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User Journal

Journal Journal: Bead&Button

Original Story

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 ... without the artist's permission.'' Fill in the ... with ``that has appeared in a magazine, book, or website'' or with ``learned in another teacher's class'' It appears that this magazine is concerned only with the first question.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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 - 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 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

For more on the Creative Commons see

For more on Lawrence Lessig see his homepage. In particular, I recommend his book ``Free Culture''.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I'm a rational being

I'm a rational human being. I'm an analytic thinker. I have a (magna cum laude!) degree in Mathematics from a respectable private university in the US. Both my parents are college educated, and they have both raised me with an ethos that reveres education, thinking, and moral behavior based on two things: 1) As a child, I was to follow the rules because they are the rules, and 2) The rules always have (some) reason.

My Dad is a great guy. I really like him a lot; I'm proud of his accomplishments. Get this, after he got his bachelor's degree in Mathematics on a Navy ROTC scholarship, he had a 30 year career in which he qualified in nuclear power under Adm. Rickover; he qualified for command and received two command tours, one in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic (where he got a juicy Mediterranean tour!); and his final tour was at the Naval War College where he participated in qualifying the school for accreditation by the regional recognized accreditation agency. The NWC got accreditation to offer a Master degree in International Studies. I would like to point out that at the time time the other US Armed Forces' postgraduate schools were accredited, nor had they begun the process.

And then, after all that, my dad retired as a Captain (O6 grade, equivalent to a Colonel) and cashed in his GI education benefits for a Ph.D. in a dual Math/Ed program at the University of Arizona. The important part about that is that he passed the qualifying exams in Mathematics.

My dad, clearly, is also an analytic thinker! But in the process of getting that degree, he spent a bit too much time studying and not enough time being *retired* with my mom. So she divorced him. It was quite a shock to get that letter from my dad, telling me of Mom's decision. For the better part of 5 years afterwards, he referred to the event as "The Disaster" and groused about how the law made it possible for his wife to "discard him like used kleenex" and other bitter phrases. He never tried to fight it legally, as his attorney pointed out the futility of preserving the legal arrangement of marriage if Mom was determined. And he and I (and anyone else who knows her) can both attest to Mom's stubbornness. I come by it honestly! :-)

My father was changed by the experience, as well you might imagine. But in some other ways, it has not changed him. For example, he has always been a social conservative in some ways (e.g. he's a bit homophobic) but progressive in other ways (he also "had a dream" about people being judged by the content of their character). But I never knew him to be a religious man, and that's what seems to have changed.

I should back up a bit. I'd like to speak about this in the order I came to understand it, which is not chronologically. My father was a law-and-order kind of guy who respected the notion of "chain of command". And the way he saw it, my mother was in charge of raising the children (I have an older brother and a younger sister). He did not countermand any maternal instructions, ever. If we tried to ask him for permission for some activity, his first question was usually "What did your mother say?". And if we had asked her first (which we siblings learned quickly NOT to do!) her ruling stood, and we would usually get in trouble for trying to play Dad against Mom. And truthfully, doing it in the other direction, I mean asking Dad first and trying to get him overruled by Mom, well, that didn't work well either. If Dad said 'No', chances were good that Mom would say 'Absolutely Not'.

Surprising to me now, I knew growing up that my Dad was the permissive one. Whenever he 'got the chance' to set the rules, he was always much more lenient than standing orders from Mom. And often it included some explicit horse-trading: we kids make Dad look good by getting 'task A' done while Mom is out, and we'd get to have 'good-deal B' too. Not always a bribe (payment in advance); not always a reward (payment afterwards); sometimes no good-deals were on offer; but he was usually a softer touch.

Next fact: we kids went to Lutheran school. St. Mark's Lutheran School in Kaneohe, HI. It was my mother's choice; she had been a first grade teacher before she got married (more education focus in my family!) and was appalled when my brother wasn't being taught to read in Kindergarten in the public schools. So she went shopping, and found someplace that did. But she did ask, respectfully, to make sure that we didn't have to be Lutheran, or even Christian, to send our kids there. We did not.

There are some strange things about going to a religious school in a country that values "separation of church and state". And there are some strange things about going to a school in a state that is racially desegregated in a country just off the chain-gang of Jim Crow. I was taught to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (*with* the "under god" part, of course) with the Principal leading the school over the PA. And he would then hand the mic to Pastor Gundermann (Mrs. Gundermann ran the Kindergarten which did teach me how to read). Pastor Gundermann would lead the school in "The Lord's Prayer". As a first grader I never realized that I was performing two separate recitations. For years I had been putting my hand over my heart for the Lord's Prayer and clasping my hands and bowing my head for the Pledge until Mr. Hess (3rd grade) corrected me.

One of the strange things is that I had chapel every Wednesday morning and a weekly bible verse to memorize. Every Friday was the spelling quiz and the bible verse test. I wasn't very good, and I would get in as much trouble for not memorizing my bible verse as I would have for not doing my math homework. Get in trouble, that is, at *home*; get in trouble with my mother for not following the *rules* (do your homework). My mother who, it turns out, feels that religion has done more harm in this world than most other human activity.

I didn't know this at the time. My mother didn't teach me her religious views explicitly, and so I was left to form my own. Over the years my brother and I would have some long conversations after school with Pastor Gundermann, probing the meaning behind his sermons. Over the years, I watched my classmates on the playground and learned how Christian children behave when left to their own devices. I still have the strong, singular memory of Jesus Christ speaking to me, out loud. He said "I'm sorry" and I knew exactly what he meant, and my ears heard the words and my heart felt the meaning -- it was a powerful event.

And by the time I was in the fifth grade I knew for certain one thing: God did not exist. Mrs Huffman, my teacher at the time, sent me to sit outside the classroom door, held me after class, and talked to me about some rebellious behavior. Somehow (I don't remember how) she referred to how Christ would want me to be, to which I retorted "I don't believe in *him*". I remember with a bit of smug self-satisfaction the stunned look on her face. It was shock beyond surprise; it was almost horror. "What," she gasped, "what are you doing here?"

I looked up at her, honestly confused. "I get up in the morning and my mother drives me here. Do I have a choice? Can I go somewhere else?" Because, honestly, Mrs. Huffman, I could really use a different approach than the one you're using here. Ok, I didn't say *that*. But it was in fifth grade, under the tutelage of my classmates under Mrs. Huffman, that I penned my mantra for many of my subsequent religious debates: Religion is a crutch for the morally incompetent. If you aren't smart enough to figure out what is good, moral behavior by yourself, and you aren't smart enough to debunk the human charlatans around you who would gladly lead you astray, you are reduced to looking to a religion to help. Maybe it's better than nothing, but I'm not sure of that.

Boy! Was I an arrogant and combative fifth grader! Needless to say, I got beat up on the playground. Actually, I rarely got beat up -- but I lived in constant fear of it. I ran, and I was teased for it. Mostly when I was beat up, it was by the public school kids I rubbed elbows with outside of school. Sometimes over the summer holiday, sometimes during the school year at the bus stop. But I digress.

The whole Lutheran School story is to cement in your mind what my mind had as a child: going to a religious school does NOT make a child religious. I assumed this was the rule, not the exception, and I still believe that what the parents believe can have a far greater impact than any teacher.

So my dad went to Catholic school. He was studious. He was beat up in the playground, a lot. He sympathized with me and my playground troubles, but he had no good, effective advice. He could only counsel, "It gets better, much, much better, in college". In school he behaved, learned his bible verses and was almost made an alter boy before the Catholic hierarchy discovered his congenital defect: he was Protestant. His family was Anglican!

Now these are old "sea-stories" that my dad tells about growing up. I've heard some of the a thousand times if I've heard them once. I think they are funny, and sad, and entertaining. And of course, they are parables of my dad's teachings. Just like Jesus used stories to teach. And I always assumed that my dad, so like me in so many ways, had come to the same conclusions about what a church is, about what a church means for it's congregation, how it is essentially a power and control structure. And so after my dad was divorced, he changed. He started going to church. It seemed like a big change to me!

Before he left the navy, when he had a desk job, he'd come home at the end of the day sometimes to a glass of scotch and soda, and sit in a recliner and read things like Dirac. Paul? Dirac, who completed some of the theory of quantum mechanics, some of the really weird, highly mathematical parts of the theory of light and matter. My dad settled on being a math major in college; he started at Tufts as Chemistry major, and getting C's in class (A's on all the exams F's on all the lab work) finally convinced him that he oughta get outta chem. Mathematical or Theoretical Physics was what he really wanted, but by the time he figured it out, it would have been too hard to get all the requirements. You know, that was my experience in college: mathematics degrees are always the easiest degrees on campus! They have the fewest number of requirements, and many of the them are things you take anyway to prepare for all those other, harder, degrees. So if you want to experiment, you end up with a math degree.

Back to my dad: sitting there reading his unreadable book, drinking his undrinkable drink. I know, I tried both as a child. He would turn to me and say things like "A literal interpretation of the bible is stupid. I would no more turn to the bible to decide how the world works, I mean *really* works, at the level of atoms, electrons, and photons, than I would turn to Dirac to figure out how to be a good person. There are good lessons in the bible, stories that will teach you how to live your life and be a good person. But it won't teach you everything you need to know, and there is room this house for more than one book. Read them all."

That's not a direct quote, but if I get brave, and show this to my dad, that sentence won't be the controversial one. "There is room in this house for more than one book" -HA! Our house groaned under the weight of books of many kinds, most especially sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks; it was a family obsession for all of us (except my sister, adopted). On occasion it would get out of hand... my mother had to ban reading books during Christmas morning or the three males would never finish emptying our STOCKINGS much less get to unwrapping presents under the tree! And it had to become an explicit rule... no books at the dinner table. Although my mother would bend that rule, or perhaps you'd say it was carefully phrased for flexibility. Books were allowed at the dining room table, when dinner was not being served. She would read her paperbacks in the kitchen. We also had a "bed-time" when we had to be in bed, but could read (or, earlier, be read to) that was 30 minutes before a "lights-out" time.

He never said "read them all" either: it simply wasn't possible. As Heinlein once wrote, "If I had learned anything, it was that they could print it faster than I could read it". Our house was living proof of that.

So, I've finished reading Dawkins' "The God Delusion", and had a conversation with my dad about it. He'll read it and get back to me, and we talk a bit about what he finds useful about going to church every Sunday. And as anti-theistic as I really am, I love my dad enough to accommodate this affectation. I cheerfully and enthusiastically drove him to Canterbury when he visited me in London. It's a real highlight for an Anglican to celebrate Mass in Canterbury Cathedral. But I didn't attend service with him, not there. It seems disrespectful (and awkward) to follow the motions in such a setting. Every other adult there can perform these maneuvers with aplomb; I don't want to make a spectacle of myself.

Oh, and I don't believe in the divinity of Christ, the existence of God, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the holy spirit, existence of souls, heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory. It's hard to attend church with integrity without faith.

And my father still goes to church, every Sunday. He feels it's good for him to do so.

I still don't understand.

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