The Lister List

Copyright Issues

I am reluctant to enter into this discussion, because it is a bit like the argument as to how long is a piece of string. In the fluid world of creativity and invention the landmarks are no more than hazy shapes set amid shifting sands.

Although consideration of the attribution of paperfolded models is also inherent in questions of copyright, I take it that we are not talking about copyright in this discussion. (And heaven forbid that Origami-L should yet again venture into the murky realms of copyright!) What we are concerned with is the proper attribution of a model to its designer or creator or discoverer. (Incidentally, are there, in fact, any differences between those three terms?) When we founded the British Origami Society, we had the temerity to include a paragraph about copyright, but we didn't stop there, and because of the limitations of the law of copyright, especially as applied to paperfoding, we went on to stress that AS A MATTER OF COURTESY, all models used should be credited to their designers. The papragraph still stands in the constitution if anyone would like to look it up.

But like folksongs, paperfolded models evolve, and this applies even if they are not what we would call "traditonal" models. So a model, even one by one of the leading creative paperfolders of the day, may have elements contributed by several or even by many creators.

One practical question is, how far one particular contributor can claim a proprietory right in it and prevent it from being used by another contribuor, anxious to contribute to the evolution of a new species of model? This is a problem that has beset paperfolding ever since the 1960s. At first, Yoshizawa took the position that he would not claim to limit the use made of his models. However, as he came to feel that other folders were merely copying his own creations with minor variations, he changed his view radically and became very posessive about his models. Obviously, a variation is as long as a piece of string!

I have been writing about the question of rightful attribution of a model, which is a matter of COURTESY.. The LEGAL analogy is that of the law of patents. I want to keep apart my present discussion from considerations of copyright. Copyright exists in diagrams for the construction of models and in the finished model as a piece of sculpture. (But I wonder, does that cover the intricacies of the INTERNAL folds which are not visible in the finished creation? Would a pastice having an identical surface appearance be the same for this purpose?) On there other hand, the INVENTION, IDEA, or CONCEPT of a model is NOT capable of being copyrighted. If you seek legal protection in this respect, you must appy for the grant of a PATENT, the purpose of which is to give you a limited time to market your invention exclusively and to gain a financial reward for your innovation. It has nothing to do with art or design. The key word here is INVENTION, that is a NEW idea.

Some inventions are regarded as wholly the creation of a single inventor. Even so, there can be few inventions that do not employ the ideas of predecessors. Someone invented the screw. How many mechanical inventions do not depend on screws? So, in practice a mechanical device will include many inventive ideas.

Some may be subject to current patents enforceable at law, others not. Some ideas may have been patented, but so long ago that the patents have expired. Some ideas, probably the majority, may never have been patented and the inventors passed into oblivion. Each and every inventor contributed to the final product and make claim a share of the moral credit for it. But each inventor who holds a current is entitled to contol the use of his own particular contribution and to claim payment for use of his patent. To whom shall we attribute the totality new machine? Usually, we think of the inventor who thought up the latest NEW idea. But this is only a distorted and limited view of the total contribution to the new invention.

There is a word which is frequently used in legal circles and that is "SUBSTANTIALLY". It is not a word with any precise meaning. (It's close relative is the word "reasonably".) In sorting out the infintite variety of human life, activities and relationships, there can be no rigid precision. Common sense has to be applied liberally and lawyers have to keep their feet on the ground and make their decisions in practical ways. So is one invention substantially like another? Whose contibution has contributed the most substantitally to an invention? Has an inventor substantially infringed the patent of another?

Judges have an unenviable task, but if life is to continue in any ordered way, judges (and juries) must make practical decisions. Sadly in any legal case, someone must be the loser and that person is unlikely to see eye-to-eye with the Judge's decision on the matter. But in the fluid field of human relationships, viewpoints and activities, how could it be otherwise?

There have, indeed, been patents in paperfolding, but they have been rare, because appications for patents are very cumbersome and usually far too costly and in terms of common sense, simply inappropriate. But the same principles apply to our attiribution of paperfolded models as to patented inventions, whether the paperfolded models have been patented or not.

We should not therefore, expect any final answer to the question to whom a model should be attributed. Just keep your feet on the ground and oil your considerations with common sense and do nor forget that word "substantially." It is a relative matter and there can be no finality.


David Lister Grimsby, England. 

Something Wrong?

Please provide details below of any issues you may have encountered. Thank you

Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon