Origami Creators Sue Artist For Copyright Infringement Concerning Crease Patterns

from the fold-away dept

Wow. Via Joy Garnett, we discover the latest in a long line of ridiculous copyright lawsuits. Apparently six “origami artists” have sued painter Sarah Morris for using their origami patterns as inspiration for some paintings she did. From the exhibits in the lawsuit, you can see the origami folding patterns on the left, and Morris’ paintings on the right:

Yeah. The artists don’t seem to have any good reason for this lawsuit, other than that they don’t like derivative works. They exaggerate in claiming that copyright holders have full control over all derivative works. That is not true. Works that are transformative (as these appear to be) can qualify as fair use. I also think that if you look at the key prong in the fair use test (the impact on the market for the original), it’s difficult to see how these painting are not fair use. They don’t compete with the original patterns at all. If anything, I would think those paintings would enhance the demand for those patterns. After seeing the paintings, I’d be more curious about the original origami patterns… if I wasn’t so turned off by a bunch of greedy origami artists trying to cash in.

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Comments on “Origami Creators Sue Artist For Copyright Infringement Concerning Crease Patterns”

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Scote (profile) says:

Can you copyright origami?

I was under the impression that you can’t actually copyright origami but only the folding instructions, just as you can’t copyright game play or recipes but you can copyright the instructions. Origami USA disagrees, though, and claims that you can’t even teach a fold you learned from a book without express consent.

–However, the document seems to be the opinion of one attorney rather than a consensus.

You can, however, patent some origami, IIRC. I think there is at least one patented paper airplane.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Can you copyright origami?

No, the overall pattern of creases is the construction, not the instructions. To claim that the creases are the instructions is like saying that the 2x4s in your wall are instructions. Just because you can reverse-engineer your house construction from the pattern of the lumber doesn’t’ make the lumber into copyrightable “instructions.”

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Can you copyright origami?

Actually, if we’re talking about the physical creases left after a model has been unfolded, you’d be correct. However, these images of the fold pattern are included in the instructions. And they actually had to be drawn themselves, as they’re not just scans of a folded piece of paper. The final overall crease pattern is often illustrated in the instructions, which is where this painter pulled her images to color from.

It would have been smarter–and much more artistically interesting–if the artist had made the origami models, unfolded them, and then painted those sheets of paper. But, I suppose that would have been a lot more work than she intended to do.

Plus, she didn’t credit any of the original origami artists? That’s just bad ‘form’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

The purpose of copyright is to protect creativity. It offers no protection to things that are merely functional. What they’re getting at above, with the “game instructions” analogy, is this:

– The method of playing a game – the actual rules themselves, not how they’re written down – can only be protected by patent, not copyright.

– A particular expression of the rules may be copyrightable if it is creative. For example, if you write the rules in very lively, creative prose, rather than drab, functional outlines, your writing may be copyrighted. However, you do not now own THE RULES THEMSELVES, and any other person may write them “in their own words”

The confusion here is that the instructions (rules) are in the form of an image, and we are trained to think images are automatically creative and copyrighted. That is not the case.

The sequence of lines drawn on the paper is purely functional, because if you took “creative” liberties with it, you would have an INCORRECT diagram – just like if you took “creative” liberties with a souffle recipe, it might collapse.

There is limited leeway to express the instructions for a particular design. To the extent that those instructions serve only the function of communicating that information, they are not copyrightable.

For another analogy, this time dealing with images:

If you take a photograph of a painting in the public domain, it may be copyrighted, because your photograph is minimally creative (choice of lighting, posing, etc). However, if you go to great lengths to accurately make a digital scan of the photo which reproduces it faithfully in its original form, then what you’re doing is not creative, and the resulting image is in the public domain. This is not theoretical; this is the ruling on an actual case:


Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I just don’t agree that the simple image of creases is expicit instruction. There’s no mark up for how, or in what order these creases are supposed to be formed. How could a person possibly derive the final form from these series of creases? I’m not an expert, but don’t instructions have to contain some sort of–I can’t think of another word–instruction for what you’re to do?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Actually it is possible to make the bird just from those lines. I was actually looking at it earlier trying to figure out how it was folded. I’m not an origami expert so I probably couldn’t do it (I only got 3 or 4 folds in), but the people that do it for a living probably could. There’s also software out there that can.

Paper Rhino (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

It can be done and it is done often. I’ve done it myself. It isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are set patterns and well defined mathematical rules that drive origami. Also, the rule of thumb is that the creases almost always alternate between mountain and valley folds.

There is no order that the folds have to be made. Typically one makes all of the indicated creases and if done correctly the paper will naturally want to collapse into the base. From there it is just a matter of adding details to finish the model. Many of these complex models actually have no sequenced series of folds and can only be formed in this manner.

Lets take the hawk crease pattern above. Someone with a little bit of practice can see that the tail is the bottom left corner, the feet come from the upper left and lower right corner, and the head is the upper right corner. the bulk of the center of the paper gets folded inside the model. I’m not as good with insects but in this case Lang provided clues with the circles. The circles denote that that region of the paper will collapse to form a point. That makes 14 points, probably 6 for legs, 2 for wings, and the rest for the head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 2/2

It would have been smarter–and much more artistically interesting–if the artist had made the origami models, unfolded them, and then painted those sheets of paper

Also, if you read the PDF Scote linked, your suggestion is not acceptable according to this group. The declare that to be infringement, too:

May I fold someone else?s model?
It depends how you obtained the information on how to fold the model. If you purchased
the instructions or diagrams from the copyright holder for such instructions or diagrams, then there
is no problem. If you observed the model and figured out how to fold it, this would not be a
copyright violation as long as you did not unfold the model and devise a system of folding that was
substantially similar to the diagram developed by the owner of the copyrighted diagram or
instructions. If the owner of the copyright to the model has no copyrighted instructions or diagrams,
then there is no problem with your figuring out how to fold and folding the model in any manner
you choose for your own usage. For publication or commercial usage, the conditions are tighter; see

Paper Rhino (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Can you copyright origami?

In practice, crease patterns like these are indeed provided as the instructions to fold origami models, particularly very complex models like those used in this case. There is also an art to creating clear and understandable crease patterns as you have to pick and choose which creases to include, whether or not to show the circle packing and rivers, whether to show the direction of the creases, etc.

That being said, while I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Lang and the other artists in the suit, I think the suit itself is ridiculous and what the artists has done is clearly fair use.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Can you copyright origami?

I meant you can copyright the specific expression of the rules that you print as instructions.

You can if they’re purely procedural.

E.g., If it’s along the lines of “Add two tablespoons of pepper” not a problem. If it’s “Take a handfull of pepper and BAM!” you have a problem.

At least, that’s my understanding of the distinction.

Huph (user link) says:

I agree that this is a little nutty, but…

I also think that if you look at the key prong in the fair use test (the impact on the market for the original), it’s difficult to see how these painting are not fair use.

… I’ve always been led to believe that the key prong in Fair Use is the nature of the derivative work. Mainly, is it commercial or not? These paintings would clearly fall under commercial works since I presume they are for sale.

I think that particular point being the key is needlessly constrictive, seeing as how anything is commercial in the sense that it’s an advertisement for yourself as an artist. Unless of course you contributed all your works anonymously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I disagree. From Wikipedia:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

My understanding is that the the factors are listed in order of importance. The market impact is the least important factor–which makes sense considering that educational uses should preclude the market effect. I could be wrong, though. It’s not like Fair Use really has any teeth.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The copyright act does not state that the four tests must be done in a particular order, nor does it say that any of the tests is more important than any other. It does say that all four tests must be considered in determining whether or not a use is fair.
the way I see it, the paintings lose on test 1, and win or probably win on all three of the remaining tests, or overall, I would see this as fair use.

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The factors are in no way listed in order of importance. Different cases stress different prongs as having greater or lesser weight, depending on the facts present. Whether the work is commercial or not is by no means dispositive. Look at the specifically enumerated examples of what can be fair use under Section 107 — it includes news reporting, does it not? Isn’t most news reporting done commercially? If everything had to be noncommercial, it would be utterly incongruous to specifically enumerate a largely commercial activity as one of the “classic” cases of fair use.

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Are any of the origami artists claiming that they were planning on making wall-sized paintings based on their crease patterns?

What does that matter? How could we know each individual creator’s future plans for their work? Maybe they were planning to turn them into paintings. Can you absolutely say that they weren’t planning to do so?

Besides, it’s not about money or anything, this is about human decency. If you took someone’s designs and built upon them, then by all means the right thing to do is at least acknowledge the people that have helped get you where you are. It’s really sad that this happens to Origami artists, because they are constantly building on each other’s designs, but they are generally adamant about giving credit.

In fact, I have 3 origami books in front of me right now where at least 70% of the instructions start with the line: “This is a model based on a popular design by…”

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Besides, it’s not about money or anything, this is about human decency. If you took someone’s designs and built upon them, then by all means the right thing to do is at least acknowledge the people that have helped get you where you are.

Do you remember every time you learned something? Can you properly credit every thought you’ve had?

And then, do you know where they learned what they know? Are you crediting them?

And how many of these Origami folks were doing paintings based on paper creasings?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Who taught you to type, use a computer, read and look things up online (Wikipedia)? Why didn’t you credit them in your post your lack of human decency is appalling.

Mrs Brown, 1st grade reading. Mrs. Osborne, librarian ( research) Terry Owen, PC skills, Lestle Elliott, introduced me to Wikipedia. My dad … sarcasm.

Allison says:

It might be useful to point out that Robert Lang has in fact exhibited his crease patterns blown up to large size before as part of some of his origami displays. He and the other origami artists clearly consider their crease patterns to be artwork, not just instructions.

On another note, why do you think Sarah Morris tried to hide the origin of the crease patterns when she knew who had created them? And why didn’t she ask for permission to use them?

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The question is not “Why didn’t she credit or ask permission of the original origami artist?” The question is “Does she have to ask permission or credit the original origami artist?”

I would agree with mike and say that she does not need to credit or ask permission as her work is not meant to compete with the original origami artist. She is selling a painting based on the creases, not instructions on creating the origami pieces.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Patterns

> I would agree with mike and say that she does
> not need to credit or ask permission as her
> work is not meant to compete with the original
> origami artist. She is selling a painting based
> on the creases, not instructions on creating
> the origami pieces.

But if there’s a market for paintings of crease patterns, then the right to exploit that market belongs to the owner of the copyright on the crease patterns, does it not?

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Does she “have to”? Of course not. It’s not a precondition to create something. Does she need it in a legal sense? Well, that’s what this lawsuit is meant to determine. Does she have a moral or ethical obligation to credit the originators? *I* think so. Your mileage may vary. I don’t know that she should owe them money, but not crediting them is pretty low. Even us sample-based artists look askance at someone who doesn’t credit their sources. The only reason for doing it is a) avoiding detection/lawsuit or b) to keep others from re-flipping a sample–both of which are extremely selfish motives.

This was a stupid move by an artist who would have most likely been granted free and clear permission to do what she’s done. Like I said earlier in this thread, people into origami constantly build upon other people’s designs with proper attribution.

Seriously, the whole point of CC and GPL is that the original authors relinquish creative/financial control but demand attribution. I would figure that TD would be all about making sure the original authors get credit. After all, if you’re going to let someone build on your work so that you might be able to interest people in more of your original stuff, the crux of the whole endeavor is that attribution must be given.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I definately dissagree. Paintings don’t have footnotes or liner notes.

CC has various types of licenses, and only some of them demand attribution. GPL is about trying to arm-twist others into creating GPL content. It has nothing to do with attribution. The copyright notice is there for legal purposes of enforcing the license not for attribution.

Demanding attribution for being an inspiration to someone’s painting is lame in general. Also, you really take a lot of mystique out of the painting if you explain it’s origins. Guessing at, imagining (or determining) Paintings origins and inspirations are supposed to be an excersise for the audience.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Yes, so obvious you never thought of it.

Lots of art seems to be obvious–once you’ve seen it. But that doesn’t actually make it obvious. Take the iconic Obama Hope poster. Simple idea, bold execution. Anybody could do it, but it took Shepard Fairey to actually think of it and bring all the elements together with brilliant execution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yes, so obvious you never thought of it.

For gawds sake don’t reason with my trolling.

on the other hand, my personal view is genuinely that while art is difficult to define, people have disappeared up their own rectums confusing the fact that it is possible to define anything as art with meaning that anything not only can be but is art.

And that is before we get to the massive difference between art & design and accurately defining what exactly that difference is.

Colouring in to me, might qualify as design, but would never qualify as art until such time that I see some colouring in that strikes me as being art.
Thankfully, being only in troll mode today, I am happy to be the final arbiter of that for everyone (as everyone else actually is too if they would only admit it).

On the other hand, getting upset that someone is presumably convincing the gullible that their colouring in of your origami fold patterns has created anything remotely like art is foolish.
Going so far as suing is so obviously and utterly banal that it suggests that no person involved in any part of this nonsense is an artist of any kind.
That is, unless, banal is the new chic.

“Pope: Look, the Last Supper is a significant event in the life of our Lord. The Penultimate Supper was not. Even if they had a conjurer and a steel band. Now I commissioned a Last Supper from you, and a Last Supper I want.

Michaelangelo: Yeah, but look…

Pope: With twelve disciples and one Christ.

Michaelangelo: ONE?!?!

Pope: Yes, one! Now will you please tell me what in God’s name possessed you to paint this with three Christs in it?

Michaelangelo: It works, mate!

Pope: It does not work!

Michaelangelo: It does, it looks great! The fat one balances the two skinny ones!”

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes, so obvious you never thought of it.

on the other hand, my personal view is genuinely that while art is difficult to define, people have disappeared up their own rectums confusing the fact that it is possible to define anything as art with meaning that anything not only can be but is art.

Um. What?

Mike says:

Derivative Works

Assuming, for a moment, that the original pattern on the paper is copyrightable, I don’t think that this is a case of a transformative derivative work.

At the outset, it is an exclusive right of the copyright owner to create and prepare derivative works; it does not matter how transformative. 17 USC 106(2). But, like any exclusive right, it is tempered by a fair use defense. (id. at 107).

The “transformativeness” of a work weighs in favor of a fair use, but is not a defense in and of itself. You would still want to analyze under all four factors.

Moreover, for something to be “transformative,” it has to provide some other new social benefit — think parody, search engines, etc. Simply changing the expression or building upon it does not usually make something a “transformative” use. If anything it is much more like the situations of a photographer taking pictures of a sculpture which is not transformative.

That said, I doubt that there is any copyright in the first instance. The lines on the paper are just about as functional as it gets. They show where to crease the paper. This is a lot like the cases of people trying to get copyrights in printed accounting forms.

Huph (user link) says:

Re: Derivative Works

That’s not how these creases work. As someone else already pointed out, many people into origami do consider the patterns exposed by unfolding to be art.

The pictures of the creases in question aren’t instructions, they’re a document of what the final form would look like if it was unfolded. I challenge anyone to even tell me what these final shapes should look like based on the crease patterns, which are adorned with no instruction as to order and direction of fold.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some off the top of the head observations:

– There are differences between the diagrams and the paintings in many of the exhibits, lines left out, some whole shapes left out (she doesn’t like to paint curves?), several shapes painted in one solid color instead of demarcating fold lines, etc. They may not seem substantial, but they are there, those artistic choices.

– No crediting…that’s a tricky one. Should she also credit Mondrian or Diebenkorn for incorporating that kind of style of painting/expression? Do those origamists who are suing have sole rights to their diagrams or were they also taking or using or refining designs from others? It says right there in the complaint that origami is an ancient art form practiced throughout the world. Where’d they get their inspiration from?

– Fear of crediting? When these kinds of situations can get litigious at the drop of a hat, it might put rather a large chill on even mentioning you saw someone else’s work and were inspired by it.

– Where is the harm? The origamists are allowed to build upon thousands of years of history in their art but she isn’t allowed to build upon theirs?

I dunno. I’ve got an artistic bent myself and am trying to see the complainants’ point of view…but I’m having a big problem doing that other than, perhaps, if I were them, kicking myself for not thinking of doing what she did. I wouldn’t begrudge her efforts, tho. I think they’re quite cool. I’d maybe get in touch with her, let her know that I’d be thrilled if she mentioned my work as inspiration, who knows what it could lead to – joint projects, mutual benefit, wider audience, who can say? I wouldn’t waste time or money suing, why do people jump to that? More money than brains? I don’t get it.

Also, no matter what you think of it, more art is better. Less is worse. Whose side is copyright on?

Joseph K (profile) says:

Confusion of types of IP

As has been said, you can patent techniques, like in medicine or chemistry. But you can’t copyright them. You can copyright, for example, a particular literary expression of, for example, a recipe, namely the language used or illustrations. The same would apply to origami: you can thus copyright the particular form you give the instructions. For example, if you wrote up and illustrated instructions for a Phu Tran Rose that would be copyright-protected. The same would apply to a folding-diagram. That also means you can use that copyright over derivative works. An example of a derivative work is a book adapted to a movie because you’re translating the ideas of the book into a different medium. In origami an example of a derivative work would be, for example, making a steel sculpture that looks like a completely folded Phu Tran Rose. But adapting a painting from the folding instructions is not derivative, it’s transformative. You’re taking something which is just a functional set of instructions and transforming it into a visual work of art. This is not derivative since the real artistry of a Phu Tran Rose is not the process, but the final product. It’d be like if you took a video of someone painting a picture; they wouldn’t have any copyright claims over that video, if it didn’t show the painting.

Whether you can copyright an origami work seems like a tough question. Would you have to get Phu Tran’s permission to diagram his rose design? A patent on an origami work might be appropriate, though you can imagine why people wouldn’t like that since it costs so much money and time to file and is more short-lived. Perhaps you could apply trade secret protection for creating an origami work, though that would also be limited and would preclude publishing any instructions (and publishing such instructions is the main way to make money through origami). I think with the state of copyright law you could make the case that origami is copyrightable. But the sticking point seems to be the fact that these people publish instructions on how to replicate the works. The courts had argued that you can’t copyright recipes because the ingredients and their proportions are facts. Does the same apply to published origami instructions? Would it have copyright protection if no instructions were published? We might imagine similar cases, such as, for example, a magic trick. Does David Copperfield have copyright over the disappearing Statue of Liberty illusion? Does Criss Angel retain copyright over his levitation illusion, though he published instructions on how to replicate it?

From a practical perspective it should be evident that the amount of innovation in origami in the 20th century is immense, just as in the fashion industry and among illusionists, despite (or perhaps because of) weak IP protection.

Paper Rhino (profile) says:

Re: Confusion of types of IP

For the most part, origami designers believe crease patterns like these and other forms of instructions for origami models are analogous to sheet music. As with music, the performance (in origami’s case the model itself) is copyrightable as is the sheet music (the crease pattern).

Would a painting and coloring in of the full sheet music for a song still in copyright be considered transformative? I think so but I don’t think the legality of that is completely cut and dry.

Allison says:

If you read the complaint, you would see that she knows a LOT about Robert Lang, one of the plaintiffs… and a lot about his origami. She clearly knew where the patterns were from, but chose not to credit. Highly advanced origami patterns like these are very personal to each origami artist, as opposed to basic traditional patterns.

Gary Larson in drag says:

Re: Re:

I know a lot about Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci I was inspired to use his highly advanced composition, coloring, patterning and very personal vision to create and make tons of moo..la off of his slightly famous painting. I can’t remember if i credited him. Yea, he’s dead now and I assume that MR. Lang isn’t but really … what is the difference? Yes my art was transformative, I used his exact composition but my moonalisa has a slightly different face. Really now, if ol’ Leonardo was still alive do you think he would be suing me???

Wise (profile) says:


By reading the legal document, the legalese points towards the original 6 “artists/designers” having copyright documentation. Also it cites that the defendant has knowledge of the origin, but has never officially credited the work as being inspired by the direct authors thereof, only that they previously existed, nor does she ask permission towards the use of the patterns.

Though we like to pretend that it comes down to decency, what supersedes this is capital gain. If the [transformative] artwork profits, it would decently be at the behest of the creator, however it is not – I’ll beg to notion that the defendant consulted her lawyers prior to tasking the art in question and was told that it would be [transformative] and thus irrelevant for permissive rights.

newsgrist (profile) says:

Some thoughts on visual quotes, 'originality', and idea versus expression...

A long-time fan, this is my first ever comment on Techdirt. (Joy Garnett here, aka ‘newsgrist’).

Some thoughts:

– Visual art has ALWAYS utilized quotes: visual referencing. Visual language is composed of such referencing. In that respect, visual art is ‘open source”. Always has been.

– You can’t copyright an arrangement of shapes any more than you can copyright the color blue, or an arrangement of a selection of colors. Legally speaking, such things are usually “not sufficiently ‘original'”. At any rate, the attempt to make it impossible for another artist to re-use such an arrangement of shapes is not practical, nor is it legally or ethically viable. If such prohibitions were legally enforced (or even enforceable, which they are not), art production would abruptly cease — a perfectly Kafka-esque scenario. Of course, all the actual artists would go underground, leaving behind an above-ground cultural landscape populated by Disney, CNN, mangy old Associated Press photos, and Hallmark cards. Someone please write a juicy sci-fi thriller along these lines. You can send me my residuals poste restante. 🙂

– More on owning compositions: consider a Monet painting of a haystack: a particular geometric shape set against a horizon line, painted with a certain palette. By extension of Allison’s logic above, (where she states that Lang’s crease patterns were blown up and exhibited as paintings…), if artists were able to copyright compositions — for that IS what we are talking about here re: crease patterns — no one else would be allowed to paint the haystack in the same composition or utilizing the same palette. So much for Impressionism (etc), eh?

– Moving right along: Lang’s design, which initially was intended as an instructional diagram, is an “idea” and not yet an “expression”; if he himself took the idea and re-purposed it as a painting, then *anyone* can. And why not? These are instructions: instructions are meant to INSTRUCT. They offer a set of procedures to be followed. And procedural instructions are one of the things not protected by copyright… that is because they need to be covered by patent law, which has much stricter rules for inventions and new procedures. Did Lang patent those instructions? something tells me not; nor would he be able to demonstrate that his origami patterns are sufficiently unique or new vis-a-vis traditional origami patterns — and hence patentable. That they are not.

– Lastly: Sarah Morris appropriated these various arrangements of shapes in order to make her signature paintings; that they comment on the flatness of painting vis-a-vis the ironic use of patterns intended as templates for 3D objects is a conceptual twist that changes the meaning of these patterns considerably. This new meaning adheres to the crease patterns only in her work. They do not change, hinder, impede, supercede, destroy or harm the originating diagrams (or the market for them) in any way. This is one element among many that demonstrates how Morris’s use is a transformative use. This also highlights the fact that all artworks have a conceptual dimension, and are not merely about appearances — people! —> get past the notion that art is just about “appearance”! the underlying ideas are largely what contribute to the nature, meaning and purpose of any given work.

Anonymous Coward says:

As long as we’re flinging analogies around… sheet music is a copyrightable copy of a musical work. It is also a set of instructions on how to reproduce said work. Similarly, a crease pattern is a short-hand set of instructions on how to reproduce a paper sculpture that is itself copyrightable. SO, while it may very well not be possible to copyright the words “perform a valley fold here” any more than it is possible to copyright the symbol for a quarter not on middle C of a stanza, the work as a whole is itself protected by copyright, and should be protected in diagrammatic copies.

fan of origami says:

it is interesting that this made it to the blog-o-sphere at all, but it seems that more research has gone into the comments than the post itself.

For those who may not know, Robert Lang is one of the greatest artists in the field of Origami and he should be compensated for his work. This seems to be far more clear cut than the case Shepard Fairey just settled with the AP for an undisclosed sum.

To anyone that thinks a crease pattern is instructions i would invite them to check his site, grab any crease pattern and recreate one of his works> It can be done, but it only took me 10 years to learn how

Allison says:

Many comments suggest that the plaintiffs should have gotten in touch with Morris and worked something out… Lang did get in touch with her and she basically shut him down. Read the complaint, it is all there! Including her snarky letter to him which offers no credit or compensation, and basically tells him that what he makes is not art. This is why they were driven to the court, it was a last resort not a rash, gold-digging action. Like any artists, they want credit where credit is due. While they do build on fundamental origami concepts, their designs are very new and unique the origami world. It is more analogous to a painter building on the tradition of using certain brushstrokes. Morris should have involved the origami artists somehow from the get-go since she definitely knew who she was stealing from (again, read the complaint) and once she was contacted she should have at least tried to resolve the situation with them instead of blowing them off.

rob k says:

Final Verdict?

The dispute was settled as of March 21, 2013. At least that is the date of the article that says the dispute. One condition is that Ms. Morris will have to give some attribution to the other artists. Other terms and conditions were to remain confidential.

As soon as the origami artists drew their plans for what would be folded into some kind of object, the drawings were copyrighted. A work is copyrighted as soon as it is placed in “fixed form.” (Registration does not give anyone a copyright; their work is copyrighted when it is in fixed form. Registration simply helps to prove you got the idea first and gives you certain extra rights, like collecting statutory damages and attorney fees.)

Morris essentially took a copyrighted work of art and added color to it. That is a derivative work and is copyright infringement if you don’t have permission.

In addition, instructions are contain “protected expression” and are therefore, can be copyrighted. “The Copyright Handbook,” Stephen Fishman, Attn. Nolo Press Ch. 6 S. 4, “Examples of Works Containing Protected Expression.

Finally, I could find nothing in Nolo that even comes close to permitting this to be fair use. Fulfilling one condition for fair use does not help. All for factors must be considered. Particularly #3, the amount of a work used.
It looks to me like Ms. Morris used very close to 100% of the original work, if not, in fact, 100%.

I am not a lawyer. What I say here is based on material from “The Copyright Handbook” S Fishman Attn. Nolo Press 1994.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Final Verdict?

Morris essentially took a copyrighted work of art and added color to it. That is a derivative work and is copyright infringement if you don’t have permission.

Not necessarily. Derivative works can and have been considered Fair Use quite often. If it’s Fair Use then no infringement actually occurred and permission is not required whatsoever.

Finally, I could find nothing in Nolo that even comes close to permitting this to be fair use. Fulfilling one condition for fair use does not help. All for factors must be considered. Particularly #3, the amount of a work used.
It looks to me like Ms. Morris used very close to 100% of the original work, if not, in fact, 100%.

That is also not exactly true either. None of the four factors are any more important than the others – it all depends on the individual circumstances of each case. Nor does a Fair Use ruling require that ALL of the factors be met. There have been cases where only one factor was met, but was strong enough that the use was considered Fair Use anyways.

As for the amount of work used, there are no set rules defining how much can be used and still be considered Fair Use. In fact, there was a case in 2011 where a complete web article was used and the court still found that it was Fair Use.


Tommy says:

What I think most people don’t get is how much time these artists are actually putting in these models. Then a dude comes and tries to make money off repainting these crease patterns. This is what the artist like Robert j. Lang is living on. It is not greed, it’s their job. That may be the sued artists job aswell, but they could do something original instead.

Op says:

Can you copyright origami?

The crease pattern is actually the only instruction for this model, and believe it or not, origami artist do use the creases as a form of instruction not solely diagrams. It also sounds like nobody here understands the work that goes into designing a model and that his work is his only source of income. He should have made some of the commission here, he did 90% of the work

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