Aug 15, 2006

Do you think they'll come out with a new cartridge called "LEGAL LINGO"?

This landed in my email box from a Google alert. Makes me want to avoid all computer-based cutters at this point. Oh, and don't call them DIE-CUT machines because another company will come after you on that one. What this tells consumers is that it doesn't matter WHAT machine you buy because they are all basically the same technology. Hmmm, kind of devalues the brand-names a bit, doesn't it???

Scraplifters, you're busted! In a craft where copying is common, what uses are OK?

Scrapbookers have no shame. We plunk down $20 for the latest idea book, pick the page to duplicate and trek to the store. We carefully track down the sage green paper, the gingham ribbon and the brown ink pad. And then we copy - the design, color scheme, materials. Sometimes exactly.

At the Stampin' Up convention in Salt Lake City a week ago, scrappers carried digital cameras to snap shots of hundreds of cards posted on bulletin boards at the Salt Palace - one can only assume to help in duplication. Classes are an exercise in hand-eye coordination as we follow every swipe of the pen and rub of chalk the teacher makes. Scrapbook publishing thrives on the concept. There's even a catchy word for it: scraplifting. But scrapbooking manufacturers aren't amused. While most of us rank-and-file scrappers routinely "borrow" ideas from each other, the companies are jockeying to protect their intellectual property and the bottom line.

Last month, Provo Craft attorneys sued pre-emptively in U.S. District Court to hold off Xyron of Arizona. Both companies make toaster-sized, typewriter-like cutting systems - Provo Craft has the Cricut and Xyron has the Wishblade Media Cutter - that spit out precut words and phrases in different fonts. (Pazzles filed a similar lawsuit involving yet another paper-cutting system.) Xyron claims the new Cricut cutting systems violate a pending Xyron patent. Xyron attorney Bryan Collins says the company is trying to protect its work, specifically the pad inside the Xyron machine that attaches adhesive to the back of die-cuts and the unique panel of buttons on top. He sent Provo Craft a letter June 8 offering a license - for a fee - to the Utah company that would allow the use of Xyron's patent. "They invest a lot of time and money in creating technology," Collins said.

Provo Craft responded with a lawsuit, questioning the underpinnings of Xyron's patent and asking a judge to declare Xyron's application "invalid and unenforceable." Such a ruling would clear the way for the trendy Cricut cutting machines, which cost about $300 each, to stay on shelves without Provo Craft having to pay Xyron a penny.

On the other end of the spectrum, paper companies now are copyrighting designs for books, tags and cards. One Salt Lake City store owner was warned by a manufacturer after providing copies of the directions for a minibook to a class. Those too, apparently, were intellectual property. Rita Reusch, an intellectual property professor at the University of Utah Law School, says instructions fall into the same category as recipes: If the directions are unique and creative enough, they can be copyrighted. "There has to be some originality, some creativity to it," Reusch says.

Provo Craft and Xyron's court battle over ownership of the technology for die-cutting machines is a legitimate debate for the emerging scrapbooking market. On the other hand, trying to protect scrapbooking instructions seems ridiculous in an industry built on imitation. Wading into this debate - often unknowingly - can be nerve-wracking for scrappers. In the evolving world of scrapbooking technology, everything we do seems on the verge of violating a copyright or patent.

There are some basic guidelines - which often revolve around money. Most companies don't seem to mind the home crafter copying pages for a child's scrapbook that will end up on the coffee table. On the other hand, if that scrapbooker then takes those ideas to charge a fee and teach others or make scrapbooks for profit, that's a problem. Likewise, if you copy the cover of a macaroni and cheese box or "Joshua Tree" by U2, you probably won't run into trouble so long as it's just for you.

Professional photos pose another quandary: Is it copyright infringement to duplicate those pictures of Mom and Dad's 1970s wedding without paying the photographer again? Is the photographer even still around? Reusch says tread carefully. Professional photos taken after 1923 are copyrighted by the photographer, not the owner. "Ownership of the physical photograph is not the ownership of the intellectual property in the photograph," Reusch says. Technically, if you want to use an old photo, you have to research the copyright and compensate the studio. If that seems ridiculous, Reusch acknowledges, most people will simply weigh the risk of being caught against the convenience of copying so-called "orphan works." So, scrapbookers, beware. "The risk is very low," Reusch said. "But technically, it is a violation of someone's copyright."

--- Contact Rebecca Walsh at or 801-257-8750. Send comments about this column to

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