Inspiration or litigation?

Jennifer Linderman contacted me on FB with a question – I thought I’d share this and my answer, in the best Listeriine tradition!

Hi Nick! I have an Origami copyright/design question. Last year when we had our Christmas Origami design competition I designed an model. Am I considered the original designer of this model and any derivative of this model would still require that I receive credit for the design? According to Robert Lang’s site he says: a modification of a creative work is considered a derivative work and the original composer retains rights in the work. Can you please clarify the rights regarding an Origami design/model? Thank you for your time.

Dear Jennifer,

There’s no simple answer. Yes, knowingly derivative users should contact & credit you, but that’s assuming a) they’d seen your design and b) they created theirs afterwards. The chance that it was created independently still exists and whilst we like to think our designs are unique and seen world-wide, it’s unlikely to be so!

If I come up with a model that seems original to me, I always try to find if someone else got there first – I have a few contacts who are extremely well-versed in origami who can usually confirm or refute the originality. In the end, it’s just pot-luck whether you find a matching design, even if it’s out there. Then comes the issue of “what differences are there” and whether these differences are significant enough to give the design some credibility as new work.

Sometimes I see a model, like the concept and use it as inspiration for a totally different model – it’s impossible to say at what point it becomes original, if ever. All you have in the end are your contacts and your own sense of morals. As I’ve said before, we stand on the shoulders of giants every time we being a new design. I seen “my” designs rediscovered many times, I generally wish them the best of luck in their creative path. What else can you realistically do?

However, even if they did “borrow” work, they can still just thumb their nose at you. There is little, if any, legal precedent for this and the law will vary from country to country. Even Lang’s recent case, whilst it could be viewed as successful in many ways, was settled out of court.