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Copying jewelry

Probably this topic has been discussed before and I did read a few forum posts regarding copying, but didnt get a satisfying answer.

I am a hobbiest and only give away the jewelry that I make. In the future I may donate some to a charity thrift store or sell at cost to friends. Given that scenario, I am wondering about the ethics (not law) of reproducing some jewelry that I see in stores or in movies, etc? I’m curious how professionals feel about that? .

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IF the piece has a copyright, you can loosely “reproduce” with at least 10% difference from the original and not run afoul in a strictly legal sense. Unless you have can actual piece in hand with calipers etc… its pretty hard to make an exact duplicate. Jewelry companies are in the same boat as the garment industry. They do go after copyists with threatening letters, but rarely pursue it any further. It’s too expensive. You can always describe your work as “inspired by…”



The following is by a former Orchid member on this topic from the post, “Re: Ethics of Learning & Teaching”:

"I have trained a few jewelers and I always encouraged copying other
people work. Copying is the most valuable tool we have to train
ourselves and others. Truly original work must be respected and not
reproduced commercially, but nobody should object to copying for
educational purposes, and I believe that no real designer would.

There are cases when some “designers” kind of stumbled on some
combination of decorative elements and they keep peddling them like
there is no tomorrow. One designer comes to mind ( no names will be
mentioned ) whose “great artistic vision” culminated in attaching
twisted wire to whatever seem convenient, and this “contribution” is
protected by an army of lawyers, like nobody before thought about
using twisted wire. Copying of that type of work should be avoided at
all cost.

I think that it is an unhealthy phobia of trying to avoid copying.
First of all, we are copying others work wether we know it or not. It
is a hubris to the N’s degree to think that you are the only one who
ever thought of particular combination of decorative elements.
true copying is very difficult. Go on an try to copy exactly some
other work. It is not easy.

I remember reading in one book on design following recommendation:

“Do not borrow other people ideas! Steal them outright and make the
ideas your own. It is in the act of appropriating ideas and adopting
them to your own style, the true originality is born”

Happy pilfering.

Leonid Surpin"

I believe art students still are permitted to copy museum pieces. I saw someone doing that once at the Metropolitan in N.Y., easel set up in front of a canvas.

Neil A

There is more discussion in this thread, and also in the thread “Re: Kim Kardashian Katches ‘KopyKatting’ Klaim”


In a legal sense, the idea of the “10% rule” is a myth, and if you think about it, extremely hard to define for a physical object. The legal standard for a copyright violation is that the infringing piece must be clearly derivative of the original, that’s it.

But you asked about ethics, not law. That’s something we all have to define for ourselves; ethical standards are not as clear-cut as legal ones. You can start with the Golden Rule, though: what if you had spent a lot of time, effort and money designing and producing something, but then saw inferior copies being made by people who had spent none of these things? If you want to do this and feel good about yourself, try explaining your position and asking permission from the copyright holders to make a derivative work based on their design. Who knows, they might say yes.

The legal standard for a copyright violation is that the infringing piece must be clearly derivative of the original, that’s it.

I’m not arguing for copying and selling others’ work as one’s own. I just have a question regarding the quote above. What is ‘clearly derivative’?

This won’t help you understand my question much if you are not familiar with the books I have in mind - a mystery series featuring a native American Charlie Moon and a police officer in a southwestern Colorado location written by James Doss starting in 1994, and a series featuring a native American Howard Moon Deer and a police officer in an identical-sounding southwestern Colorado location written by Robert Westbrook starting in 1998.

After reading some of each sequentially I did not realize for a while that the Westbrook stories were not the Doss stories. They seemed fully interchangeable and identical. The slight name difference didn’t register. To me the Westbrook novels are clearly derivative.

I don’t understand how the Westbrook series was not a copyright violation, but seven books got published. Neither Doss nor his publisher challenged Westbrook. There has to be more to copyright infringement than being ‘clearly derivative’, if an average person confuses one with the other.

I think that issue is the heart of the matter. What does clearly derivative mean? What is too close, and what is different enough?

Neil A

Hello danb,
As far as reproducing jewelry that you see, much of it is not original work particularly, so you are not stealing ideas. An SRB with some side stones is a pretty typical design and it isn’t original. A reproduction of an Edwardian design is not original. If you see jewelry that is from someone’s studio that is original, it would be bad form to copy it exactly, whether or not is is actually illegal. I think you can determine which is which with a little searching. If you use original designs as an inspiration and make significant modifications, that is OK, too. Hope this helps some. -royjohn

I took a class from this jeweler who does basically nature jewelry. If it looks too much like what she makes, she pulls the copyright card, even though nature can’t be copyrighted.

So, some will be flattered and others offended. The jeweler indicated changing three things in your piece takes care of that. I still say nature cannot be copyrighted.

Hope this helps.

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Very informative and thoughtful responses, thank you all. I’m not concerned about the legal aspects because I dont really plan on selling anything or reproducing anything more than once or twice.
I am not an artist or even a designer of jewelry, although I have created a few pieces of my own design. I can honestly say I would be flattered if I saw a copy of these pieces, however its is not my livelihood. I do understand how large scale copying could harm the businesses of some.

First, it is not a fixed question whether jewelry can be covered by copyright at all. Copyright extends, among the rest, to “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” It is arguable whether jewelry can be classed as sculpture. Some can be, others not.

“A ‘work of visual art’ is—
(1) a painting, drawing, print, or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author…”

Most commercially designed objects can be protected under patent law, which is different from copyright law. One can apply for a design patent, but this covers mechanisms rather than the artistic aspect of the piece.

Copyright does not cover ideas.
“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
Copyright only covers the specific expression of the idea, not the underlying idea itself.

So if Moby Dick were still under copyright anyone could write a novel about a bonkers sea captain chasing a giant whale, as the idea of the novel is specifically excluded from copyright.

These parameters are specific to US copyright law. International copyrights are covered by the Berne Convention, to which the US is a signatory but which may have slightly different definitions and strictures.

But, as was said above, ethical behavior is different from legal behavior.


Just a note regarding copying art in a museum. Paintings in particular. In Washington, D.C. you must get permission first to set up to copy, but you must change the dimensions also. I suppose other museums have similar rules.

Noralie Katsu

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Small correction: design patents only cover the “ornamental design” (and only for 15 years). See Patent process overview | USPTO Utility patents cover the what/how including mechanical type stuff.

As far as what constitutes a “derivative work” for copyright purposes (there is no magic like 10% or 3 changes) its whatever the court decides (after both sides have spent way too much money, usually thousands of $, re a one-off $250+/- piece of jewelry).

As far as the ethics, take the idea (a rose pendant with an x and a y or whatever) and make it your own. Look at what else is out there with the same idea and if there are hundreds of them, go for your own, if its someone’s signature piece, no way would I consider even a “close” copy ethical.

Good luck and, of course, have fun – but don’t discredit yourself as a “designer” either.


Your safest bet and one that won’t that won’t get you in trouble legally or morally would be to find tutorials for pieces you like and make those designs which are freely given. Plus, you get clear instructions. Win-win.


I post free tutorials on my website and will tell anyone who asks how I make what I make. Luckily, I don’t make my living from selling jewelry. Even if I did, I would still probably give away what I know as I have received a lot more than what I have given over the past nearly 50 years of making jewelry. Don and I make a lot of the same pieces because we were taught how to make them by our father. But if you were to compare them, you would find differences both in the final product and the process by which we make them. I have been inspired and challenged by many and hope that I can do the same for others. In the end, you know when you are just copying someone vs being inspired by their art…Rob


Eileen, that 10% is not true. Copying is unethical. Be your own artist or don’t do it at all.

Every artist owns a copyright to their work, internationally. Whether you are a hobbyist or professional. If copy a professionals work, you devalue your own. If you copy and sell or give away, you devalue their life time of skills, years of training, the necessities of acquiring tools and materials. If you want to be an artist take their inspiration but make something that is your work. Something that describes who you are and what you aspire to be as an artist.

I have taken classes where we have been given a theme and one product. No one in the entire class did anything similar. Be YOURSELF. If you copy someone else’s work you will always be a sheep, you will always follow someone’s dust. Being an artist is being a leader!


I’ve been reading this thread with great interest. I’m self-taught, but I come from a fine arts background where I was encourage to copy other famous works in order to learn about composition, painting and drafting techniques. These copies were considered technical exercises, like math or algebra sets.

I have been working through Betty Helen Longhi and Cynthia Eid’s book, Creative Metal Forming. In the chapter on anticlastic raising, they reproduce Heikki Seppa’s drawings of complex forms that can be achieved through anticlastic forming. There are no instructions on how to achieve these complex forms, just line drawings. If I, working on my own, figure out how to reproduce one of this forms from a drawing, am I violating a copyright? Is there a discreet line between theory and practice for the purpose of creating an item to be sold?

Many of the bracelets Rob and I make are legacy pieces from what Dad taught us. That is the only work I knowingly copy or have ever copied. At some point Dad started stamping a mark in the ends of his bracelets. He told me anyone can twist wire but when you make a name for yourself it is good to be easily known. Dad was a bug about about Hallmarks and marking whatever he made as are Rob and I. Dad was an antiques dealer and he knew his stuff. He said take two Mission Style side chairs that look identical. One says Stickley and the other says Larkin. They can be identical in all ways but the Stickley chair will sell at five times the price because of the name.

Make sure people know the work is yours.

I imagine the local market has bigger concerns with copying work than does a broader, regional or national market. I will not look to deeply at other people websites or their work when I see it a shows or in shops. And if I do I look at the backs of things to see how the mechanics were done. I am more interested in the steps than the finished product.

Be that as it may it is impossible not to look at a movie, magazine, video game, comic book, concert, or people on the street and not be influenced to some degree.


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Y’all seem to be rather strict about copying…the history of jewelry is so long that there are few things that are completely new under the sun. While I wouldn’t go to directly copying the work of some living, working artist, I really wonder about copying classics. For instance, what would you say if I copied a piece of very recognizable Arts and Crafts jewelry like the oak leaf pieces of Edward and Gilbert Oakes, if the copy were clearly marked with my hallmark? I would see this as an homage, not a copy to steal someone’s income and genius. -royjohn

If you look at who you were encouraged to copy in school I bet they were well known and OLD artists. I too was encouraged long ago to search out artists I liked. But a difference came in that as a class we were told to draw inspiration, and come up with an item loosely based on that artists design. Our teachers obviously differ. But then University to University schools differ. My husband hates it when we move (NOT doing that again!) since I have more art books from different mediums. I figure half my garage would be filled with boxes of books. It’s because maybe there was a new twist on how to accomplish a task, or some piece I liked had one aspect of it that intrigued me to create from in the future.

A friend of mine was taken to court over copyright infringement. She found after it was over and she lost thousands of dollars in defense, she should have not copied. Most wont take you to court, but there are a few who will, and have the money to make your life a hell. Be inspired, But don’t infringe with an outright copy. Seek that line or curve that melds some point in what you want to do, and copy that not the whole piece.

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I’ve read this with great interest as I wanted to know how others thought and felt about this matter. I, like others here, was classically trained in fine arts. Yes, we did attempt to copy great artists and old masters. I believe it was, in part, to try to train us in the discipline of a particular period or type of art; to see the techniques required such as composition, brushstrokes and what the different things shown in the paintings said about the artists and the norms of the time. The object was to observe, understand and hopefully have enough ability to faithfully duplicate what was there.

Many years ago, I was sculpting dolls and was involved in a local club. We had annual shows and one year I made one that was a vignette with a particular subject who was surrounded by very particular objects. Four months later, I saw the same subject surrounded by the same objects in a national magazine (not doll related) for sale by a very large company. I thought it was odd and was suspicious but put it down to “an idea whose time had come” until the same thing happened the following year.

I did not appreciate or feel flattered to have my ideas stolen and reproduced by another person and them benefiting financially. What made it even worse was that weren’t as good as mine, technically or artistically. But they were mass produced.

Yes, we are all inspired by what we see. Even on a subconscious basis, we are informed by what we’ve seen and experienced and it comes out through what we make. But personally, I draw the line at outright, intentional copying. I made a version of a piece inspired by the Caning gem, a baroque pearl piece with Poseidon, but it is very different.

Right now, I have six pieces made of a line of jewelry that I am showing to no one for exactly the reasons that are coming up in this conversation. I am waiting until I have a body of work before I show them publicly and intend to do it several places at once so that perhaps I can get credit for the idea, at least for a short time. I don’t have the money to pursue people (or countries!) in a lawsuit, so this is the best I can do.

I encourage everyone to do you. It’s better to be a “real” you than an imitation me. With jewelry, there are only so many ways to make a ring, earrings or a pendant. There are only so many earring wires or studs you can use and of course, most of us use the same or similar ones. But if the piece has a distinctive element; such as a pierced backplate for a gemstone on a pendant, don’t make the identical piercing. Come up with your own idea. Even if you are only making for yourself or to gift to particular people, if the idea is yours you are giving something uniquely you. That way, you are truly giving of yourself.

Just my opinion.