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On the way back from Handworks, editor Megan Fitzpatrick asked me a question I get a lot: “Does it irk you when people build your furniture designs and fail to credit you when they post them on social media?”

Answer: Not at all.

For me, the reward isn’t that someone praises my design. The reward is that they were inspired enough to pick up the tools and build something. Building something from nothing – that’s as rare as squirrel disco.

I freely give my original designs up to the world. Make as many as you like. Sell them. Adapt them. If you are a builder, then you are OK by me. The only way you will tick me off is if you try to sell my plans – freely given – to others. (There are a variety of scammers who do this.)

Why don’t I care about my intellectual property? I do. I just think that the Internet is a smart enough place to sort out truth from falsehood. Say you build a Roorkhee chair or stool from my “Campaign Furniture” book and claim the design is yours (ha!) or as an “historical pattern.”

The Internet will expose you.

Neither of those projects are directly from historical examples – I developed the turning profiles myself and grafted them onto historical examples. I know this truth, and anyone who knows how to use Google Images does as well. So if you start trying to hawk these designs as your own, you will soon be walking through the woods with your pants around your ankles with a trickle of blood running down one leg. That’s the way the Internet works (yes, I’ve had a beer this evening, why do you ask?).

So what should you do if you don’t want to be a jerk? Acknowledge where you got the plans, idea or even inspiration. Doing this doesn’t make you less of a woodworker or a designer (craftsmanship matters) and it makes you a better person.

The original chair from Stratford.

Here’s an example from my own work. The chair at the top of this blog entry was inspired by a chair I photographed in Stratford, England. The version above is significantly different than the antique (especially the crest rail). Yet, whenever I discuss this chair I mention the Stratford connection.

Version three of this chair.

Right now I am building the fourth version of this chair and it doesn’t share a single dimension with the original. The seat is different. The legs are octagonal and have a totally different rake and splay. The armbows are far more complex and shaped compared to the original. And the crest looks nothing like the piece I saw at Stratford. There are at least a dozen other differences I could list here.

If I were selfish or stupid, I could claim this as an original design. That would be foolish. When you compare the original chair to what I am building there is a clear connection between the two that anyone could spot. I could make all sorts of excuses and say that my new chair is nothing like the Stratford chair, but the photos don’t lie.

And neither should you.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 11 comments
  • RFbilliards

    A number of years ago I had a guy working for me. He decided one day that he wanted to start building pool tables for himself. At first I was cool with it, then I started to see he copied every detail of the pool tables I designed and built. I mean he stole every detail. Then has the nerve to call it his and began to tell people that he trained me how to build pool tables. This kind of stuff makes my skin crawl. There is nothing wrong with using peoples work as inspiration for yours, but give some credit to the original maker and change somethings to add your own design to it. Oh well, some people have creativity and some people steal it. The thing I have found through my 40+ years in business is that the people who come up with their own designs are the ones that stand the test of time.

  • rwyoung

    In the words of the immortal Tom Lehrer :
    Let no one else’s work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
    So don’t shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize…
    Only be sure always to call it please, “research”.

  • scrollerz

    I rarely follow plans directly. I usually adapt them for my own style. It is not uncommon for me to compare several of the same pieces to finalize my end project. To that end I have created my own style I call it Shaker on a mission. I do pay a lot of attention to the processes of how something is done. Some projects I take on just to learn a technique. And I must admit in at least one case because an author said something could not be done.

    Thanks to all that have inspired, educated, and challenged me in my woodworking

  • Craig

    Have you published the plans or an article regarding the Welsh Chair in this article? I would like some more ‘inspiration’ for a similar chair.

  • tms

    I looked though my own website and realized that while I haven’t claimed your Roorkhee chair as my own, I also hadn’t given you just credit. I just now changed that; my apologies. Thank you for your generosity and encouragement.

  • Darrell Peart

    I agree with you partly.
    I have made several pieces over the years that are loosely based on a specific Greene & Greene design. While these pieces have elements of my invention – the core of the original G&G design is still present. I have often seen furniture for sale that copy my changes to the original. While it would be nice to receive an acknowledgement – I feel these pieces are not my property and others are free to do what they will with them.
    However, many of the pieces I have made are my original designs. While they often have the flavor of Greene & Greene -their pedigree cannot be traced back to any other work. In fact, many elements of these pieces are simply products of my imagination.
    When someone copies my design for personal use – I feel flattered that they liked my work enough to emulate it. I do prefer it when I am acknowledged – but it’s not the end of the world if I am not.

    BUT (here’s what gets me riled) if someone copies my design for commercial purposes – That is NOT OK! I have spent years honing my design skills and it is the primary thing that sets me apart from my competition. Stealing my design to sell in any form – is stealing from me.

  • Stroland

    I will be doing a demonstration tomorrow night and I will start off by giving full credit to the person who inspired me as well as their website. I will not be compensated for the demo and I will not be selling the item I will build. I will also state where I got the ideas for making the tools I will be using, providing book names and also the source for the parts used in the making of the tools. The reason I do this is because someone else did it for me. The reason I buy books written by authors who inspire me is that I want them to remain in business to provide inspiration to the next generation. Thanks Chris!

  • BLZeebub

    As a young man (and self ascribed artiste) I was always haranguing others about derivative designs and what I believed vehemently were rip-offs. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser (no more berets and Pernod) I indulge those with lesser creds knowing that all’s fair in love and sawdust. I know a Maloof chair AND I know what a derivative Maloof looks like too. Some are quite good in their execution while others… miss the mark of the man they “borrowed” from. Sam said it best when relating what another artisan said about whether he worried about being copied, “If I do my work well and good then in time perhaps my work will stand for something more than all the copies that may appear like mine.” Small comfort for a patent or copyright holder but then again, the speaker was not of the Western (ownership culture) persuasion. So nowadays I ascribe to the same notion, to do my work well and good. Selah.

  • captainjack1024

    Furniture designs aside, I am definitely stealing “squirrel disco” for future use.

  • Kevin0611

    I make a point of crediting the person whose design I copied or whose plans I followed, not for fear of being exposed by my (small handful) of Instagram followers (though that would be embarrassing), but I credit them as it’s an easy way for me to say “thank you for inspiring me”.

    Oh, and Chris…thanks for inspiring me! (that’s easy too)

  • Sullivans Papa

    Well stated Chris.
    At one point in the past, I complained about your being a shill for manufacturers and you robustly denied the accusation. Since that time, I have read your disclaimers many times. I for one believe you.
    As for freely providing “inspiration” I’m not of the same mind but that what makes the world go ’round.
    Enjoy your work and words immensely!

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