Copyright is an issue of increasing importance to origami designers, as well as authors and professionals who use origami to earn a living. I shan’t delve too deeply into the legal aspect, since the laws are different in each country, but would like to present my views on the subject. Feel free to agree, disagree, correct, or even shoot me down in (polite) flames!
In the good old days, origami was an obscure art and the only issue that really mattered was “who came first?”. Yoshizawa accused several other creators of “stealing his work”, but it was largely pride at stake. Authors from within origami were generally respectful of a model’s ownership, but “jobbing authors” felt at liberty to help themselves to designs, treating every model as if it were a traditional design. In Germany, Irmgard Kneissler and Zillal Aytiire-Scheele published best-selling books with no credit for the designers within – Kasahara and Honda in particular were frequent victims. These books helped popularise the art, but (whether through ignorance or design) set poor standards.
Publishers nowadays (with a few notable exceptions) tend to employ the services of a recognised “expert”, who takes care both to gain permission and to give proper credit where due. There is usually a standard clause in the author’s contract stating that they are responsible for seeking permission for any designs within the book. In principle, this should cover the problem, but it does rely on the authors knowledge of origami and their integrity. With the best will in the world, mistakes do occur – I remember the embarrassment of including (with permission) a Kirschenbaum design in a books, then neglecting to include him in the list of credits. Since then, I always triple check credits before submitting the manuscript!
I have seen new origami books from authors (who should know better) containing models, sometimes with credits, sometimes not, often without with prior permission. This type of behaviour is totally unacceptable. To have one’s work published in a book is generally felt to be an honour and money rarely changes hands for use of a specific design, but this trust and recognition will only continue if we respect the rights of designers by asking permission to publish their work and giving them appropriate credit, as well as a complimentary copy of the book.
A solution to this is to educate publishers (and, where necessary, authors) that they must have written permission for each design used, and ensure proper accreditation. One way to achieve this is for anyone so abused to chase up the publisher responsible and insist on some kind of settlement.
Eventually, it should become a standard and this problem should disappear. Japanese designers such as Yamaguchi, Kasahara and Kawasaki have suffered more than most in this respect. Kawasaki’s classic rose is perhaps the most plagiarised design, with several websites selling folded examples with no credit, permission or recompense. It is almost impossible for the designer to pursue legal action due to difficulties with communication and the fact that they may feel any action would be somewhat demeaning. What we should do is bombard the guilty parties with emails, pointing out the issue. They may not respond, but bad publicity and loss of reputation is surely a persuading factor.
Origami societies may feel a responsibility to help here, offering their resources to help address breaches of their member’s copyright. The majority of creators simply don’t have the time, expertise or resources to take direct action. The differences in the law from one country to the next is clearly another problem. However, if we come up with a clear set of guidelines to apply world-wide, and present them through our websites, there would be less excuse for ignorance by publishers and individuals. Lang and Wu have been proactive in this respect.
E-books are another thorny issue. The ease with which people can harvest designs and sell them through ebay (and elsewhere) makes the temptation for an “easy buck” to much to resist. Some even offer scans of entire books, even recent ones. Since these appear on pirate sites, there is little chance of preventing them. We need to challenge anyone breaches copyright, those who abuse the trust and generosity of origami designers, and those who profit from the work of others where sanction for publication has not been obtained. Where possible though, we need to take these people on as well as their means of distribution. The origami fraternity is best-placed to do this and I feel it’s vital we do so on every occasion.