Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Legal Question

Orchid Friends,

I have just completed an involved project making replacement lids
for two Japanese antique cloisonne vases. The lids were no larger
than 1" diameter and had a combined number of over 400 gold and
silver wires that made up the designs. I learned a LOT on this
project and would like to write an article.

Please note that I did nothing to the vases at all. I only used
their design elements and colors for the removable lids.

My question is: Am I headed for trouble by identifying the artist
that created the vases?

These four-inch vases are approximately 100 years old and are signed
on the bottom. There is no question who created them. The current
owner mentioned that the artist’s family might have a problem with
the use of the name because technically they “owned” it. I believed
that as long as I identified the artist I would be in the clear.

The owner commented that if a reader were familiar with Japanese
cloisonne, they would recognize the artist’s work without the name
being printed and if they weren’t familiar they probably wouldn’t
care one way or the other.

My feeling is, as example, that if I were working with a piece of
enameled jewelry I would rather mention that the piece was a Lalique
rather than an unidentified piece of “antique jewelry”

I can live with this either way but would like your input.

Thank You in advance and an additional Thank You to those that
helped along the way with previous posts. The first was an inquiry
as to what the traditional base metal was on Japanese vases. The
second post was about mold materials for casting the tiny finials.
My most recent post was about an abrasive cross-reference chart. In
each case you Orchids helped provide additional clues to my own

Orchid Rules! Karla in sunny S. California.


Your question is an interesting one because it touches on the
subtleties in copyright and trademark law. But here’s a way to think
about it more clearly:

If you are “quoting” a source (i.e., “that was a Lalique vase” or
"That’s a Tiffany window") you are providing attribution of the
original work. You are giving the original artist the credit for
their creation. (Like when you wrote a paper in school and created
your bibliographic references!)

If you are, on the other hand, “claiming” to be the source (i.e., “I
created this Lalique vase” or “I created this piece of Tiffany
glass”), then you had better have the legal right to use the trade
name owned by the company (or family or artist) in question. (As
though you plagiarized that paper by representing it as your work
when it was really copied and pasted from someone else’s paper.)

So in your case, you created pieces “in the style of X” to enhance
originals by X. You are not claiming to have invented the style or
claiming original design, and you are not representing your work "as"
that “brand.” Rather, your work is designed to accompany work by the
other artist and to replicate his/her style of work. Therefore, you
are attributing the original artist’s work, and that all falls under
Fair Use Doctrine in U.S. Copyright law.

If you are not sure about this, you can read the law yourself
(google “fair use”) and/or consult an intellectual property attorney.

Does that help?

Karen Goeller
Hand-crafted artisan jewelry


So you want to write an article about the job you did and the owners
don’t want you to mention the artists name.

Of course they can’t forbid you that. I can imagine working for the
radio and get sued every time I say TAFKAP instead of Prince, just
cos he doesn’t like it anymore.

I would rather respect their wishes since they are your clients, not
for legal issues.


My thoughts are that if the piece is over 100 years old, it is in
the public domain and legally can be used as you like. An example:
If I were a composer and wished to make an arrangement/medley of
Italian opera overtures, I would not have to pay royalties to the
families or estates of the composers of the original operas as long
as the music was in the public domain and the source I used wasn’t
under a current copyright. I probably would want to cite the work
that was being used, but not for legal reasons. This is one reason
why classical music is played so much on ads, as background music
and at symphony concerts; you have to pay the musicians, but you
don’t have to pay Mozart or Beethoven for using their compositions.
You would, however, have to pay John Williams (composer of Star
Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and other films) if you decided to
use his music for public or commercial purposes…but I’m not a
lawyer, so get professional advice!


Putting in my two cents’ worth… the only reason I can think of for
the owners to tell you not to disclose the name of the maker of the
pieces is if they are not supposed to have them. But then, maybe I’m
too cynical and/or suspicious.


Chord patterns are not copyrightable. If they were, it would not be
possible to write any new songs today, because almost every pattern
ever thought of has been done by someone. Hence, if you wanted to use
the same chord pattern, and write your own song it might sound
somewhat similar to a famous song. But if you use the same melody
line as the original then you will be in a whole bunch of trouble.
Further, if you copy a modern arrangement of an old Beethoven piece,
then you owe royalties to the arranger of the modern arrangement, but
not to Beethoven. My wife has a few copyrighted tunes, and we have
spent a fair amount of time looking at this. A person needs to become
familiar with 2 orginizations called ASCAP and Henry(?) Fox Agency(
I can’t remember the name at the moment). Both of these places
collect and distribute royalty payments for copyrighted music and
arrangements. Still, seek professional advice before you dive into
any scenario where you are using someone elses design, item, music,
recording, or any item that has been ‘artistically created’ by
someone or a company. Afterall, would you want someone to make use
of your ‘creation’ or work, without you making your deserved profit?
People tend to rationalize these situations based on the size of
their intended use, but if you look into the matter , you will find
there is no mention in the law of how big or small that someone may
cheat the creater. Ed in Kokomo