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What's mine is mine

For most of my life, I have supported myself and my family with some form of woodworking: furniture making, house building, cabinet making, custom interior woodwork, and specialty wood items like chess boards.

At one point, I set about developing a unique chair design. Chairs pose an interesting challenge because they must meet a specific need. They must be constructed within a specific set of dimensional parameters and be designed in such a way as to be able to withstand the stresses of normal use. For this reason, most chairs look pretty much the same. But there have been makers who have developed what we would call "signature" designs. Michael Thonet, Hans Wegner and Sam Maloof are just a few that come to mind.

My design had to meet all of the usual ergonomic requirements and be recognizable as mine. I worked on this for over two years. While I was building the prototype, I photographed the step-by-step process, wrote an article and had it published in a national magazine. The chair made the cover.

A few years later, a hobbyist showed up at my shop with a book of pictures. I was both unnerved and flattered because his portfolio looked almost exactly like mine. He had made every one of my pieces, including the chair, from my magazine articles. This did not bother me in the least.

Some years later, a professional copied my chair and presented it – for sale – as his design. This bothered me a great deal.

Is it difficult to see and understand the difference between these two scenarios? I think not.


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