Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Inadvertent Infringement

I would guess that a good percentage of sellers on Etsy end up being accused of copying another person's work or of some sort of rights infringement at some point. My first brush with this came over the last year when someone sent me a message saying that a design on one of our stone necklaces was a copy of their friend's design. My response to her pointed out that the design was based on a very common Native American symbol and that my husband had altered the design to fit on the stone and incorporated some design elements that matched his interests.

Sometimes the problem with seemingly identical designs can happen by accident. More than one person could come up with a particular idea. In the tatting community I have seen this happen and I think that it happens as people try to figure out a way to make a specific design since they use common patterns and stitches. Designs may look the same but were not actually copied.

My latest experience came this last week with a message from a company about my use of their name in my product description. Even though the buttons they objected to were made from photos of the blankets and shawls made my that company, I don't know how much standing I actually have in using their name in the description. I've heard of some crafters getting into trouble for making jewelry or other items from Lego building blocks, both because of using the Lego name and for selling items made from the blocks. The second part of the objection to my buttons was that they pictured blanket designs trademarked by that company. I hadn't really thought of any of this being a problem, especially since you can't properly describe the items without using those names. (It reminds me of all the ads currently running that reference "The Big Game" since using the actual name of the NFL's championship game gets you in trouble.)

Has anyone else run into similar problems? I'm curious to know what crafters can do with these trademarked names and copyrighted designs. Would a photo of someone holding one of these items be illegal to sell? After hearing the horror stories of people losing their Etsy shops over accusations like this I wasn't willing to take that risk. I removed the questionable items from my shop. What would you do?

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