You want to build and sell pieces of furniture or other wood projects, and you want to use plans you bought over the internet, from such venues as Fine Wood Working, Wood Magazine, or Plans Now – but is that legal? Isn’t there a copyright issue? The answer will surprise you.
The short answer is, yes, you can do that legally. I found the answer from this blog at Finewoodworking.com. From the article:
”…Ironically, copyrights, which protect most manifestations of artistic design and expression, are available to protect sketches of furniture designs, and photographs contained in a furniture catalog, but do not provide much, if, any intellectual property protection to the physical furniture built based on the designs in those photographs. [Habersham Plantation Corporation v. Country Concepts et al, 209 U.S.P.Q. 711 (Ga. 1980)] Thus, an artisan is prohibited under copyright law from making a copy of a manufacturer’s own photo, but is not necessarily prohibited from recreating the piece of furniture shown in the photo, unless that furniture design incorporates some kind of sculpture work or graphic print embellishment that is in itself a design separate from the piece of furniture. This is what the law calls “conceptual separability.” Absent a plausible argument that the overall design of a piece of furniture can, in effect, exist by itself as a work of art apart from its functionality as a piece of furniture, copyright law is unavailable to guard against wholesale copying of the article. For example, an artisan cannot obtain copyright protection for a fabric-covered chair per se, but may copyright the design of the fabric that covers that chair or the elaborate sculpture work that adorns the back or leg of the chair ….”
You cannot, however, claim the plans you purchased are something you drew up, nor can you copy them and sell them. The furniture you make from them, however, are fair game. If you really wanted to be rotten, you could copy a guy’s demi-lune table design, for instance, and he can’t do anything about it – unless it has some “kind of sculpture work or graphic print embellishment that is in itself a design separate from the piece of furniture” I’m thinking some kind of signature marquetry, or God-forbid a maker’s mark, which would make it, in effect, a forgery.
So next time you make a piece from a set of plans, you can feel free to sell the pieces, or pieces – although I wouldn’t mass-produce them, say, hundreds or more of them.
May 17, 2013 at 8:04 pm
I could have used this information years ago, when I was working as a wood shop teacher. I couldn’t make copies of the cabinet, in the “Indian in the Cabinet, because according to the movie producer’s legal department, the movie’s rights were still in limbo. I wanted my students to be able to sell their work, if they wanted to. All I could tell them was: if they did, “I did not want to know about it”. If we had altered or added some embellishment to the cabinet, en mas, we could have gotten away with selling all of them for a fund-raiser, legally.
May 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm
It’s interesting that you can copy a plan – but think of it this way – what if a guy copyrighted a very basic shaker style cabinet – would that mean no one could make a copy like that without paying him a fee? That would be ridiculous. If he had worked in his own logo into the design – as the Roycrofters did – then that would be different.