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Jewellery Making, Copyright & Being Unique

With so many jewellery designs out there, how can you ensure your jewellery is unique and like no other?

With most jewellers selling their work online, the exposure to jewellery designs is huge. Although most of us would like to think no one would copy another designer’s work, unfortunately it does happen so it’s important to put measures in place to protect your brand and jewellery designs and avoid anyone using your content or designs.

In this post, we look into your intellectual property rights, additional measures you can put in place and what to do if you are being copied. We also hear from jewellers who have experienced their designs being copied and find out their thoughts on the matter - would you be flattered or really disappointed?

Automatic protection

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at what protections your jewellery business already has.

Copyright: This protects your designs and stops others from using it without your permission. This includes “Writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings” - GOV UK. Copyright lasts a minimum of life plus 50 years and at least 25 years for photographs.

Design right: “Shapes of objects”. This is the overall shape of your design, use of materials, gemstones, texture, colour, techniques used. This right protects your design for 10 years after it was sold or 15 years after its creation.

UK Intellectual property protection you can apply for

Trademarks: This includes product names and logos, which enables you to take legal action when someone uses your brand without your permission, it also allows you to use the ® symbol next to your brand name and enables you to sell and license your brand. Trademarks last for 10 years.

Registered designs: This includes the appearance of your jewellery designs, the shape, patterns and colours used. This allows you to prevent others from using it and allows you to take legal action if anyone copies your work. This provides you with the right to prevent others from using your design for up to 25 years, and you have to renew your design ever 5 years.

This post was written in October 2018, to ensure you have the most up to date information on the current copyright protection, please click here for the GOV website.

Choosing a unique brand name

It’s an exciting time setting up your own jewellery business but this takes a lot of time and research.

There is a lot to take into consideration, such as your brand name. Not only does it need to represent your brand, be memorable but it has to be unique.

To ensure that the brand name you have chosen hasn’t been used before, you can do research into whether another business is using the same or similar name.

You can do this by researching on the internet, searching public registers such as Companies House, searching for a trademark on GOV.UK and looking up registered domain names. If you are ever in doubt, seek legal advice.

There are many risks when using the same brand name as another business, especially if it is in the same sector as you don't want your businesses to be confused for another.

Business names are protected under the law of ‘passing off’, so you may be at risk of paying compensation to the owner for any loss they have suffered such as customers being misled or if it has affected their reputation. 

The most important thing is to choose a brand name that is unique to you and represents your overall design and style.

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Ways to protect your jewellery designs and content

Document your process

The best thing you can do is keep evidence of your design process is by keeping a design document. Include photos of the initial sketches up until the finished product, all annotated with dates. But don’t forget, your work is only copyright protected once the finished design is out there. With this document in place, you will have stronger evidence when it comes to taking legal advice if anyone copies or uses your work without your permission.

Create a copyright statement

If you have a website for your handmade business, you can reinforce that you know your rights by including a copyright statement. An effective way to inform and warn others of your intellectual property rights. This includes all website content, from text, photos, branding, website design, blog posts, product descriptions & titles and jewellery designs.

Have unique website content

Creating a website can be a daunting task, you need to ensure that all the content on your website is your own, not copied from another website and that you only post your own photos or royalty free images.

Watermark your photos

You have the choice to use the copyright symbol © on your work however this does not give you any further protection, it simply reminds others that they cannot use this work without your permission or copy the design. There are however some downsides of using watermarks as they can be distracting and some websites and social media platforms can stop your images from being viewed if text or logos are added to your photos.

Seek legal advice

If you are ever unsure about your rights, consult a lawyer to understand your rights and what procedures you can put in place to ensure that your brand and jewellery designs are protected.

What to do if your jewellery is being copied

Stay calm! This can be a horrible feeling when you find out your designs are being copied, and can lead to loss of sales and can devalue your brand. Gather the evidence of your design process for the particular design, have proof that the other party has copied you and seek legal advice.

You also have the option to contact the other party who you believe has copied your work. This way you can understand from their perspective of their design process - this way, you can be sure that you’re right. If you believe they have directly copied your work, you can also kindly ask the other party to stop selling this item and if it’s online, ask for it to be removed.

You need to be sure that the other party has directly copied your design, if you are wrong you can be sued yourself.

Find inspiration but remember to be unique

With so many jewellers out there, surely everything has been done before? Of course, designs are going to be similar but if work has been intentionally copied, that is when it becomes a problem.

Most creatives need to find inspiration, whether that’s from magazines, social media or craft fairs. There is nothing wrong with admiring someone else’s work and being inspired to create a new design as long as it’s unique to you. What you need to do is take this inspiration and combine it with your own style, materials, colours, textures and techniques.

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Imitation or flattery?

Over on Kernowcraft’s Facebook page, we asked our customers how they would feel is another jeweller copied their work. Lots of jewellers responded, with many jewellers stating that they would be angry, others said they would be flattered while others have stopped selling their work altogether due to this problem.

We asked on Facebook - How would you feel if someone copied your work?

Read below the comments about this issue from the jeweller’s community itself.

Deborah Rhian Clarkson - "I think these days with the internet and saving pictures, Pinterest etc. it's just to be expected that someone might copy it or borrow your idea. Some of my designs are very original so it would be annoying but then again, I've made stuff that has been inspired by other people's designs so I've come to the conclusion that it's just part of being creative and I am going to accept whatever happens. (I just hope if they copy my stuff completely I'll still sell as many as they do!)"

Lisha Collins - "I am a teacher by nature and I love inspiring people. After hundreds of years of people making jewellery, there is little totally original. However, if you are in the same market and you obviously reproduce someone else's work. That is not acceptable."

Dee Wilson - "You can look at this a few ways... If someone says I like your design do you mind if I have a go....fab...I'd feel honoured that they liked my work....if done without any acknowledgement...I'd be rather upset..."

Tracy Miller - "Copyright is a minefield. To protect your design you need to keep meticulous records of the inspiration, design concept, design process and finished article. Almost everyone gets their inspiration from something else, it’s up to you to prove originality at the end of the day."

Carol Anderson - "I've already experienced this... At first I was really angry, but then I felt sorry that they did not have enough imagination to devise their own designs. It's all very well using other people's work to inspire your creativity, but blatant copying of more complex work or original ideas is wrong."

Amanda Rawling - "I'd feel really annoyed and then I'd try to mangle my mind into a shape where I could see it as flattering, and then remind myself that creativity is more important and move on. You might be able to tell that I've been through this process once or twice 🙂"

Dee Nelson - "Copyright and intellectual property are very complex and certainly law is constantly changing in this respect. For example, music copyright was 50 years until fairly recently when it began to be noted that many writers are kicking about into their 80s and 90s. Cliff Richard was one of those arguing for a longer period. As with music, given that we have an artistic history going back 30, 40 thousand years it's very difficult to say that what we have created is truly original. Most artists and craftspeople adapt from existing work but if it's say, beadwork using a particular stitch, proving originality and design is distinctly tricky. If I truly think I have made an original piece, I'd photograph, add notes, mail to myself and leave sealed as is legal advice so that I could prove when I made it. However, since we get inspiration from everywhere and we change and adapt ideas, the fairest thing is to acknowledge the artist who inspired you and try to alter their idea in a way that pays homage, but is clearly different. Anyway, it's a very grey and difficult area..."

Michele Brenton "I had this happen to me with a poem I wrote a few years back. I had a short article published in a now-defunct literary magazine a few years ago all about copyright/plagiarism/intellectual property and how I dealt with my specific experience.."

Dawn Radford - "I have had this happen to me which I was part cross and part flattered as they are a professional and I am just a hobbyist. They took my basic design and improved upon it because they are so much more experienced than me. Their piece sold within 2 hours. In the end, I chose to look at it as just them either having a similar inspiration at the same time or using my idea as a jumping off point. It has however stopped me posting my work on social media."

Gem Toms - "It's happened many of times. My thoughts at first was pretty pi$$ed but if my creations or ideas can benefit someone else better then myself then I'm for it. Life's about loving not hating. Be inspired or be the inspirer xx."

Penny Chapple - "It's been so interesting reading all your comments and I'm finding it quite therapeutic. I have an issue with a copycat but you've made me feel much better and not alone with my frustrations. Thank you x x."

Pixie India Stamp - "Disgusted! It's happened to me in the past and apart from being very angry I was also very heartbroken that somebody could do that so so blatantly without any care or consideration to my work 😢."

Cheryl Forrester - "I saw someone selling a copy of my jewellery, then noticed the date on their post, it was earlier than mine, so I would be classed as the copier. I make modern geometric stuff so not surprised that 2 people would independently get to the same design. I genuinely didn't copy!"

Ilona Hodes - "Actually ...If someone copied my work I would be quite thrilled. "As long they didn't claim it to be their original idea"

Frances Greenwood - "It’s the same as the knock-off handbags you find on market stalls! That’s not ok, and neither is stealing jewellery designs."

Emma Wyatt - "It's disheartening and a little soul destroying. Especially when they tell you they're going to do it."

Linda Kirk - "No problems - just give a named inspiration on any detail. Unfortunately, it's the way of the land now."

Laura Gardiner - "As they say...every piece has been done before."

Rūta Watts - "I read somewhere that when you buy handmade, you’re buying not just an object, but a piece of someone’s heart, a part of their soul. That’s how I’d feel. Like someone stole a part of my heart. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to come up with something truly unique. I think people like to claim ideas they feel are theirs, and then find out others had come up with something very similar. It happens very often to me, and I get very discouraged because I wouldn’t dream of stealing pieces of other people’s souls like that!"

Sharon Underwood Whale - "Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery but oh so annoying!"

Angela Osbaldstone Smith - "Slightly impressed that they thought it was worth copying but also very very angry."

Carol Hitchcock - "As I'm not selling my stuff these days, I would be flattered!"

Hayley Tamera - "Everyone takes inspiration from someone or something, but if it was something I'd created then I think they should at least ask permission and credit you in their work. 😊🤔"

Letitia Dixon - "If my photos were used as their own I would seriously be miffed."

Peggy Pasquini - "If I want to be original in my design, I will have to be ready to be copied."

Peggy Neithercut - "It's happened often over the years...I had someone tell me once it wasn't an exact copy so ok...these days each piece I create is unique so I just continually move on treating each new work as a piece of art a continuing flow of inspiration...as it's going to happen though if it was taken overseas for mass production I would be really annoyed as apart from devaluing the original it's mostly impossible as an artist jeweller to pursue them through the courts...it has happened once to me."

Viv Cash - "I would be delighted and I would hope they enjoyed making it!"

Kim Fox - "As they say 'imitation is the finest form of flattery'"

Emily Booth - "I think with jewellery design it's hard to be completely original. Most designs have been done before or a variation of. So it would be hard to prove if someone copied you. I would take it as a compliment if it was another individual designer like myself and hope I sell more it! If it's cheap Chinese rip-offs sold for a fraction of the price then that is disheartening..."

Anne Green - "You can create something original and then flick through Pinterest and see it - oops no longer original! I think I’d be flattered if someone took inspiration from my designs but if it was an outright copy I’d be unhappy. Luckily my designs are quirky enough to be original - I think 😂😂"

Christine Gray - "I would be flattered."

Jenny Franks  - "Very angry 😭"

Resources: GOV UK

At Kernowcraft we are not lawyers! This blog post is for informational purposes only, if you are affected by any of the issues raised in this post we recommend seeking legal advice on how to proceed.