Copyright Law, Ethics and Your Beadwork

My Back to Byzantium necklace has been the target of several instances of copyright violation.

Which of the following statements is true:

A. If you pay someone for a class to learn a particular design, you then own the rights to that design and can use it however you wish (i.e., to sell finished pieces for profit).

B. If you buy a beading pattern from an artist or a website, it's okay to make copies of that pattern and hand them out to your friends.

C. If a project has been published in a magazine or a book, then you automatically have permission to make that project and sell it for profit.

D. It's okay to copy a beading project that you saw in a photograph or in a bead shop without giving credit to the original designer.

Time's up! Did you figure it out? If you think that none of these statements are true, then you are absolutely correct.

A. If you pay someone for a class, then you own the rights to that design. This is absolutely not the case. If the class was to learn a particular beadweaving stitch (such as right-angle weave, peyote stitch, or herringbone stitch), that doesn't mean that you now own the rights to that beadweaving stitch. Likewise, taking a class to learn how to create the original design of the teacher doesn't mean that ownership rights of that design have now been transferred to you. While it's true that there's nothing to stop you from creating and selling finished pieces of this original design (unless that designer has a team of high-priced and high-powered attorneys), it's just not an ethical thing to do. These teachers put their designs out there for others to learn from, and many of them sell their own finished pieces as a source of income.

B. If you buy a beading pattern from an artist or a website, it's okay to make copies of that pattern and hand them out to your friends. When you purchase a beading pattern from someone through a website or an online selling venue such as Etsy or Artfire, you are paying to use that pattern for your own personal use, unless otherwise specified at the time you purchase it. That doesn't mean that you can now email a copy of that pattern to all of your friends who you think would like a copy! It's the same as copying a movie or a CD from a friend. Lots of people do it, but that doesn't mean this is okay. In my opinion, it's the same as stealing from someone who is trying to sell their handmade goods for a living.

C. If a project has been published in a magazine or a book, then you automatically have permission to make that project and sell it for profit. The patterns and projects that are published in magazines such as Beadwork and Stringing are published so that you can learn how to make that project and expand your own beadweaving and jewelry-making skills. Personal enrichment, inspiration, and learning are the goals here, not making a profit from someone else's design. It's always a good idea (and the right thing to do) to ask the artist for permission before making up copies of a design and selling it.

D. It's okay to copy a beading project that you saw in a photograph or in a bead shop without giving credit to the original designer. I have a good friend who designs beautiful beading patterns and sells them to earn income. It's very distressing to her when she sees pictures of her patterns being "shared" on various websites, or when someone posts a picture with a description that states they copied this pattern from a photograph. In this case, the right thing to do would be to find the artist who designed the pattern or project and purchase a copy of the instructions from them or buy a copy of the magazine where the project first appeared. Remember that these artists are also trying to earn income from the sale of their original patterns and designs.

What if your copyright has been violated?

If you discover that someone has violated your copyright of an original beadwork design, there are a few things that you can do. The first would be to send a polite but firm email or letter to the person and let them know that what they have done is unethical and possibly illegal, and tell them what actions you would like them to take to correct the situation (i.e., removing a photograph from their website or blog, purchasing a pattern or removing an item for sale from an online store or gallery).

If your letter goes ignored, you can contact an attorney who specializes in copyright and intellectual property law, but remember that an attorney will charge you, sometimes a great deal of money, just for writing a letter. It's easy for large corporations to defend their copyrights because they have the resources to retain and compensate attorneys who specialize in intellectual property law, but you may not have the same deep pockets as a corporation.

Don't let copyright violations get you down.

Just because someone has violated your copyright, don't let it stop you from creating new and better beadwork designs. The best defense we have as artists is the ability to grow and develop new ideas and new styles of work to stay one step ahead of the copycats. It doesn't feel good to have your ideas stolen and used without your permission, but unless you're able and willing to spend a lot of time and money fighting the copyright infringement, the best thing you can do in that situation is turn it around and do something positive about it.

If you're interested in learning more about copyright, ethics and beadwork, these links from Beadwork magazine will be of great interest to you:

Ethics in Beadland by Mary J. Tafoya

Ethics in Beadwork Quiz

Do the Right Thing: Copyright, Ethics and You by Marlene Blessing

Have you ever seen someone use your original design without your permission? What did you do about it? What are your thoughts about copyright, ethics and beadwork? Please share your thoughts and experiences here by leaving a comment on the blog.

Bead Happy,


Related Posts:


Beading Instructions & Techniques, Right-angle Weave
Jennifer VanBenschoten

About Jennifer VanBenschoten

Born in New Jersey in 1974, I escaped to the Adirondacks for the first time in 1995, making it my permanent home in 2000.  I have been interested in beads, buttons and making jewelry as long as I can remember.  It's probably my mother's fault - she was a fiber artist and crochet historian, and whenever she ordered supplies from one mail order source, she would order a huge bag of assorted buttons and beads for me and my sister!    

5 thoughts on “Copyright Law, Ethics and Your Beadwork

  1. I am utterly frustrated I love beading and making things for my family and friends and I know many stitches and try and bead everyday. My problem is how can I design something new and pretty to me without infringing their rights? For instance I work full time and day dream about beading I have a sketchpad filled with designs but some of them have already been done. I get inspired by a movie or a certain bead or time period from history. My point is how do you sell something that you dreamed up if it’s already out there? When is it legal and illegal? Please help me I feel like I came to beading 400 years too late.

  2. It can seem frustrating or intimidating when you see all the designs out there, and there have been instances where two (or more) beaders have come up with the same design at nearly the same time. I think the goal here should be to show respect to the original artist. Don’t waste your energy worrying about what someone else is doing – focus on your own projects and your own designs.

    If you want to sell a piece of beadwork that was designed by someone else, you should always check with the artist and get their permission, and it’s always nice to tag the piece with “Designed by…”.

    Does anyone else have any advice?

  3. Im a Newbie so Im talking about trying simple designs. Like wendygirl before me I had many ideas in my head also, thinking I was free to try this, do that, but then discovered copyright & if I looked around others were already doing the same designs or very similar. So how do u know if ur new ideas have already being copyrighted & where or how would u go to find out? I would be totally ignorant, & being new my wonderful ideas (to me) would be old to others, already done, lol.

    For a simple example I naively had an idea for cascading drop pearl earrings, but then I saw them everywhere all similar? Are those copyrighted, because alot basically look the same. They sell them everywhere, in shops, online etc. Im not even sure whats copyrighted and whats not, lol.
    Any help would be appreciated.

  4. Based on talking to a lawyer friend and my personal research on copyright law, it is my understanding that a copyright on a pattern does NOT apply to works created with the pattern. Furthermore, just like recipes, it is the expression of the pattern (images, text used) that are copyrightable, as opposed to the instructions themselves. The only kind of legal protection that one can receive for instructions would be to get a patent, which would apply to a manufacturing process for instance, but not a pattern.

    Furthermore, it is quite strange to state that one cannot sell designs learned from a class. Just because it was the original work of the teacher, this does not mean that the teacher controls how the information is later used. A pattern or design is NOT a patent, and therefore the creator does not have exclusive rights to the production of the design. Certainly, a designer could request that a design not be used commercially, but this is not legally enforceable.

    So, while it would be a violation of copyright to sell or give away unauthorized *copies* of a pattern, it is perfectly legal to use the pattern to create a design.

    There is some good information on pattern copyrights at If I am mistaken about any of my points, I would appreciate links to statutes or court rulings to support your position.

  5. Nicola,

    If the design is very common, it is not copyrightable, as one requirement for a copyright on a design (such as jewelry) is that it be substantially original. Much modern jewelry is based on designs that are hundreds of years old, so it would be impossible for someone to copyright these designs.

    This is partly why a design created from a pattern is not really a derivative work, as there would have to be an independent and valid copyright on the jewelry design itself, in addition to the pattern.

    While I don’t believe that this article was intentionally misleading, it is unnecessarily spreading a lot of fear among beaders, who are told that they are doing something illegal, when they are not.