I need some help, dear readers. As I'm outlining projects I want to build in future semesters of The Hand Tool School, as well as future projects on my Renaissance Woodworker site, I have come across a design conundrum:
Technically everything I do both on my free RW site and my premium Hand Tool School site is, in some way, for profit. The RW site is really a marketing engine for the pay site, and through it I also receive income (albeit small) from affiliates and Google. So if I build a project based on a modern design where the originator is still alive, or at least a company maintains the design, is this unethical?
For example, I have been wanting to do some more contemporary stuff in The Hand Tool School. I would love to build a Conoid chair by George Nakashima or a Maloof style chair. I've also had readers write in and ask how I'd go about constructing the Yaffe Mays Sligo chair. Is this profiting from someone else's design if I build it and document it on my website? What if I build it as part of a paid semester at The Hand Tool School?
Using words like "inspired by" or "in the style of" gets into some hot water too as no matter what changes I make, the source will still be obvious. And in many cases, the original design is just right and why would I want to alter anything?
If I were just any old woodworker documenting one of his builds, I don't think this would be an issue. However, the Renaissance Woodworker persona and everything related to it has become its own business (and a full time job) so do I now cross a line by building a modern piece? I may be building a piece for my own use and enjoyment and not even trying to "teach" someone how to build the piece, but the fact that I broadcast it on one of my properties could be seen as profiting from the design. Of course legality is a major concern, but there is also the gray area of perception. While I may be legally safe, would I become a pariah in the woodworking community for being perceived as stealing someone else's work?
I want to do the right thing, but you can see how this gets a little hazy. What do you think? And where do you draw the line between a direct copy and a piece "inspired by" someone else's work? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
This "Hand Tool School" series is provided courtesy of Shannon Rogers, a/k/a The Renaissance Woodworker. Rogers is founder of The Hand Tool School, which provides members with an online apprenticeship that teaches them how to use hand tools and to build furniture with traditional methods.
Shannon Rogers started woodworking by trying to build a proton pack, and has been in love with the craft ever since. He runs The Renaissance Woodworker website which is dedicated to spreading the love about hand tool woodworking. He is also the head glue pot keeper at The Hand Tool School where teaches thousands of woodworkers on 6 continents (still trying to find somebody in Antarctica) how to cast off the power tool oppressors and build "the hard way".
By day Shannon is the Director of Marketing for J. Gibson McIlvain, a lumber company founded in 1798 that supplies high quality hardwoods from all over the world to everyone from Calvin Klein, the New York Yankees, and the US Government. He is a wood nerd through and through and often finds reasons to inject latin botanical names into everyday conversation.