Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

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"Magdalena Magnum" obverse side view in D2 extremely high carbon die steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Pilbara Picasso Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-tooled leather sheat
"Magdalena Magnum"

Copyright Infringement and Knives, Intellectual Property Law

Thou shalt not steal.

Exodus 20:15

Disclaimer and Legal Advice

What you read here is what I have learned from over three decades of making knives, and the legal advisement and experience I've had doing so. I am not a lawyer, but have paid thousands and thousands of dollars to learn what I have from professional attorneys in this field during the course of my career as a professional knifemaker.

What you read here is probably more than most knifemakers ever consider, and one thing I can be certain of: the conversation, protection, litigation, and defense of artists and craftsmen will continue and increase focus, as every legal realm has done in the past century. The more that knives are considered art, and the more that knifemakers are considered artists, the more the legal defense of artwork will continue to escalate. This is not something that will be ignored in the future; it is a current and serious issue in our world that is a major focus of current and pending litigation.

If you have even one small question about this, it means that you are responsible enough to consider legalities in this tradecraft, and I urge you to seek your own professional legal advice in this matter. Do not assume, do not stake your fortune or your family's future on guesses. Please, don't stake it on this page, either, as laws continually evolve and I am not the source for legal advice, but just a knifemaker who has been through my own individual legal experiences.


I encourage you to take a stand for your own creations, your own family, your own work, and your own designs. This will have more meaning to you than any other part of the effort. When you have completed your own design and made the knife, people will ask you where the idea for the knife came from. You can be proud to say it came from you.

Beware Copies of Knives

Please understand the frank and abrupt language of this page. Like many other successful artists, my work has been copied by those who think that they can make a quick buck or two off the back of a successful knife maker. These guys may be foreign or domestic, people who think that the value of a knife simply exists in the design pattern, placement of the bolsters and pins, or the arrangement of the knife. They will slink into the site, copy the photograph (which alone is copyright infringement) and use the pattern photograph from my patterns page (which is also protected) to make themselves a knife or blade blank. They'll illegally print off photos from my site, and then trace over the hand-carving on the sheath to copy my artistic designs. Then, they try to sell these knock-offs, copies, and on their dinky, ineffectual, and cheap web sites. They figure, I'm certain, that they will be successful at this, that they will somehow benefit from what they have stolen from me, and other successful makers. They are either lazy, incompetent, or ignorant, and obviously do not respect another's work.

I'm not alone as a target. If you are another successful maker, you have also had your work copied, imitated, and had your copyrights violated by these thieves, but here is the very important thing to remember: their work is always poor. Bad finishes, rough grinds, poor grind terminations and lead-offs. Poor carving, poor tooling, weak aspects and lines. Distinctive lack of embellishment, quality, and information exists on these knock-offs. For all they try to copy, their work will not sell for 1/100th of what fine, handmade work by well-known custom makers make and sell. Fine knives appreciate in value, the knock-offs are an embarrassing waste of money and time. Though there will always be people who purchase a knock-off or copy for a few pennies, their value, worth, or importance are doomed to be scrap heap knives. If you are looking to purchase a knock off, and think that there is some way that it can be of value, you owe it to yourself to get educated on what you are buying. Poor work is poor work, no matter who's fine work it's patterned after, and the investment you hope will save you some money will be worth nothing the moment the transaction is complete.

People and companies who violate copyright, design patents, trademarks, and utility patents are well known in this as in most industries, and shunned by everyone who knows the score. Word does get around, and it's then easy to see and know who they are. They will never get be successful, and never get ahead in the world they wish they could be a part of; they will simply fade away after a year or two. They are, in no sugar-coated terms, cockroaches.

If you are a knife client, whether you are purchasing a kit knife from eBay, Craig's list, or from a cookie cutter web site, you owe it to yourself to do some background work, and check into the source of your purchase. Many of these copies are coming from foreign countries, are made of poor and non-durable materials, made with an obvious lack of quality, finish, and workmanship, and you are getting what you pay for, or a great deal less. Protect your money and investment, only buy from a clear and specific source, a well-known maker who can satisfy your custom knife needs.

The morals about the thief are clear:
  • There are always cockroaches copying successful artists and craftsmen
  • They will attempt to steal what they can not produce, as they are thieves
  • They steal from makers and designers
  • They steal from buyers, clients, and customers who buy worthless copies
  • They steal from their own families, as they toy with legal judgment or incarceration.
  • They will become known in the light of their acts
  • They will, ultimately, be a failure at what they do
For the knife buyer, patron, or client:
  • Know the source of what you are purchasing
  • Stay away from knife purchases at low-end web auction sites, no matter how large they are
  • Stay away from cheap, cookie-cutter template-style web sites offering cheap knives, blanks, or reproductions
  • Stay away from foreign sites that feature knives and photos that are "too good to be true"
  • Stay away from any knife purchase that does not distinctly detail every component, feature, and specific part, area, and description of the knife.
  • Stay away from any site that has muddy, dark, or small photographs of the knives.
  • Stay away from any site that is selling generic knives, blades, blanks, and knife items that are not made by a well-known established maker.
If you are a knife maker or dealer and wish to be successful:
  • Make only the highest quality knives possible
  • Be crystal clear on the origin and description of your designs, concepts, and original works
  • Strive to create your own works, styles, and types of knives, and be inspired, but do not copy others
  • Create something that you will be very proud of
  • If you sell knives, blades, blanks, or kits, be crystal clear as to the origin, materials, finish, design, and illustrations of the works

Page Topics

Designing handmade custom knives, patterns, styles, engraving, fittings, and accoutrements

My Copyrights

This entire website is legally protected, with a registered, numbered copyright from the Register of Copyrights, United States of America, in the Library of Congress. My copyright originates in the first year of publication on the internet in 1996 and extends until 70 years after my death. The copyrighted information specifically includes:

  • jayfisher.com website text and literary work
  • custom knife patterns on jayfisher.com
  • custom knife photography on jayfisher.com
  • custom and handmade knife designs and presentation on jayfisher.com
  • personal artistic photography on jayfisher.com

The Registration number is on record both at my business storefront, and in the Library of Congress.

A personal note: it's interesting to know that long after I'm gone, the information of this website and my works (presented and updated regularly) will be available in the Library of Congress of the United States for as long as the United States Library of Congress exists. Perhaps my great great great great grandchildren might be interested in what this old grandpa did in his day, and they will be able to see it all, year by year in our nation's (and the world's) best and largest library!

Page Topics

"Freedom's Promise" obverse side view in hand-engraved 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, blued steel guard and pommel, ivory, opals, sodalite, jasper, quartz, crocidolite handle, hand-carved leather sheath with gold wash
More about Freedom's Promise

Copyright Infringement and the Modern Knife

Though there are thousands of knives that have been designed throughout millennia, only with modern information exchange and commerce does copyright, intellectual property rights, and the law come into action, and there seems to be a large amount of misinformation, mistaken concepts, and outright ignorance of these concepts, and more importantly, understanding of the law, even by many attorneys and legal professionals! This page is my attempt to clarify just how copyrights work, and how designs, patterns, images, text, and even ideas are protected in modern times.

The most formidable enemy of truth is ignorance.

The most evil enemy of reality is the lie.

--Jay Fisher

The information presented here is not legal advice, and I encourage you to contact (as I have) legal professionals in this field for information that applies to your own experience, interests, and location. I will, however, share what I have learned from many thousands of dollars of legal advice, and where I see many of the problems and issues in this particular field.

Initially, I was going to save this information to be presented in my book, but as time passed, I discovered several circumstances that occurred that prompted me to bring this information into the very public realm of this web site. I hope that you will find some information you can use here, and that it inspires you to respect intellectual property rights, copyright laws, recognize copyright infringement, and protect your investment of knives, labor, artwork, or design from copyright violations.

The knife making world is small. Though there are thousands of knife makers, thousands of manufacturers, boutique shops, importers, and knife outlets, the nature and scope of this very Internet has made the knife world much smaller. If a person is interested in knives, and does enough cruising on the web, he will, sooner or later, see sites that are commonly known in this business, and sites that offer the very information, context, and knives that he's interested in. That is due to the impressive and far reaching significance of search engines, which continuously and unceasingly index words, photographs, descriptions, and contexts within the framework of data that they apply to. My own experience has been proof of that; if you search for knives enough on the Internet, you will, sooner or later, end up on this very site.

Being a prolific maker of knives, a writer, a designer of knives, and a web site developer, I have created and compiled an immense amount of information here. This includes not only the writing and page content, but graphics, images, and knife designs and patterns. The knives, patterns, text, photographs, and site content are all legally protected by copyright laws.

Page Topics

"Ladron" obverse side view in mirror polished and hot blued O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Nebula Stone gemstone handle, black stingray skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Ladron

Knife Designs and Patterns

Knife design is a complicated and time consuming process. Knife design is not simply someone scribbling on a piece of paper to make a neat-looking graphic image. If you want to know more about what goes into knife design, please read through my Custom Knife Design Fee page. The act of designing knives is a true skill and art, and the craft of bringing that art to the page is only one step in the process, but a very important, necessary, and valuable step.

It is one thing to scratch out a loose profile with a pencil on some scrap paper. It is quite another to develop the feasible knife design pattern with the arrangement, balance, contour, components, and style that allows the pattern to be made into a viable, salable, and worthwhile product that we call a knife. Usually, this requires the skill of the knife maker himself; it is seldom that a simple designer has the experience to envision his knife in a completed state, and what problems he may run into developing the pattern that will occur when he tries to have the design made into a solid form. Things like contour in multiple directions and dimensions, mechanical stresses in the blade, attachment methods, center of balance, center of percussion, grip size and orientation, limitations of the materials used to build the knife, and accessories and carry are seldom considered by the person who does not actually make the knife. So why not rely upon the experience, talent, and labor of others, and use the designs they have created? Why not just copy the pattern of a knife maker who is successful? After all, he has already done the hard work of this critical stage.

Because, unless the design is in the public domain, use of their patterns, designs, and labor without their permission is illegal.

For decades, there has been little said about knife patterns in this tradecraft, as makers just cruised around, looking for neat looking knives to make, copying others work, occasionally making changes and adjustments to suit their particular interests. But the practice of copying someone else's work without their permission is illegal.

Page Topics

"Arctica" tactical, combat, CSAR, survival knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, gray/black G10 fiberglass/epoxy laminate handle, polar MARPAT kydex, aluminum, stainless steel locking sheath
More about this Arctica

Knife Artwork

Like an artist who puts paint on canvas, artwork is subject to copyright protection on knives as well. If an artist sits down at a table and draws out a design, and then produces the design in a fixed form, it is his intellectual property, his creative works, his art, and it is protected from the moment he puts it in a tangible form, no matter whether he registers an official copyright or not! This is the law.

Designs on knives constitute any kind of design work on the knife, the sheath, the case, the stand, or any kind of artwork created for the piece. This includes etching, engraving, leather carving, stone carving, inlay, overlay, or any embellishment that is created by the artist. The only artwork that is not protected is that which is in the public domain. Most "rose and scroll" and "bank note" engraving styles are very old and exact designs are in the public domain. Other unprotected works are those that the artist has given permission to reproduce.

If seen some try to argue that these individual, unique works are not protected. They'll say, "leaves carved on sheaths are just like other leaves carved on sheaths, so that's not original work."

This shows some of the ignorance of art in general. While there are similar carving styles (like Sheridan carving), when an artist completes an original design, he owns the rights to it. Just because an ignorant observer thinks all leaves are the same, this is not the case, and the way to distinguish these differences is detailed below, right from the US Copyright Office guidelines.

Claiming a style is just like another does not exclude original works. For instance, that would be saying that since Claude Monet and Èdouard Manet are impressionist style painters, all their individual paintings are not original, and not unique, and not subject to protection! A style does not constitute public domain; it is far too general a description. Ignorance by the untrained, unknowledgeable, and inexperienced would claim both these original painters had no rights to their own creations because they are, after all, both impressionists!

The individual artwork determines distinctive value, not the generalized style.


Copying a style is legal; copying exact artwork is not.

Page Topics

"Vulpecula" obverse side view in hot-blued O1 high carbon tungsten vanadium tool steel alloy, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Silver Leaf Serpentine gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Vulpecula

Note to Knife Makers, Designers, and Agents

Having designs stolen is like working for an employer who decides to pay someone else for your labor while you go home with empty pockets.

Though this page may be interesting and of note to many readers, I request that special attention be paid by knife makers, knife designers, and any agent that works in the field of modern custom, handmade, artistic, or even factory knives. The issues on this page are real; they apply to any person, company, or interest who makes a knife that is not in the public domain of design. You can read about Public Domain in the section below.

I've heard several times that I should be honored that someone would want to copy my works. Would the same apply to any artist who creates a work in sculptural form, written form, or visual form? How honored would you feel if you had put hundreds or maybe thousands of hours into a work of any kind, only to have the design copied and imitated, cheapening your work as it becomes mass produced? How would you feel if someone else profited, perhaps more than you have, when your work is copied and distributed? All of your labor and effort is now paying someone else and all they had to do is steal it. Not very comforting is it? This is why copyright law exists; it is simply a matter of fairness. It's funny how many makers may try this and claim "no harm done," until they are the ones ripped off.

The other people who are victimized are the clients who may work with the maker on the designs. Guys like me have a lot of those folks, who have contributed their own original ideas to bring a knife idea into a solid and tangible form. When the design is stolen from the maker, it's also stolen labor that they have contributed.

These are real laws, meant to protect everyone who creates in our modern world.

Page Topics

"Dagon" fillet, boning, carving, chef's, collector's; knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Green Orbicular Jasper gemstone handle, frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Dagon

Copyright Law of the United States of America

Section 102 of the Copyright Act states:
Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

  1. literary works;
  2. musical works, including any accompanying words;
  3. dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
  4. pantomimes and choreographic works;
  5. pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
  6. motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  7. sound recordings; and
  8. architectural works.

This is the current Copyright Act, and it is the law.

Page Topics

"Mercurius Magnum" Tactical Art Knife, obverse side view: 440C high chromium stainless tool steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Snakeskin Jasper gemstone handle, red stingray skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Mercurius Magnum

How the Law Applies

In the world of knives, particularly knives that are artistic, conceptual, self-created, and unique, the category that applies is {Section 102, (5)}, in the word sculptural.

Knives are considered sculptural works, particularly if they are not common tools in the public domain and the depiction of those knives in both pattern form and completed form are both sculptural works and graphic works. All designs when presented in the photographic (such as, but not limited to, JPEG file formats) or graphic line form (such as, but not limited to, GIF file formats) used on the Internet are considered graphic works and are protected, and also are considered pictorial works and are protected. All the words on the page are considered literary works, and are also protected.

In the world of knives, the category that also applies is {Section 102, (5)}, in the word graphic. Graphic arts are those that are produced of or relating to visual art, especially involving drawing, engraving, or lettering. That's pretty clear, I think, and any artwork that is produced by the artist that is drawn, engraved, or lettered in his own effort is protected. 

The author of these copyrighted works has exclusive rights {Section 106 (1,2,4,5)}. He may reproduce his own work, make copies, publicly display his work while retaining his rights. That is what you see here on this web site, and in my CD ROM archives. I retain exclusive rights, even though the work is publicly displayed.

Page Topics

"Kapteyn" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Cobra Jasper (Script stone) gemstone handle, Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Kapteyn

Copying Knives

A created knife or its artwork must not be copied without the direct permission of the owner of the copyright, which is the original maker. The law that applies is Section 102, (5).

While no one likes their work copied, cheapened, or mass produced, this is a real threat to the value of the knife in its original form. Custom handmade knives and their inherent value depends on the amount of the knives made, by whom they are made, and when they are made, as well as the quality of the craftsmanship and the design form. If the form or artwork is copied, it cheapens the knife as a unique form, devaluing it. While it may be said in the world of knives that no one can imitate fine craftsmanship, there will be those law breakers who will try. The effort, training, study, practice, skill, and experience necessary to complete the work of art belongs to the artist and his heirs, and that is why the value is protected for 70 years after his death. This is the law.

Page Topics

"Kochel" custom art knife, Obverse side view in hot blued, mirror polished O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel fittings, Polvadera Jasper gemstone handle, stand of American Black Walnut, Wenge, Cocobolo hardwood and Polvadera Jasper
More about this Kochel

Copying Knife Patterns

A knife pattern that is an original work by the knife artist (that's me) and is not in the public domain is a protected work and can not be copied in any way without my direct permission. {Section 102 (a)(5)}.

One may think that the pattern is just a scribble, an outline of no consequence, but this is not true. The pattern is an effort of graphic and sculptural creation, and is also protected. To discount this is to say that an artist's pencil drawing is not a work of protected art, simply because it is simple and bold in form with no shading, no ink, no color, and no depth of field represented. It is not up to casual judgment as to the value of a created drawing, graphic, or form. If it is an original work it is protected, and the graphic form of it is protected, too.

Page Topics

"PJST" tactical csar knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, canvas micarta phenolic handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel, nickel plated steel sheath
More about this PJST

Using a Copyrighted Knife Pattern to Make a Knife

A knife pattern that I have copyrighted, is not in the public domain, and is used to create a knife without my direct permission is a derivative of my creation, and is also copyright protected. {Section 103 (a)}.

If you make a simple comparison, you'll get the concept behind this protection. Consider an artist who sculpts in wax, and has the work cast in bronze. The artist owns the copyright on his sculptural work from the moment that the work comes into being. Whether he registers his copyright or not, his work is protected. He is now protected from copyright infringement for 70 years after his death. Let's say the foundry who cast his original artwork decides to cast more pieces with the mold they possess, the mold made from his original wax product. Since they are making the casting in bronze, not wax, it's not technically his work, is it? Wrong, because it is a derivative of his original work. It is his work, it is protected, and casting the copy is illegal.

Derivatives are based on art reproductions, and since the knife pattern itself is a protected form, so is any derivative of that form. Besides copying the completed knife, taking the pattern by photograph or any other means from the knife maker's web site and creating an unauthorized copy is also illegal.

In graphic designs on knives, sheaths, and associated items, this derivative form is a bit harder to define. For instance taking a leaf pattern design from a sheath and using it to design a new leaf pattern or layout is not typically considered a derivative, since there will be a substantial difference in the designs. See the topic below. However, copying it exactly by photographing, tracing, and reproducing could easily be proven as illegal.

Page Topics

"Izar" obverse side view, knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Sunset Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Izar

Knives in the Public Domain

Knives that are already in the public domain are not copyright protected. These are knife patterns that have had the copyright expire. This means that time has elapsed since the creation, or the works were offered to the public domain. In knives, this refers to any old work, historic work, or commonly recognized work.

The same goes for graphic representations, such as engraving and carving. If the pattern has been around a while, and it is known in the industry, trade, and art, it may be considered public domain. But don't be too sure; there are a lot of new, individual developments in knife art, and the people who have created these may well still be alive and kicking and willing to defend their works!

How do you know if the work you are creating is in the public domain? If it's been around a while, and you see it in historic context, you can be sure you're not stepping on anyone's toes. Take the traditional Bowie knife, for instance. It's been in the public domain for many decades, in fact the actual design shape originated first in Medieval butcher knives. So, it's not copyright protected. Do I have some Bowie knife designs on my site on the patterns page? Sure I do, as do many other knife makers or designers. These may be copied as they originate in the public domain. Some of the utilitarian pieces I've made: drop points, small hunting and utility knives, and the like are also in the public domain.

How do you find out if a knife pattern on a knife maker's site is available and in the public domain? How about the graphic design on the knife blade, handle, sheath, or stand? You may ask the originator of the design, but do not expect him to give you a detailed accounting of every knife pattern, design and style he uses. This may take an inordinate amount of valuable time, simply because you are unwilling to create your own design. Do not assume that the pattern you think is in the public domain, as many patterns may be similar to what has been around a while, but have distinctive differences that may not be readily apparent to you.

Page Topics

"Last Chance Light," obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Snakeskin Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved leather horizontal belt sheath
More about this Last Chance Light

Asking for Permission

It's funny how much trouble and uncertainty can be avoided simply by asking the maker or designer who posts his designs on his web site if you can copy them. He may say no, but he may say yes. He may be able to inform you if the design and work is in the public domain or if it is an original creation. He may be able to give you information about the design, its history, where it originated, how it was adapted, modified, and created into form. He may even grant you permission to use one of his designs, and even permission to use his name, which may actually help to increase the value of your knife!

But you have to ask. Slipping into someone's website to cut, copy, and paste copyrighted material for your own personal financial benefit while being too lazy, impolite, or inconsiderate to ask is not just morally deficient, it's wrong, it's illegal, and you can be prosecuted. Assuming that you have permission is also a mistake. To illustrate, I've had foreign interests steal designs from my site, and then when they are confronted, they tell me they'll use my name and give me 10 percent of the profit from what they have stolen!

While prosecutions may not be in open and public forms, the revelation that you are a person, company, or entity that is known to steal other's work will be quite readily revealed on the Internet, and possibly in publications and common conversation. Your dreams of making it big off someone else's labor and creations will fail. The knife world is fairly small, and everybody talks!

Simple solution: Always Ask First!

Page Topics

"Paraeagle" fine tactical knife in 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, custom etched, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Desert Ironwood handle, hand-carved and tooled leather sheath
More about this Paraeagle

How Long Does the Copyright Protection Last?

Copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the original copyright owners death {Section 302 (a)}.

Page Topics

"Saussure" Master Chef's Knife in working, display stand. American Black Walnut is contoured, hand-finished in oils an waxes for a natural look.
More about this Saussure

Copying Photographs

Just like the patterns and the graphics representing them, the photographs on the web site are protected. {Section 102, Section (a)5}. It is illegal to cut, copy, paste, and use the photographs for any representation, presentation, web site, reproductions, or copies. If you use it for profit, it is a Federal offense!

Think about that before you copy a link to a picture for your Facebook or Pinterest page. On most sites, this practice is illegal. PInterest is looking at some big future trouble for allowing hijacking of web photos for their own public gain. Just look up "Pinterest Copyright Infringement" and you'll see the looming threat. Lawyers are lining up for this feast; and I would think very hard about who is going to pay for posting copies of photos from websites without the permission of the artist. The prosecution of this will continue to grow, and the lackadaisical practice of stealing images will be heavily policed as the internet grows. Don't do it. Ask for Permission!

Page Topics

"Hooded Warrior" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, cocobolo exotic hardwood handle, black cherry basketweave hand-tooled leather sheath
More about this Hooded Warrior

Copying Text

This one is already highly prosecuted. You will face litigation if you copy textual works, and this commonly happens. People will risk and lose their entire fortune, simply because they are too lazy to write their own words, and choose to steal them from others. Section 102 (a)1 protects Literary Works. Literary works are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied. This includes web site material which is embodied on magnetic media of a computer disc or computer memory.

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"Grim Reaper" push dagger, obverse side view in blued O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, hand-engraved nickel silver bolsters, Australian Black Jade gemstone handle, stingray inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath, kydex, aluminum, nickel plated steel sheath
More about this Grim Reaper

Copying Ideas: Open Season!

Guess what? Ideas can not be copyright protected, but the way they are presented can be. So you can read, learn, and think like someone from their published works, and you may keep those ideas for your own. You can also keep facts, systems, and methods of operation for your own, so please feel free to learn them from me; it's the least I can do. Just don't copy and paste them from my or someone else's web site, because that's presentation, and that's protected!

Page Topics

"Altair" obverse side view: CPM154CM stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Pietersite gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Altair

Patents and Trademarks

Some idiot who stole a pattern and photograph of a completed knife from my web site and reproduced it for sale insisted he could do so because I didn't have a patent. Okay, let's get this straight: A patent is issued for a device, mechanism, invention, or discovery. A knife is a form, it's not a new discovery, and most have no mechanisms or devices. Most fixed blade knives and most folding knives and their designs are not patentable. Something that would be patentable would be a folding knife locking or operating mechanism that is not already in the public domain.

There is a special patent called a design patent; this is supposed to protect the "ornamental design of a functional item." A good application of this would be to legally protect the layout of lines on a specific brand of soccer ball, for instance. This doesn't apply to the artwork embellishing the piece, only the ornamental design OF a functional item. Why? That's because in {1502 Definition of a Design [R-08.2012]}, "the Design is inseparable from the article to which it is applied and cannot exist alone merely as a scheme of surface ornamentation. It must be a definite, preconceived thing, capable of reproduction and not merely the chance result of a method."

It is these points that distinguish embellishment art from design patentable art:

  • It is clear that an engraved design can exist alone; in fact, the same designs I often incorporate into the matching sheath and stand.
  • Engraving and carving artwork are a scheme of surface ornamentation
  • Hand-engraving is not capable of reproduction
  • Some artwork is the chance result of method

So, then, how is artwork protected? It's the artwork itself, and if graphic art is created by the artist, the artwork is protected; not the style, not the theme, but the exact artwork.

Who decides what is a functional aspect, ornamental aspect, decorative aspect, design aspect, or sculptural aspect of a knife design? Why, it's some bureaucrat in the Copyright Office, that's who. This is a huge issue that is destined to tie up the courts and enrich many lawyers for many years, on the backs of artists as they stamp on the cockroaches that circle around.

 Why get involved? Why invite all this into your own creative pursuits? You will do better simply to just make your own designs and make your own knives.

People confuse these terms (design patents, utility patents, and copyrights) all the time. Knives and their artwork are protected under intellectual property right laws with copyright law, not typically patent law, though in some cases design patents apply. It doesn't mean that they are any less protected; it's still illegal to copy them without permission of the copyright owner.

Trademarks protects symbols, phrases, designs, or words that identify the source of the knife, like a brand name. So this means for me that my maker's mark and name is my trademark and cannot be used without my permission. This distinguishes my work and products from others.

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Custom Knife display stand for Izanami, Izanagi knives and sheaths. Stand is granite, tulipwood, 304 stainless steel, Noreena Jasper and Nickel Magnesite gemstone, and Paduk hardwood
More about this Izanami/Izanagi Stand

eBay® and Copyright Infringement
Please note that this section was written in the mid-2000s, and I don't keep up with eBay's current practices or procedures, so some of this may have changed and evolved.

eBay® calls itself "the world's largest online marketplace." With over 90 million users, this is probably true. If you have that many users, you are bound to run into some that are unscrupulous, or even criminal; this is just a fact of statistics. Thankfully, eBay has in place a program to prevent intellectual property rights violations, and illegal and unauthorized copies of products. Otherwise, eBay would be full of knock-offs, destroying the copyrights and intellectual property rights of individual companies, people, artists, and businesses. Then, eBay's own reputation as well as legal operation would be challenged. Since eBay does not want to be known for aiding or supporting in copyright and intellectual property rights violations or criminal activity, they have the VeRO program in place.

eBay cannot police the millions of items for sale; this is up to the person who owns his own copyrights. Thankfully, the knife world is fairly small in makers, designers, suppliers, and businesses, and there is always an increasing eye out for illegal/unauthorized copies of knives and knife designs. Everybody talks, and sooner or later, a violator will establish a reputation for being a thief of designs and an intellectual property rights criminal, and this will be known throughout the knife world. This bad reputation will not only harm his business permanently, he may well face prosecution and losing his own property, sooner or later ending up serving some time in a federal prison, as copyright infringement for commercial advantage is a federal crime. It is also a civil matter, so in addition to prison, he will face losing what he owns in civil court.

eBay is only slightly cooperative in these matters, and their VeRO program is supposed to allow the copyright owner to police this criminal activity. Once the owner of the copyright is registered in eBay's VeRO program, he informs eBay with a Notice of Claimed Infringement. In this notice, the information about the violation, the item, the seller, and the copyright owner and design and/or item is included. VeRO reviews it, sometimes asks for additional information, and the item is removed from their pages. The seller is informed, as are all the bidders on these illegal copies. Though the seller may dispute the removal, he will have to prove his own copyright. Since he usually knows that the items are illegal/unauthorized copies, he does not protest this, since he is in essence, caught.

Some unscrupulous types will hire undereducated, money-hungry attorneys to dispute claims. Though the infringer may convince these ambulance-chasers to file papers, send letters, and stir up the legal pot, they simply don't realize that the attorney's job is to rid their own clients of any extra cash they may have; this is in their best interest. They are all cockroaches; see the first section on this page for clarity.

 I've received some humorous responses from the sellers who are trying to sell knock offs, copies, or violate my copyrights. Some claim that they do not know they were illegal, yet are the maker of the knife. Some are furious, because their illegal/unauthorized copy was removed from eBay's listing. Some have even offered me a percentage of the profit from their illegal copies of my own designs! Some may claim that they did not know copying another's work was illegal. None of this makes any difference, as ignorance of the law is no excuse. This would be similar to a criminal who breaks into your home and steals your property, only to then claim that he didn't know it was against the law, so should be held blameless.

An important note: eBay's buyer feedback is not an indicator of a seller's or product's legality! Whether or not a violation of copyright law exists or VeRO filing has occurred has no bearing on any ratings by eBay, so it is not an indicator of a seller's business activity. There are sellers on eBay that have continually violated copyrights, and yet have a 99.9% favorable listing! Their practice of violating copyrights is simply not considered in their rating. Don't trust eBay ratings for anything other than they were intended!

Also, I've seen the same violations and exactly the same knives pulled from listing by eBay's VeRO program, only to have the seller re-register under a different name and try to sell the illegal/unauthorized copy again and again. Some of these guys are from Pakistan and India, and claim their location is in the United States. Some of these violators are US based companies, who, whether aware or not, are purchasing illegal copies for resale.

If you are a knife maker, designer, or agent, police your own work and thank others for helping you do this. I keep detailed records about the people who violate my copyrights, and all knife designers, makers, and agents should. I record the dates, circumstances, specific patterns, designs, or offenses, location, item numbers, and any other pertinent data. When I file on violators, I include all previous violations, to let eBay know that these violations have occurred in the past. This establishes a record of who the violators are and their activities and can aid in banning or legal prosecution of intellectual property rights infringement.

If you are someone who copies other's work, know these things, and know that you will pay the price for violating copyright, as will your business, clients, family, and friends. Is it worth it when all you have to do is make your own designs?

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USAF Pararescue "Creature" in mirror polished etched 440C stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Guayabillo hardwood handle, kydex, aluminum, blued steel sheath with engraved flashplate
More about this Creature

Documentation of Designs, Patterns, Text, Drawings

There is a lot of confusion about documentation to prove copyright. I've even had violators, who have illegally reproduced my copyrighted patterns of knives, insist that I supply detailed blueprints or some kind of paperwork to them to prove my copyrights. I've heard of knife makers, who are saddened by the copies of their work being distributed, regret that they hadn't "copyrighted" their designs. This needs clarified.

First, a copyright is not a utility or design patent (topic above), so does not require a detailed and specific blueprint, with operational descriptions, measurements, materials, and device interactions. That is for a patentable device or manufactured design ornamentation and not a knife design. The details of that design must exist in a form that can be verified, such as a website. It would be ridiculous to have created a design and keep it on a piece of paper in a shoebox, because the date of creation not provable or knowable. If, however, a knife design resides on a website as an original work, it is protected.

Secondly, understand that a design is protected from the date of creation, and it is copyrighted even without the official filing from the Library of Congress! There are some simple requirements though, as detailed on the United States Library of Congress Copyright Office documents: "Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device."

So, having the knife pattern "fixed and tangible" on the pages of a website means that it is copyrighted. Additional, though not required, it helps to have an official registered copyright through the Library of Congress, and it is very easy and inexpensive to do. You don't need a lawyer or an agent, and you can do it yourself. Go to the Library of Congress Copyright Office and see how simple this is.

I urge other makers to copyright their works, protect their effort, heirs, and family.

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"PJLT" custom handmade tactical CSAR knife, obverse side view in 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, green and black micarta phenolic handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath with ultimate belt loop extender and accessories
More about this PJLT

What if I just make a little change in the design?
Minute Differences and Overall Similarities

We've all heard the story that if you just change a successful design a little bit, perhaps 5-10%, then it won't be the same design and we can copy away. This is an urban myth, and one of the largest lies that people use to justify stealing another's work. If you don't believe this, please do consult legal council and do your own footwork in the legal realm to confirm this fact. A minute difference is not enough, it must be significantly different to be an original work and not a copy.

In the world of knives, I've experienced illegal copies of my work based on the idea that these minute changes listed here are supposed to justify the copyright thief's original design work, and thus grant him a new copyright:

  • different handle material
  • different pin placement
  • different bolster arrangement
  • different options, like swages, serrations, or lanyard holes
  • slight variations in length, width, or scale
  • different finishes
  • different materials of construction
  • different accessories

These are clearly minute differences, and they do not constitute a different knife. This attempt at a slight variation in features has been tried in court cases before and has always failed, and will continue to fail. The most ignorant and ridiculous thing I've seen is guys who claim because of poor craftsmanship, bad grinds, wavy finishes, and poor choices of materials or fit, that this constitutes enough difference for them to steal other's copyrighted works!

So what is the legal standard by which a work of a knife design must differ to be a different knife? The law is very clear on this, so there should be no misunderstanding.

  • Overall Similarities: Please get this clear. If the copy has overall similarities, it is considered a copy. How similar? The court uses several legal tests, but the main one is the lay-observer's test. If the knife pattern looks like the same knife pattern to a lay observer, it is a copy.
  • Minute Differences: Please also understand that if the copy has minute differences, these do not make it an original work. Minute differences such as those listed above are simply variations or options to the maker, and do not constitute a different knife design pattern. For instance, I always offer swages on my knives; this is an option. It does not change the knife pattern, because it is a minute difference.
  • Meaningful Differences: What does constitute a unique and different knife is a significant and noticeable difference in the profile of the design and pattern. The outer profile of the knife pattern, if obviously different to the lay observer, will, in fact, create a much different knife. But it has to be noticeably different.

Another misconception is that the knife pattern specifically, shown on my Patterns page, for example, is the only copyrighted item, so if a knife differs from the pattern, it's an original work. This is wrong. The pattern is created to illustrate the profile of the knife. Slight variations in the drawing of the bolsters, grinds, swages, and other features are simply illustrative of the possibilities of what the completed knife may look like. While the patterns are copyright protected, note that right beside my patterns, I've placed links to photographs and pages of completed knives, so that anyone can easily see what the knife looks like. Every single knife you see in a photograph on this website is copyrighted, so they can not be copied either, without breaking the law.

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"Talitha" in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel pins, black, red spacer, stabilized redwood burl handle, hand-stamped basket weave tooled leather sheath
More about Talitha

Creating Your Own Original Work

So what's the answer here? How do you go about your business in this world without stepping on anyone's toes, or worse, losing your home, business, money, and belongings and spending some time in prison? Simple really:

  1. Use designs that are in the public domain.
  2. Design your own work.
  3. Do your own writing.
  4. Take pictures of your own stuff.
  5. Learn from others, but make your own knives.
  6. If none of the above work for you, ask permission.

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"Pacifica" Fine knife sculpture in stainless steel, ivory, 24kt gold, nickel silver, banded jasper/hematite, pyratized ammonite fossils, brown alabaster, obsidian, bubinga hardwood, nylon
More about Pacifica

What About Moral or Financial Issues?

Though most of this page deals in the hard laws about copyright, some might ask about the reason behind protecting knife patterns and designs and the moral and financial reasons behind why they should respect copyrights. I, like many other successful artists and creative people, have been told that I should be honored that someone would want to copy my work, or that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that no knives will be sold if I allow copies, and that the copies are only for people in their family, or their personal use, or that they are beginner's work, or they will not compete with my business pursuits, or that I should just cooperate this one time, and allow them to copy my work. The reasons go on and on, and I've heard many more.

The important thing to know is this: a lot of hard experience, time, and effort has been placed into what seems to be the simple form of a knife design. Anyone can dribble a bit of graphite on paper and come up with some knife-like object, but it is a completely separate affair to professionally design viable, working, and useful models that then become knives people may well be willing to pay thousands of dollars for. This experience and the time that it takes to create the design, pattern, and knife, in addition to the feedback, the re-design, and the remaking of knives so that the pattern is just right for the application is a service that is compensated for by the buyer. If someone takes the results of that service, they are stealing from the buyer and the maker who has designed the knife. There is no justification that will wash legally, let alone morally as to how this is permissible or right. It is simply wrong, and the person doing this is simply a thief.

Someone else who is stolen from are the survivors, descendants, and people who will receive the legacy of those designs. Though I may give my designs away when I die, they will most assuredly go to those young men in my family who will continue these legacy pieces in their own careers. Someone who steals from me also steals from my heirs. How would you feel if the money, treasure, and property that you have worked for all your life to pass down to your children was simply stolen out from under them? As a professional artist, craftsman, designer, and creative professional, I owe it to my heirs and family to protect the results of my work.

If you are a person who is actively seeking knife designs, this paragraph is directed to you. Why copyright infringement is done simply amazes me, as all of this can be avoided by simply designing your own knives. You'll learn more about the arrangement, creation, and application of form, shape, and context of the knife geometry, mechanics, graphic layout, and materials when you do this, and you may well create something to be very proud of that is unique and special in the world that you will own the copyright of! Yes, it's an effort to design and create, but if you are making knives, you already are brave enough to take on a substantial effort! I encourage you to take a stand for your own creations, your own family, your own work, and your own designs. This will have more meaning to you than any other part of the effort. When you have completed your own design and made the knife, people will ask you where the idea for the knife came from. You can be proud to say it came from you.

Isn't that better than saying you copied someone else's work?

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"Aegir" knife sculpture in mirror polished, hot blued O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium alloy tool steel blade, blued steel bolsters, 14kt gold bezels, peridot gemstones, Nebula stone gemstone handle, stand of cast bronze, white Carribean coral, Venetian gold granite with garnets
More about Aegir

Thank You

I hope that this page helps others define, understand, and respect the labor and artwork of not only me and my contemporaries, but other artists in our modern world. There is a distinct lack of conversation about these critical issues, and I believe it is because the Internet in its form has only been around for a 20 years or so. As more people confront the very substantial issues of copyright and protections, it is my hope that I have offered some answers they can use.

I encourage you to create your own intellectual property, and to respect the intellectual property of others!

Thanks for being here!

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