hope that the craftmen who read Bead&Button magazine recognize the how dangerous Ms. Feingold's position is to the art and profession of beading, just as it has been dangerous to the art, craft, science, and professionalism of the computer programming world. I hope Ms. Feingold comes to understand the real damage of her position, too.
Let me interpret these four freedoms for the world of beading.
THE FREEDOM TO USE
I would like to consider both the design of a bead project and the final product together, as that will help dispell the confusion some people have when considering just the design alone. The freedom you expect when you purchase a beadwork necklace at a booth, stall, or store is the freedom to wear it. It is an unfettered right; you do not need to get ``extra'' permission to wear your jewelry when you go to the theater, get married, on appear on the Letterman Show. You could even be paid to appear, and the person who made or designed your necklace is not permitted to require permission or payment when you ``use'' the necklace.
With that in mind, let's consider the natural freedom you have when you buy a design. No-one buys a design (or a magazine such as Bead&Button that contains beadwork designs) just to read the design. On paper, there is no value, just as when you buy the actual necklace, leaving it in your jewelry box has no value. Only by using the design can there be any value in it. It is unethical for Bead&Button magazine, or any other designer/publisher, to deprive you of your freedom by requiring you to pay extra, or to get permission in advance to actually use the design regardless of whether it is for home use, as a gift for a friend, or even to sell for profit. Just as there is no harm given to the beadworker when you wear a necklace on a paid speaking engagement, there is no harm when you make a necklace from a design and sell it.
THE FREEDOM TO STUDY
It is unethical and unprofessional to deprive crafters from studying a physical object or a design. If you look carefully at the jewelry you have in your collection right now, you might see elements that are similar from one piece to another. You should study that! Learn from it, look for other pieces to match, so you can create a style that suits you. Do you love that shade of orange which shows up as just a speckle in your earrings? Look for a brooch which uses it. Or make your own!
In the case of a design you have legitimately bought (say, in an issue of Bead&Button magazine) you should learn from it. Study it, and teach from it. In the case of copyright law, there are explicit exceptions for educational purposes, legal rights that have been eroded by special interests and are being cast into disrepute by shortsightedness (or other maladies I could not even guess!) But no matter what laws are passed, the ethical standards remains. Learning and study, as driven by an interested individual is ethically beyond reproach when there is no harm to others.
THE FREEDOM TO HELP OTHERS
This is the controversial freedom in the software world; it would be deceiptful of me to suggest otherwise. There are people who sincerely believe that it is ethically permissible to teach you something, but put a condition on it that you may not teach anyone else. I do not believe that. If a friend (or customer) admires the necklace you are wearing (dare I say ``your'' necklace?) which was bought from someone else, then if you have the skill and patience, you have the right to show them how it is done. If you like, you are ethically permitted to make another necklace, just like it, to sell or give your friend (or customer). And if you have the design on paper, or in your email inbox, or even in your head, you have the ethical right to share it, if you wish.
Unfortunately you may not have the legal right to do so. This is tragic and can only hurt the progress of the science and art beadwork. Imagine the limitations you would face if the square stich was owned by Beading Company, Ltd. and only their ``authorized'' beadworkers could use it? How many current designs would not yet be created with this kind of limitation in place?
THE FREEDOM TO IMPROVE
After you have legitimately purchased a design, it can only improve the workmanship and professionalism of the entire community if you commit time, thought, and energy into improvements. You are ethically free to share those improvements. Again, depending on a raft of legal issues, you may not be legally free to share your work. Again, this loss of freedom is tragic, and ultimately it works to limit the progress and development of the beadwork community.
PATENTS ARE DIFFERNT
Just to dispell a common misconception, I should mention that copyrights are very strong, long lasting controls that the government grants to authors of published works. Copyright only protects the expression of an idea, i.e. the way a beadwork design is printed on the page. If there is another way to communicate the same idea, then the original author has no right to prevent you from writing your own version of the idea. Copyrights are granted automatically; you don't have to register, use a (C) in a circle, or even say: ``All Rights Reserved.''
Patents, on the other hand, are rights granted for the idea itself. Patents are granted for shorter times, and take much more effort to acquire. So if someone creates a brand new stitching technique (rip-stop, invisible, and keeps your beads floating 3 inches above the skin!) and goes through the legal process required, no-one could use that idea without a license.
So, to make myself plain: if you think I've forgotten about a true creative genius who invents something truly new, be assured I haven't. The rights to use, study, share, and improve on ideas are controlled by more than one set of laws.
WHAT CHOICE DO YOU HAVE?
I would not have dwelled on those legal restrictions if I did not think there was an alternative. The issue of copyright as a distorted and malignant force to prevent the four listed actions above is not unique to beadwork. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is currently engaged in a ``full court press'' (pardon the pun) by filing 20 thousand cases across the nation (according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation - http://www.eff.org/share/). The Motion Picture Association of American has pushed for (then reversed position after a publicity backlash) the arrest of independent researchers of cryptography when they disclosed flaws in the encryption of DVDs. (see http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/DVD/) Given our pressing need for strong encryption to protect our credit card numbers (or even our very identity) while shopping on the Internet, actions which slow the progress of encryption has direct harm against our entire society.
Lawrence Lessig found the legal trends discouraging enough that he argued against the extension of copyright known as the``Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act'', also know colloquially as ``The Mickey Mouse Act'', in part because it is cartoonish in its excessive and retroactive power grab, in part because a major corporate sponsor of the act was the Disney corporation, and in part because it was passed just before the first Mickey Mouse cartoon short was due to fall out of copyright protection. Prof. Lessig argued that the law violated the constitution which explictly allows Congress to creating copyright for only a limited duration. The fear is that when this extension expires, the Disney corporation will pony up whatever lobbying resources are necessary to extend copyright (retroactively!) yet again, creating in effect, an unlimited copyright on the installment plan.
Prof Lessig lost his argument in front of the Supreme Court. As distressing as he found this, I believe he has helped by founding and promoting a working solution to this pernicious power grab. It is called the Creative Commons. I encourage any beadworker to consider using some form of the Creative Commons licenses for their work. These licenses provide a number of choices which allow designers to share their work, while permitting ethical behavior by those who create beadwork.
For more on Richard Stallman and the origins of his work founding the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project (also known as GNU/Linux) see http://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/why-free.html
For more on the Creative Commons see http://www.creativecommons.org/
For more on Lawrence Lessig see his homepage. In particular, I recommend his book ``Free Culture''.