Sunday, October 02, 2016

Ceramics collectors should stop short of making knock-offs

A long-time reader of the column from Ohio and her husband used to collect a series of ceramic sculptures. P.A. writes that the company that made the sculptures created a series of villages including Dickens Village, the North Pole, and others, but she points out that other companies make similar villages.

Recently, P.A., joined some Facebook pages created by fellow collectors as well as a buy-and-sell page for the collections. She's discovered that there are a few people who seemingly don't want to pay the going rate for some of the items so they are making their own versions.

"Some are molding the houses out of clay," she writes. "Others are using 3-D printers. They are trying to create exact copies of the original pieces."

P.A. points out that some are creating the pieces for their own enjoyment, while others are selling their pieces. Still others are making new pieces of their own creation.

The people who are selling the pieces they've made to be "exact copies" are telling prospective buyers that they are copies and not originals. "I don't see them as trying to swindle people with fakes," writes P.A., "although you can really tell the difference pretty easily anyway."

"Is this copyright infringement?" asks P.A. "Is what they are doing unethical?"

Sure, the copies might have taken a lot of work to create, but that also doesn't take away from the fact that they are copying a design that rightfully belongs to someone else. (Painting a replica of someone else's original artwork also can take a lot of work. Trying to sell that copy also infringes on someone else's creation.)

The ceramic items that others create to supplement the villages they collect seem to fall into a different category. If such items are replicas of existing pieces, then it seems fair game to go ahead and create them or sell them as long as they are clearly distinguishing these items as things they make rather than new items released by the company creating the villages.

If the company encourages collectors of the items it sells to make copies, then they should feel free to do so. But it should be left to the company to decide if it wants to do this. (So far, it seems clear from its website and other materials that it doesn't want to.) The copiers instead might consider creating original pieces to sell.

The right thing for the collectors is to continue to enjoy collecting whatever villages and pieces they want to collect, but to stop short of creating knock offs to cut costs or make some extra money. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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