There is a great deal of controversy going on in the needlepoint world right now about this issue. Yes it’s true that there is plenty of illegal copying of needlepoint going around. Yes it’s true that there are plenty of canvases out there that should be licensed but are not.
It’s also true that many designers take great pains properly to license their work and many artists who make significant money from licensing their work to specific designers
But there are also folks who are taking it upon themselves selectively to police things they see as “infringements” and we are all the worse for it. The questions of copyright and licensing are complex enough that lawyers who practice this kind of law are specially trained.
If you think you know something about this, you are right to ask questions and be concerned. It’s highly unlikely that you know enough to pass judgement. You don’t.
Today we’ll use a specific case as an example. Let’s be clear from the start, I am not making a judgement about this canvas, I’m just pointing out how hard it is to tell where infringement begins.
When it comes to consumer products everybody “knows” the things associated with products and brands. That’s why we can identify items by their silhouettes. A dachshund has a different silhouette from a cat. You would not use one to be the other.
In this case it was a needlepoint of a perfume bottle. You see it at the top of the article. It’s a square bottle with a stark black and white label. The number 5 is on it.
But, in reality how close is it? You’ll find a picture of the actual bottle, from Fragrantica, below.
Looking at the two I see several differences:
- the needlepoint bottle is more square than the actual bottle
- the perfume is a different shade of gold, it’s lighter than some, but darker than others
- the label is a different shape, rectangular instead of square
- there is less writing on the needlepoint label
- the words on the needlepoint bottle are in a different order
- the seal and band is a different color
- the seal does not have the double C of the real bottle
- there is no gold in the neck or band of the needlepoint bottle
- the actual stopper is wider and more rectangular
Are these things enough to make it similar but different? I don’t know, but the important point is neither do you. It’s irresponsible of self-appointed police who have no training in these laws to make judgements.
A artist recently pointed out that if a design is licensed then the designer generally points that out or the canvas carries the artist’s name.
What can you as a needlepointer do?
- If you are in doubt about the legality of an image, don’t buy it.
- Ask at your needlepoint store about designs of concern to you.
- Shops ask the designers about these designs.
It’s up to us as stitchers to ask the questions, just as it’s up to designers to know the rules and to create properly authorized designs.
About Janet M Perry
Janet Perry is the Internet's leading authority on needlepoint. She designs, teaches and writes, getting raves from her fans for her innovative techniques, extensive knowledge and generous teaching style. A leading writer of stitch guides, she blogs here and lives on an island in the northeast corner of the SF Bay with her family
Unless I’ve missed a finer point it seems to me that having to detail the differences means it’s too alike in places for it not to be an infringement. Further, if it were a green round bottle labeled “No. 241” it might lose all its appeal. Isn’t that enough to also suggest infringement? There is an implied enough similarity to a well known brand for the designer to capitalize on the cachet of that brand.
Denise Zeman says
Excellent post! This is an issue that should concern us as the ramifications for purchasing an unlicensed design can range from a cease and desist to significant monetary “fines.” In this example, I understand your point about the bottle design, but I think that may only represent a portion of the issue. The use of the name “Chanel No 5” may also be a copyright infringement. As you’ve stated, we don’t know. What’s in public domain, how close is the design to the original, did the designer reach out to the trademark/copyright owner for permission, etc. It’s a very difficult issue. I really like your advice – if you’re uncomfortable about the piece, don’t buy it. Let the experts handle the situation – and there is no doubt the owner of the copyright will handle it. None of us, without proper training, is knowledgeable enough to act as an authority.
Janet M Perry says
Thanks heaps, you’re exactly right!
Janet M Perry says
There are two important things to get from this post.
1. There are things that make a particular item, no matter what it is, recognizable. If another items has these elements, it is recognized as that thing, Consider a hot dog as an example: long tube-like reddish thing on a long skinny bun. It can have many different toppings, it can be a dog costume, it can be a needlepoint canvas but if it has those elements, we recognize it as a “hot dog” in some form. The perfume bottle is exactly the same, it has those elements that make us recognize it. Your example of the green bottle with 241 on it does not.
2. None of us, unless we have done research or are specifically trained in copyright and licensing law, can tell what is and is not infringement. We know an exact copy is infringement, but we don’t AND WE CANNOT tell what is too close in non-exact items. That’s because different companies choose to protect different things. For example I worked for a company that registered the particular color of red used in their logo as well as the logo itself. That meant that if I used that Pantone shade of red, evewn if it was in an unrelated business, it was a violation.
See how sticky it can be?