I certainly feel uncomfortable about ripping off somebody
else's design and have told the client. My best recourse would be
to modify the design in some way, but I even feel weird about this
IANAL but you are absolutely right to be uncomfortable COPYING
someone else’s work. Copying copyright protected work–which even 3
dimensional art may be–is illegal by US law and international treaty
regardless of whether the work’s copyright is registered or not
(unregistered copyright is automatic the instant the work is in a
"fixed" form). Even creating a “derivative work” is illegal. In
either case the odds of you being taken to court, or even receiving
notice of infringement or a demand for compensation, are miniscule
but that doesn’t make it right. Visit http://www.loc.gov/copyright/
for more info, to register copyright in your own creations you would
use Form VA.
But, Copyright Law has restrictions that may not make it applicable
to mass produced jewelry depending on how the courts may interpret
"sculpture," “sculptural,” “applied art,” and "work of visual art"
which I have not researched. I’d be interested in a legal opinion on
whether even the Copyright Office uses the term "work of visual art"
on their Form VA inconsistently with the definition provided in the
law so I’m going to post a question on the misc.int-property news
group and get back to you with a more legal answer. (The Form VA
explicitly says “applied art” is a “work of visual art” but the law
just as explicitly says it is not.)
My personal bias would be to apply the Golden Rule regardless of the
technicalities of the law.
James E. White
Inventor, Marketer, and Author of “Will It Sell?
How to Determine If Your Invention Is Profitably Marketable
(Before Wasting Money on a Patent)” www.willitsell.com