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Jewelry molds at auction


#1

Earlier this year a rather large number of rubber molds were sold at
an auction I attended. I found this very troubling because for
several reasons. The sale was part of a court-ordered bankrupty
seizure. So the owner was not giving them up willingly. This
situation pointed up a lot of weird issues about design ownership.

I asked the auctioneer if there would be any copyright issues if I
bought the molds. He said that he didn’t think so because the auction
was ordered by the court. But he didn’t seem to really know anything
about the concept of copyright ownership by the simple fact that
someone is the original creator.

There was a possibility that some of the molds might not have been
the actual property of the jeweler who was seized, as he was known to
be a contract manufacturer.

I bid on the molds. They were very nice, but I was rather conflicted
about the ethics of using them had I been successful. Somebody is
going to get them. Why not me? But I had been in a situation myself
several years ago when a contract caster I was dealing with stopped
answering the phone. I went as far as calling the sherrif to get my
molds back. OK, if I buy them I will be very cooperative with anyone
who claims copyright ownership. As it turned out I didn’t win the
bidding.

But here is another issue that maybe some of the legal minds on
orchid can chew on. For my own molds I usually stamp the model with a
copyright symbol and write “copyright S. Walker” on the mold with a
Sharpie before it is vulcanized, along with the date. My thoughts
about doing this was that this should prevent my molds and designs
from passing to another jeweler in case of any number of scenarios.
But if if my property was ever seized by a court order, for any
reason, wouldn’t the copyright be seized also? By attaching the
copyright declaration to the molds am I in fact making it more likely
that I or my estate would lose the copyright if I ever was in the
same unfortunate situation as the jeweler mentioned above?

Stephen Walker


Andover, NY


#2

Any molds that I make for my retailer’s get sent back to them after
each use. It’s redundant but I don’t ever want this problem. Plus I
don’t want to be accused of selling their designs, so back to them
it goes. I just pump what I need per job, then right back. Too bad
for the guy who had to auction his own stuff. You bring up some VERY
good questions and points! Thanks!

Steve Cowan
Arista Designs


#3
... if my property was ever seized by a court order, for any
reason, wouldn't the copyright be seized also? 

I’m not a lawyer, but from my understanding of the law, your
copyrights are not transferred along with the physical molds, or the
castings made from those molds. If you sell a ring, for instance, you
don’t sell the right to copy it, unless you specifically execute a
contract to that effect. If your ring (or the mold that was used to
make it) is seized from a third party by court order, I don’t think
that changes this basic principle. Certainly having a mold makes it
easier to violate your copyright, but it doesn’t make it legal, any
more than if the violator was to make a mold from your ring herself.
If in the case you mention of your contract caster vanishing, if your
jewelry, with your marks on it, had suddenly started appearing on the
market, I don’t see the person reproducing them successfully
defending against your copyright suit by saying he bought the molds
legally, and that gave him the right to produce your designs without
compensating you. It sounds like you’re really better off for not
having “won” that batch of molds…

Andrew Werby
www.computersculpture.com


#4
I'm not a lawyer, but from my understanding of the law, your
copyrights are not transferred along with the physical molds, or
the castings made from those molds. If you sell a ring, for
instance, you don't sell the right to copy it, unless you
specifically execute a contract to that effect. 

But this is where it gets tricky. This was not a typical sale
between a willing seller and a buyer. It was a forced sale by court
order. I see no reason why the court couldn’t just as easily sell the
design copyrights as they could order the sale of any physical
property. Now in this case the molds were not labeled with copyright
notice. The ones that were available for inspection only had numbers
on them. The court order made no mention of copyright according to
the auctioneer. So possibly the original owner could contest that the
buyer didn’t have clear title to actually use the molds he bought. On
the other hand the buyer could very honestly say that there was not
notice that the designs were subject to copyright. Especially since
the sale was court ordered it would be resonable to assume that the
buyer has the legal right use to the tooling purchased.

But does this kind of thing actually happen in the real world? Has
anyone ever heard of a dead jeweler’s estate trying to hold onto
copyrights after molds have somehow passed on to another
manufacturer? Or has anyone ever gone after molds sold improperly
when a contract caster went out of business? I have seen used molds
offered for sale before this. I know of companies that make a
business of buying old molds and offering waxes to casters. Do these
guys ever really get burned by any of the potential legal
technicalities?

I thought I was pretty clever when I started putting the copyright
notice on my molds. This situation described above makes me wonder if
this wasn’t really just vainity and the chances anyone is going to
fight over my molds after my career is over is pretty unlikely.

Stephen Walker


#5

Hi guys,

I’ve been pondering this for a couple of days. Near as I understand
the situation, it was a bankruptcy sale, right? In that case, the
court can seize and sell all of the assets of the company in
question. No problem. What it can’t do is seize property that
doesn’t belong to the company, yet happens to be present in the
building. You don’t relinquish your rights to your property simply by
carrying it through a door.

This happened to a friend of my wife’s. He’s an aircraft mechanic,
and had his tool cart (with tens of thousands of dollars of tools)
in the hangar of his employer. They went belly up, and the local
sheriff’s office chained the place up, prior to an auction. With his
tools inside. It took a lot of fussing, but he finally managed to
get his tools out before the auction.

If the client actually owns the molds, I don’t think the court has
any legal right to sell them. I don’t doubt it happens, and that it
would be a right mess to straighten out after the sale, but it
shouldn’t. I suspect the onus would fall on the owner to make claim
before the auction.

FWIW,
Brian.