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PostPosted: May 24th, 2005, 9:40 pm
by Joseph Wu
malachi wrote:
Joseph Wu wrote:The current popular interpretation of copyright law amongst leading designers is that designs are copyrightable. This means very little since it has not been tested in court. Without that test, there is no legal precedent, and the interpretation is really just a matter of opinion. However, this interpretation has had enough weight to cause out-of-court settlements in such cases. So, from that point of view, distributing your own diagrams would require permission of the copyright holder. Of course, once such permission is given, the diagrammer would hold the copyright on the diagrams.

This is counter to my prior understanding of the issue, which was that the specific diagram was copyrightable, but the folds were not, so any person willing to document the model in a different way could freely publish it.

I had assumed that was how Alexandra Dirk published models (mainly boxes) through Sterling Publishing that are identical to Tomoko Fuse's boxes but are diagrammed with photographs instead of line drawings. Unless some of these out of court settlements are about that and I'm just not aware of them. Can you specify more about these cases?

I'm starting a new thread for this since hurda is an impatient man. :)

The original view of "diagrams are copyrightable, models are not" are an outgrowth of the copyright policy as published by the Friends of the Origami Center of America (the previous name of OrigamiUSA). They sought legal advice from their attorney, and that view was his interpretation of copyright law. This view soon became the accepted view in origami circles. However, if I remember correctly, he was not a copyright or intellectual property (IP) lawyer.

The key concept behind his interpretation is that copyright requires that the copyrighted material be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." He felt that an origami design was not fixed. I have always disagreed with this particular interpretation, and more recently, others have come to agree with me.

A particular origami design is a folding process that results in a particular model. That model is a tangible medium of expression. Just because instructions exist to help people try to duplicate the design does not invalidate it as a unique creative endeavour that was originally created in fixed form. Other examples of this sort of situation also exist: music, clothing patterns, architectural blueprints, etc. In all such cases, both the original creative design and the instructions are covered by copyright. I would argue that origami is similar.

I have consulted with two IP lawyers regarding this, and they agree with my interpretation. Both on my own, and with one of the lawyers' help, I have successfully received compensation for unauthorized use of my work. As these were all out-of-court settlements, I cannot provide details other than to say that my designs were used in advertising without my consent. This has included a case where a photo was taken from my website, and then it was heavily altered by computer before it was used in an ad. Another case involved models folded from diagrams taken from my site.

Please note that OrigamiUSA is now reconsidering their position on copyright. Robert Lang leads the Copyright Committee and they are working with an IP lawyer to draft new guidelines. I'm expecting they will be similar to my point of view.

As for Alexandra Dirk (and several other plagarists in the origami world), I know little of what has happened in the background. It is up to the copyright holder(s) to pursue it, if they want to.

PostPosted: May 24th, 2005, 11:12 pm
by wolf
Right. Now let's talk about crease patterns.

My main point of contention is that many designers do not provide complete crease patterns for their models, but one which is just sufficient for you to form a base, from which the final model is maybe 100, 200 steps away. Can you put a copyright on such a crease pattern then?

If so, I'd better start filing patent applications for a blintzed bird base, a double blintzed bird base, a quadruple bird base, etc, etc. :D

If not, where do you draw the line between a complete CP and an incomplete one?

Copyright of crease patterns

PostPosted: May 24th, 2005, 11:47 pm
by Joseph Wu
I've not given this a lot of thought, so I'm just going to "think out loud" here. Please don't take this as an opinion set in stone.

First, patents are very different than copyright. In my opinon, it is not worth the time nor the effort to get a patent on an origami design.

I would think that the destination is more important than the journey in the case of crease patterns, especially since copyright law deals with things that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." Since the model itself is copyrighted, then any instructions leading up to the creation of that model is covered under that copyright. Whether it is partial or complete, a crease pattern for a particular model is copyrighted as part of the model design.

However, as you point out, there's a huge amount of "grey area" to cover. (There already is in terms of origami design, but crease patterns are easier to get a handle on.) I would contend that if you had the crease pattern for a model (say, Jason Ku's hydralisk), and you created a set of progressive crease patterns (PCPs) from them, and then published those PCPs, you would be violating copyright. Why? Because they are created specifically for the purpose of duplicating a copyrighted design.

What if you designed a different model (say, a tree there's a subject I've never seen anyone do before), and it turned out to use the exact same base as Jason's hydralisk? You could make CPs, PCPs, or diagrams without violation of copyright because the instructions you make are for a model that you designed (and therefore own the copyright on).

And now the grey area: what if you took Jason's base and used it to design your tree sloth? We get into the old argument of how much change do you need to make to a design before you can call it your own. To my knowledge, this has never been definitively answered. The best gauge is from Robert Lang (and I'm paraphrasing from a half-forgotten conversation): if it is not recognizable as being a modified form of the original model, then you might be safe in calling it yours.

Anyway, like I said at the beginning, these are just my initial thoughts. Feel free to disagree and debate. :)

PostPosted: May 25th, 2005, 12:38 pm
by MeadowMuffin
Thank you for providing this discussion here. I've often wondered about how alot of these issues would play out, but have not really run into situations where I would have to worry about it.

Without trying to sound too much like a Pollyanna, I would like to think that the origami community is small enough for people to be able to communicate freely and derivative designs could be handled by simply giving proper credits.

PostPosted: May 27th, 2005, 3:17 am
by wolf
If I had the time and money, I might just go and patent the valley fold and the mountain fold, and see if they stick. Then all you commercial origami practitioners are going to have to pay me royalties, muahahaha.... :D Seriously though, with patent laws being the way they are now, this scenario might not be too far fetched. It's like the situation when low cost gene sequencing became available - just about everyone and their dog started trying to grab even the most inconsequential bits of the human genome for themselves, in the off chance that it might be commercialised someday. And since technical folding is today becoming available to the masses, so to speak, a similar situation could arise.

The problem with CPs, as I see it, is mostly with the "old argument" that you bring up. Before CPs, it was perhaps easier to distinguish the boundary, since all you needed were different folding sequences and detailing sequences. But now with CPs, the basic structure of the model is laid bare, and one can claim that the folding sequence does not matter. And yet, with enough detailing, it is straightforward to make the final models look vastly different from each other. So would it be valid if I claim that since the models share the same basic CP/circle packing, one is just a derivative of the other? Plus, with technical folding being a strict mathematical tool with exact solutions, independent 'discovery' of a particular CP is becoming more and more common. My gut feeling is no - bases are concepts and cannot be copyrighted, but the final detailing and finishing to obtain your own declared specific model (the end result) can be.

Perhaps the onus should be on the designers themselves - make your CPs as detailed as possible, with PCPs, final detailing instructions, whatever; and more importantly, if you post a diagram/CP/photo on the web, you should also make it clear how you want to restrict its use and distribution.

Two licenses I've been considering are the GNU Public Licence/GNU Free Documentation License, and the Creative Commons License. Respective websites are and I'm leaning towards the CCL, but I've been too lazy lately to update my website. :D

Since both of these are essentially "an agreement between friends", they may be a comfortable intermediate between nothing and the stricter copyright laws, particularly for the majority of origami designers who don't make money off what they do. It gets rid of the awkward situations when you have to ask permission all the time and for everything (and we all know how hard it can be to contact designers), and perhaps encourages sharing and adds more publicity for the designer, since there's now a lower barrier for others to freely distribute the work under the licenses.

Of course, either license isn't going to stop the hardcore/clueless stealer, but neither are the conventional copyright laws. The GPL has been tested in court, but not the CCL - however, with the increasing adoption of the CCL internationally (eg BBC Creative Archives), the CCL might have some stopping power soon.

Again, feel free to jump in and take my argument to bits!
(PS Joe, you're allowed to debate only if you're not going to do so from the point of view of a commercial origami artist. You know, like back in the days when this was still a hobby to you? :D)

Debate restrictions

PostPosted: May 27th, 2005, 5:42 am
by Joseph Wu
wolf wrote:Joe, you're allowed to debate only if you're not going to do so from the point of view of a commercial origami artist. You know, like back in the days when this was still a hobby to you?

:) It still is a hobby. Just because I also pay the bills with it hasn't changed that.

PostPosted: June 1st, 2005, 6:27 pm
by yee245
if i recall my knowledge in patents, i dont think you can patent the valley and mountain folds. it has something to do with it being widely known and it being something "obvious", and something with the fact that you'd have to patent within 1 year of public knowledge of the fact that you discovered it. this is just what i remember about patent laws from an engineering class i took. i could be wrong.

PostPosted: June 2nd, 2005, 4:32 am
by wolf
In theory, you're right. And yet today there's all sorts of ridiculous patents out there, most of which cannot really be enforced. So you won't make any money out of it, but you do get the satisfaction of holding the patents.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that the guys who review patent applications can't be expected to be experts in everything - which means that if you obfuscate the process enough, you've got a chance at getting it granted. How about, "A method for forming singularity-incorporating hinges of positive and negative inclinations in flexible fibre-based lamellar media?" :D

PostPosted: June 7th, 2005, 11:45 pm
by cybermystic
A method for forming singularity-incorporating hinges of positive and negative inclinations in flexible fibre-based lamellar media? You left out 'divisively' and 'planar' :wink:

Wolf, you are either the most evil individual I've met, or the most brilliant. Sadly, I think you're more right than you realize on this issue.

After all, the U.S. patent office employs government employees, who get paid the same whether they're brilliant or just barely competant. How can we expect a group of passing incompetants to even read a statement like the one previous?

PostPosted: June 8th, 2005, 3:18 am
by wolf
cybermystic wrote:You left out 'divisively' and 'planar' :wink:

Those are for the next two applications. Why blow them all on one patent?

Part of my real-life job involves patent applications - you quickly learn how to remove the extra fluff when reading them, and how to add the extra fluff when writing them. :D

- Dr Wolf
Evil Genius, Inc.
(okay, okay, I've been spending too much time playing that game)

PostPosted: June 15th, 2005, 5:13 am
by Kishe
I would think that the types of folds, i.e. mountain fold, are akin to musical notes in a song. The songs themselves are copyrighted, but the actual notes written are not. Of course, this also gets into the discussion of how much you can change something to make it yours.

Hehe, how 'bout that for a metaphor? Origami models are symphonies!

PostPosted: June 15th, 2005, 11:16 pm
by cybermystic
Hehe, how 'bout that for a metaphor? Origami models are symphonies!

Or, in my case, atonal cacophonies. To push it a bit further, would one who folds commercially be a jingle writer? What about those artists who make ridiculously simple folds for children (and beginners); what would they be?

PostPosted: June 15th, 2005, 11:35 pm
by Kishe
I guess the ones who fold commercially would indeed be jingle writers. And the artists who make the simple models for children and whatnot would be like folk song writers. I guess. :?

But someone like Kamiya or Kawasaki would be maestros! Maybe. :D

PostPosted: July 6th, 2005, 3:13 am
by malachi
Moving this here to avoid clutter. Why is it required to ask a designer of published diagrams if you can sell models folded from those diagrams?

If it doesn't matter if the seller cares what the designer says, just that the designer is asked, then why does it matter at all?

PostPosted: July 6th, 2005, 6:05 am
by origamimasterjared
**Coming from someone who has had no commercial success and hasn't drawn many diagrams because of how not-fun, difficult, and tedious it is**

We draw diagrams for others' enjoyment and enrichment. (and sometimes we get a little compensation, but never anything comparable to the amount of money we would get at even a below-minimum-wage job).

If you want to show your talent, and display one of our works, go right on ahead, sometimes it'll be better than our own folding. But like any patent or copyright, it is not fair for others to make money off our designs. A radio station can't just play the $15 CD available in the stores, they have to pay a whole lot more money.

A similar situation applies in origami. You acquire a free-$50 set of diagrams and get paid $1000, let's say, for an origami model you fold from these diagrams. While we are very happy for you, we would like to know so that (1) we know that it has been used, (2) we want credit, (3) money wouldn't hurt us either. And of course more (these are just the first three I thought of).