Government rules, especially based on questionable jury verdicts will often have unintended consequences or more likely no effect at all as manufacturers game the system.
But in this case, the decision appears to be both silly and ignorant. Table saws are dangerous. So are drill presses, jointers, "side-winders" (yes, even Festool versions) and nail guns. The business of woodworking is dangerous. That's just the way it is. Workers fall off roofs, they have stuff fall on them, they put fingers, toes in harm's way.
In my mind, the question remains, if the blade guard were in place would the jury have come back with the same verdict. Is it that the saw was being used without protection?
We'll never know, but I believe that if the guard had been in place, and the worker had defeated the guard, we wouldn't be having this discussion. And let's say that's true. Because if it is, then the Sawstop is no solution. Why? I have used one, and there is a switch on it. It disables the technology so that you can cut wet wood or non-ferrous metal.
So if the switch had been in the "off" position - for whatever reason - (let's say the saw had just been used to cut some wet wood) and the same ignorant/uneducated worker had started to use said saw, we'd be, I believe in exactly the same situation...we'd need a Sawstop for the Sawstop. Or we'd have to change the way we do business (I'm sorry Mrs. Smith, we'll have to come back next week to finish, the plywood is just a tad damp and our equipment is designed so we can't cut damp wood...Sorry)
Everybody always blames the companies: Walmart, tool manufacturers and so on. Blame yourselves. You (most Americans) by the cheapest tools you can....just look....watch what screwdrivers go out at the HomeDepot checkout counters. Look at what tools are being purchased. People always say....I know, I know, but I won't make a difference....and why should I pay $2.95 for this straight-slot when I can buy "this one" for $ .89....
Like Walt Kelly said...We have met the enemy...and he is us...
I try to buy American whenever I can...but it's hard. There are very few American companies that produce a product like, for example Festool or Fein ...
There are multiple issues here. First, is the creation of a product for personal use versus for profit. If the plans were placed in the magazine, then one would assume that the editors and the creator of the piece were expecting the reader to at least consider building the piece. I can’t imagine any author considering that the plans were just for studying.
But what of pieces published without plans (the Reader’s Gallery). If you’re good at measurements and make some intelligent decisions, you could probably recreate the piece from the illustration, at least the look, if not the joinery. There the issue of copying is a little more complicated. “Here, look at what I built, but don’t attempt to build it yourself.”
Let’s look at a the music business for guidance. You buy a CD. You’re an accomplished musician and can figure out “the charts”(the parts for all the instruments, in effect, “the plans”) for a given song. You hire your own musicians and singers and you “cover” the song. Somebody else’s song, but your people. You do it exactly like the one on the CD or you interpret. Doesn’t matter. The music is copyrighted, NOT the performance. On every piece of music, you’ll see a copyright. Copyrights can be renewed, but they eventually expire. After that, all bets are off.
If you use the music copyright laws as the paradigm, then, IF the plans (or pictures) are NOT copyrighted, you can do anything you want, ethically, morally, legally. It takes no time at all to place a copyright statement on a set of plans and in this day and age, it would be hard to imagine that someone is ignorant of copyright concepts.
In "the old days" a carpenter would intern at the shop of one of the "greats" and after studying and working, might go out on his own. His work would bare the unmistakable signs of his former employer, perhaps even copying pieces. That's the way it was done. But every carpenter has his own "hand" so his pieces, would look different, subtle perhaps, but different nonetheless. And people would couldn't afford a genuine Hepplewhite would commission a carpenter to make them something that "resembled" a Hepplewhite.
But what if there are no plans and you just decide to “rip off” someone’s product. Again there is guidance from other industries. In the electrical/electronic/computer businesses there is the concept of “reverse engineering.” It’s accepted, it’s expected and there is nothing anyone could/would or should do anything about it. Let’s say you have a computer and it runs the Microsoft operating system. I want to build a computer that runs the same operating system, but I don’t want to use an Intel chip, I want to make and sell my own chip. I carefully identify every function of the operating system and reverse engineer a chip that does exactly the same thing that the Intel chip does, just not the same way. In other words, I match the concept, not the specific implementation. That’s exactly what AMD has done. And the two constantly fight at making their chips better at running the Windows operating system. And they are very careful not to use any implementation that can be the basis of a lawsuit that can be won by the other side. (But wait, there’s the issue of licensing which we’ll discuss shortly.)
The great Sam Maloof , rest his soul, built rockers with certain joinery, certain curves. He doesn’t “own” the concept of “rocker” but his implementation is a unique adaptation of that concept. If you attempt to build a Maloof rocker, going so far as to buying one and taking it apart (EXACTLY what is done in the electronics industry) and then decide to make some changes in joinery, it’s no longer a Maloof rocker. It’s now a reverse engineered chair that LOOKS like a Maloof rocker. Here, the issue is what’s morally right. Well you built the chair, without the benefit of plans, you made some changes, if nothing else, it’s an ode to Sam. If you’re good enough to do that, odds are you’re going to make some changes, because of your own slightly different design tastes.
But what if you build the exact same chair? Sadly, there is no legal recourse, because copyright laws don’t cover woodwork the way they do music and literature. That’s because as mentioned above, until recently (relatively speaking) woodworking was unique to the builder. Even someone who built multiple pieces, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Chippendale never considered the concept of copyright because woodworking was a personal art. You could attempt to match the greats of that period, but if you were that good, you probably had your own ideas on shape, proportion and joinery. And if you weren’t that good, then people could tell and there was no doubt of your “attempts.”
Today, you can take a piece of furniture, dismantle it, measure the pieces and then load the measurement into CNC machines (sometimes doing both at the same time) and the machines will produce a thousand copies of the same piece of furniture exactly the same as the original. Sad? Unethical? Maybe, but there is (rarely) anything we can do about it, so it’s really a non-issue. The laws in some countries are “flexible” (read: corrupt) such that that kind of thing goes on all the time. Movies, software, furniture, anything that can be copied, will be.
But wait, isn’t there something that can protect great designs in woodwork? YES! Yes, if you can build something unique (not very unique!) to the extent that the design is unquestionably, unmistakable, you can actually attempt to protect the product.
Example, you ask? The Eames chairs. Designed and originally built by Ray and Charles, the Eames Lounge (and its accompanying ottoman) as well as the Eames business chairs are still produced, under license, from the Eames’ estate and if you attempt to sell unlicensed EXACT copies and the estate finds out, you can be sued. The look of the Eames products are truly unique (I have the lounge and more often then not, when someone visits for the first time, they make the comment, "Oh, you have an Eames chair."
So if a rocker, chair, chest, sideboard, etc. is clearly unmistakable in its design, it can be protected. Whether you want to go through that effort and perhaps sue those attempting to copy your work is a different story. One way around it is to in some way “sign” your work and have that signature traceable back to it’s originator. Like Prada bags and Rolex watches, they can be protected by design laws. But there will always be those that will copy items and those willing to buy the knock offs. That too, is clearly unethical, but there is rarely anything done unless the owner of the design has very deep pockets and is willing to repeatedly fight the copiers. The police in NYC often raid pocketbook/watch/clothing warehouses containing thousands of dozens of “Praba” and “Rilex” and “Barberry” items after months of expensive detective work on the part of the owners of the respective products.
As to the specific implementation that started this, Mr. Jensen’s garden bench, look at it objectively. Other than the Tori inspired back, does this look “significantly’ different in any material way from any other garden bench. My view is no. It’s a nice bench. It’s a very nice bench. It would be a worthy addition to my or anyone else’s garden. But with all due respect to Mr. Jensen, it’s not an Eames chair or an Isamu Noguchi table (which I’ve seen in a couple of stores without the Noguchi signature on the glass and without calling it the Noguchi table).
If, as Mr. Jensen said, he would be upset if someone had produced “large quantities” of his chair, then the plans should have been accompanied by a statement something like, “the owner gives permission to build the enclosed design solely for the personal use of the builder and any other use of this product including the selling of this product for any purpose is strictly prohibited without the express written permission of __________.” Someone might still make the copies, but Mr. Jensen can make his life uncomfortable by suing.
Bottom line, if you want your stuff protected, copyright the plans and the design (if you believe it is unique)…that will probably protect your product from being mass produced by an Ikea or a Smith and Hawkins because they can very easily be sued and they will lose (or settle for a nice fee, in return for a perpetual license for the product), but will probably not stop a small shop from copying your stuff at your expense or a company in a foreign country from producing 10,000 exact copies. . Just the way it is.
And by the way, do you have any unpaid for “copied”(read: pirated, illegal) software, DVDs, CDs?…your kids?
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