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Copyright and Origami – an unfolding of hypocrisy

origamiRecently I received a question about copyright and origami.
I investigated issues around copyright and origami and what unfolded was a surprising amount of hypocrisy.


Origami – order out of chaos (http://flic.kr/p/dKGZTe) by Sheila Sund (CC BY 2.0)

Origami is a traditional art form of folding paper to create artistic works.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no copyright involved in it.  Some designs – like The Crane are out of copyright, but instructions are artistic works – showing you how to fold the paper – and those instructions can be very recent and very much under copyright!

If you create a three dimensional work (folded origami), based on a two dimensional work (instructions), that is a derivative work.  Generally speaking, if you create a derivative work (a work based from someone else’s work) then you will need permission to do things with the derivative work if your use is anything other than personal.

There’s an implied permission that you can make the origami – these are open access instructions that encourage you to create… but it’s hard to justify that that implied permission goes beyond a permission for your personal use only and many websites are clear that
it doesn’t!

In my investigation I found that many origami websites had a heavy handed attitude to copyright.  Many assert that their instructions are in copyright and you  may not use the instructions or the creations you make based on those instructions in any way outside of personal use without permission.  Many websites policed this so heavily that they even reported that they had shut down other websites and removed YouTube clips that utilised or sold creations based on their instructions!

I noticed that many of the sites provided attribution to other artists for the original design of the origami featured on their site.  The hypocrisy unfolded as I contacted a number of the sites and asked whether they had obtained permission from the original artist to re-use their design and/or instructions and make them available online.  All but one advised that they had not.  I was shocked that these sites can so rigorously hunt down and remove the websites of those that have used their instructions, and yet had not sought the required permissions for their own creation and use of derivative works – some even commercial!

As is often the case with using copyright material, it’s best not to guess and not to take the risk.  If you want to do something with origami – sell, publish, promote – then stick to designs and instructions that are clearly in the public domain (Google ‘public domain origami’ and there will be plenty of sites).  You can of course seek permission from the copyright owner from other sites – just check that they are the copyright owner and haven’t merely peddled out someone else’s design as a derivative work without permission!




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