Turning Archive 2007

Original Thought

keith tompkins
>Steve Antonucci's post brings up a very important topic that just won't go away...whether we like it or not. The heart of the issue lies in the concept of original thought or intellectual property rights. I'll give an example NOT related to woodturning:

I buy a photograph of a famous building, say the Empire State Building. The artist who took the picture did not own the building, nor buildings surrounding it, nor the weather conditions that existed at the time the shot was taken.

Since it is now my photograph, I decide to use it in my business's advertising...after all, I bought and paid for the image, it is mine to do with as I please. I am shocked when I discover I'm being sued by the photographer in question for a large sum of money for violating his rights under U.S. copyright law. Even though I own the image, I DO NOT own the rights to the image....the photographer does until he legally signs them over to me. Even though he sold me the photo, he can legally reproduce that same image as many times as he wishes, and profit from it. I cannot.

Now, I write a new song, and include it in my new album. The melody sounds strangely familiar, but hey, there are only eight notes in the major scale, and they are all public domain. And, the words are all mine! Should I be surprised when I am again sued for a large sum because my song has the same melody as an old Beatles tune?

In both cases, I have violated someone's rights to their own intellectual property. Copyright laws protect these rights, whether the medium is art, photograhy, music, or poetry. Whether we believe it is true or not. And, these rights pass on to the artist's heirs for a period of 70 years.

Some people believe there is nothing new under the sun...U.S. patent law says otherwise. Violate someone's rights under the patent laws, and you may find yourself in serious trouble. So, how does this relate to turning....

There are many books available that deal with original thought and intellectual property rights as they pertain to the arts. Anyone seriously considering entering any art field should read this material. After all, not all craft fields are as open and sharing as turning...we are not YET involved in the lawsuits that are common in other fields.

A personal example: I worked in a furniture shop that produced chairs for the commercial market. While in their employ, I invented several tools and processes that the company patented. Their production of chairs doubled, to over 300 chairs a day. When I received an offer I couldn't refuse, and ended my employment there, I was forced to sign papers agreeing not to violate the company's patent rights, nor share their "trade secrets". I could not legally use MY OWN ideas.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with Keith's box or Steve's hollow form, but the vast majority of craft objects show influence of previous art. When I first spotted Steve's piece in question from a distance, the form and spalted wood was an easily recogniseable combination....most turners would easily recognize the style as similar to Ellsworth's. I would guess the turner who produced the piece studied with David. After speaking with Steve, I discovered he had indeed studied with him. I think the trick is to take what we learn, to take our influences, and approach our work from our own unique perspective. In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to recognize those who have helped or influenced us. If we can manage to do that, it may prevent us from suffering the same fate as other art forms.

I'm not taking a stand one way or the other, but we should be aware of the situation in other fields.

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