Printing Violations (Part II)

Cookie Cutters

Back when I wrote my Printing Violations? post I brought up the issue of licensing, and while I am a believer of open culture and sharing, I’m still torn on the topic of artists who take the creative work of others (even if the “others” are huge corporations) and use it to make money.

When I saw the post Maker Mom Builds Cookie-Cutter Empire With 3-D Printers my first thought was about the rights and licensing issues. (I was then pleasantly surprised to see the comments addressing the issue right away.)

Cookie Cutters

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Athey is not an artist, she’s a really good artist, and has some impressive and very well executed designs. This is important, I think. I mean, anyone can download an image of a video game character or a Dalek and quickly make it into something, but her work is well beyond that. Still, is it right for her to be using things others have created to make money? Her web site at says:

Now I’ve somehow turned what started as a hobby into a full-time job!

I spend a lot of time thinking of myself as a terrible artist, and I’ve made plenty of badly drawn robots, but I’d feel much better about myself selling a badly drawn robot that is my own creation than a well drawn robot that someone else created. (I’m going with the belief that Athey has not properly licensed the characters she is using.)

Of course there’s the issue of licensing… It’s no secret that I use a lot of art from to make things. The license of all art on OpenClipArt is Public Domain Dedication which states:

You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

So yeah, I’ve not sold anything I’ve made yet using art from OpenClipArt, but at least I’d feel fine doing it. And yeah, I have friends who make good money making things based on successful movies, games, books, etc. Maybe this is just the world we live in now, where everyone is a maker and selling of things, and it’s all just a big mash-up anyway.

I guess I’d break things into a few categories:

A.) Using things others have created to make things for yourself.

B.) Using things others have created to make things to give to family/friends as gifts.

C:) Using things others have created and creating design files that others can use.

D:) Using things others have created to create and sell things.

I’m all for A. and B., and I think C. is pretty much OK. (Think of the many items on Thingiverse) As for D., that’s the one I’m still not sure about, and that’s the one Athey and Warpzone Prints falls under. What do you think?

(I should probably do a post in the future that talks a bit more about my own usage of others work in my own art, as I’m not completely free of that behavior myself.)

6 replies on “Printing Violations (Part II)”

Etsy is the Mos Eisley of unlicensed merchandise. (For example searching “Mario” returns 10,000 items, “Mickey” 31,000) If Nintendo or Disney (or the BBC or Hasbro) wanted to crack down they’d be completely within their rights. It’s their licensed material and these guys are making money off of it without permission, there’s not safe harbor for selling handmade. The only difference between Jack’s or Jane’s Disney merchandise on Etsy and on a container ship from China is scale.

Of course it would be someone’s full-time job just finding crafty violations and sending them C&Ds. Then there would be backlash complaining about [Company] destroying innocent people’s cottage businesses. It would be expensive in both manpower and bad PR.

And that’s the only reason that I can think that they don’t do it. Or maybe it’s a matter of scale. If you sell 1 or 2 they look the other way. Sell 100 and you’re on The List.

If I saw that someone was selling merchandise from a character that I had created and hadn’t asked me, I’d be plenty unhappy. And I say that as a huge fan of Open Source Stuff. But even Open Source comes down to respecting the spirit of the license. When people don’t do that, there’s trouble.

I have people who reuse my images and videos to sell counterfeit goods (fake conductive thread.) It’s deeply frustrating trying to get Etsy, eBay, etc to take any action when I come across a violator, and I’m hesitant to send out DMCA takedowns because I’m not a huge fan of that legislation.

The concept of licensing is flawed. Corps only want to do 7 figure deals (6 at the minimum). Nintendo wouldn’t let you develop an app for their Wii console without a $10k dev kit and a proven track record of publishing games. On the other hand, MS reached out and helped indie developers make games for the x-box. Some companies get it, others don’t want to be bothered. As soon as somebody starts making real money they will demand back pay for licensing, otherwise ’tis not worth their time throwing lawyers at $10k, $20k, $30k/yr profits.

Now, if companies just said, hey sign up and pay us a nickel for each print artwork you sell with Mickey’s likeness on it, artists at conventions would feel a whole lot more comfortable opening up the flood gates on their copies of work.

Sure, ’tis the right of the corporation to deny anybody to do anything with anything that slightly looks like Mickey Mouse, but why? What benefit do they get from intimidating people? What benefit do they get from slowing notoriety of their works? Control …. but that’s it. It’s pretty sad for them to think that someone who rents a booth at a con could steal profits from their next direct to Blockbuster DVD release of Aladin 17, but that’s the world we live in.

“Etsy is the Mos Eisley of unlicensed merchandise.” – hilarious, and true… Yeah, these are complex issues, and I think Steve’s thoughts about “scale” and Mark’s thoughts about “control” are central to the whole thing.

Also, this bit “If I saw that someone was selling merchandise from a character that I had created and hadn’t asked me, I’d be plenty unhappy.” is what I often say to people when I mention that I respect the rights of other artists, because I want to them respect me as well.

Pete I think you hit the keyword there: “artist”.

Not corporations, companies or trusts, but respecting the rights of other artists. When there is a clear relationship between the work and its creator, the use of it becomes more “personal” and it’s much more clear what right and wrong are. This is why I believe that the solution to this problem is to make it illegal to transfer ownership of work like this*. That way you are working directly with the artist when negotiating the use of their work which solves all of the problems associated with both the legal and moral issues raised here.

Furthermore, (at least for now) artists expire automatically, at which time their work should be released into the public domain, not sold/transferred/inherited/etc.

*when I say “like this” I’m referring specifically to trademarked images, brand identifiers, logos, etc. Other things such as physical manifestations of objects, source code, literature, etc. may require variations on this rule but I just haven’t thought about them enough yet to get specific.

Jason, I think one of the problems is that many artists need to make money by working for corporations, who tend to take control of the things that artists create. (I have no solution to that problem, but I mentioned it anyway.)

That’s why I think this has to be a change to the law that makes it illegal for an artist to transfer ownership of the work; otherwise any resistance to the current process will just result in companies engaging artists who are willing to be exploited.

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