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Is a Copy of a Copy a Crime?

I have waded through a lot of discussions about copies being made of other tool designs. It is quite interesting to see where people stand. It seems that there are several issues that divide how we think about these things. The variations on ethic make this a pretty heated issue. Personally I like this. I think societies need to discuss ethics every now and then.

I have a lot of respect for a good copy. Clark and Willams makes reproductions and I hold them in the highest regard. The company that some people are defending, Lie-Nielsen, makes an upgraded copy of what a lot of people consider the best mass produced planes. I like this too. What is really neat here, is that a upscale, high dollar product, that has been maintained with quality engineering and quality support has loyal supporters, despite being quite expensive.

WoodCraft, is the one with the copy of a copy. It sells for a bit less and looks pretty nice. Woodcraft has given me very good support in the past, so as far as that goes, they might come close to Lie-Nielsen There are folk supporting them in their decisions as well.

I have no objection to competition either. I like the idea of companies competing with each other to provide me with the best price on the best quality goods. The competition between Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen has been very good for the woodworking community. I suspect it has also been good for both of those companies.  People respect them around the world.  The competition is between innovation and refining old patterns. I like the results.

One of the big issues is the China thing.   A lot of folk are developing a real hatred of things from China or India.  Personally I would rather support the company that takes care of their employees. I would much rather buy from Canada that China for the same reason that I would rather buy food from a share-cropper than a slave owner.  I think that people that share control, profit and future are more likely to make caring decisions.  People who exploit people are much more likely to put toxic stuff in baby formula.  As we turn our face away from the suffering of others, we practice the same skills that endanger our world.

I would rather buy local, but my real priority is to buy ethical.  I would rather not reward selfishness.  Business should be win-win.  I try to consider trade practice, environment and business ethics, when I buy.  I don’t want to give more money and power to a person or company that does not care about people.  Even people who they will never meet, of different faiths, colors and languages.

I approve of WoodCrafts effort to offer quality products at lower prices,  but  I would rather not have products made by underpaid labor drive a quality company like Lie-Nielson out of business.

Given my choice, I prefer to buy from a person.   A good a product can be made by a woodworker, out of wood and steel and bronze.   It just takes a bit of time and care.

Bob

16 comments to Is a Copy of a Copy a Crime?

  • Just a FYI, japanwoodworker sells another copy, but these look a little more like a rip-off of Veritas and the Brian Boggs spokeshave.

    http://www.japanwoodworker.com/dept.asp?s=JapanWoodworker&dept_id=13608

  • I wonder which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did a company in China grab a bunch of Lie-Nielsen tools, thinking that they were all copies anyway? Or did an entrepreneur in the USA commission them in China thinking to make a quick profit? Seeing these tools in more than one place makes me suspicious.

    My bet is that an English speaking entrepreneur from China, with some trade connections, figured that he could make quick wealth by under selling Lie-Nielsen and others. In turn he sold these products to business managers. Ethics were probably not even considered polite to mention at any of these meetings. This entrepreneur probably has all sorts of other tools in the pipeline.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Mercy Bob;

    Why don’t you tell us what you really think????

    Now with the humor out of the way… I can say I have sold some Texas white oak logs to Chinese sawmill customers back in the early ’80’s……

    I know, terrible ethics there… I am consumed by the thought every now and then. Fortunately for all of us, they couldn’t afford the shipping costs thru the Canal or across the US.

    I just wonder now where the logs come from for the wood products we buy 27 years later????

    Thoughtful article, my compliments!

    Skip

  • We can probably spare a bit of white oak and trade is a good thing. It is dependence, exhaustion of resources and the use of exploitative labor practices weaken all the associated societies. Despite quite a few people being logical and having a clear understanding of the energy and environmental issues in the eighties, those folk had a bit of trouble finding a sympathetic audience at the time. Even churches that had traditionally taught stewardship had switched to teaching dominion instead.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Ah… well… maybe…. but…

    On the other hand… freight costs being the major obstacle, the Chinese sawmill of that time (late 70’s and early 80’s) only would pay Texans (or any other Gulf Coast shipper) for the very best #1 clear logs. What timber folks call high grading. Take only the most valuable trees and leave all the others the landowner needs to sell. Say one tree in 50.

    Let me propose a somewhat less scorched earth alternative: suppose a local small sawmill had available a good supply of trash white and red oaks (like post oak, live oak and water/willow oak, etc.) and also some of the good trees (Quercus alba)too.

    Also suppose that he could and did harvest more trees than he could use and sold off some of his high value logs to help pay for his otherwise environmentally and ethically run operation. And then suppose he could trim those high value logs into “cants” to lower shipping costs – and so be able sell to the Chinese at a better price than helping his not-so-ethical comptition put him out of business.

    What do you think??

    Skip

  • Considering that I participated in and was part of guard duty for the world record bonfire at TAMU in 1969, my opinion on the ethical use of oak is probably more than a bit suspect. Oak is slow, but fairly far from endangered in Texas. If the woods are managed well, the only really negative impact is probably the fuel use in shipping.

    If providing wood reduces the use of endangered species, then I am strongly for it. If we are replanting and managing well, and the goods are not going to be burned, then there may even be a net gain as far as locking up carbon.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Oh my, I certainly walked into it there:

    “If providing wood reduces the use of endangered species, then I am strongly for it. If we are replanting and managing well, and the goods are not going to be burned, then there may even be a net gain as far as locking up carbon.

    Bob”

    We are not managing hardwoods in Texas well, only pines are replanted and managed here, and very little of that is the native long-leafed pine. The reason we have small areas of hardwoods here is that timber companies cut hardwoods down and then they converted hardwood forests to planted pine (plantation)forests.

    However, there are some small private landowner tree farms here, and quite a few of those grow mixed pine/hardwood stands, particularly for hunting tracts. And some of the small bandsaw mills are getting hardwoods out of the edges of the cities like Houston when tree services cut down yard trees. So white oak and red oak is available here to individual woodworkers and at fairly low prices.

    But the quantities available are just not enough to sell to a major user like for flooring or other large-scale commercial products.

    I believe the possibility is there, we have the ground and the parent trees to draw from. It’s a marketing problem. Someone needs to see a large scale opportunity – such as large scale sales to China – and then “tree farm” the available hardwoods we do have on private land to sell into those markets in the future.

    Every container that comes in the Port of Houston from China – which is most of them – that has to go back empty increases shipping costs and environmental costs too.

    That ideal local marketing guy needs to go to China and find manufacturers making wood products there to ship to us; and then find some locals here to make the necessary wood items and ship them there. Example:

    A traveling agent might find a Chinese wooden plane manufacturer buying billets of white oak from his local Chinese sawmill; and shipping the finished planes here, and elsewhere. The agent could sell him kiln-dried white oak billets shipped from Houston of a higher quality than is available from his local sawmill.

    Then the agent would come back here and sign up several local kiln-dry bandsaw mills to fill the order. Very similar to what I did with the logs, except I didn’t get a trip to China out of it.

    Every log that gets chipped into landscape mulch – or worse, burned – or sold for almost no money at all as pulpwood when very young – each one of those “wasted” hardwoods is gone and not coming back.

    Now I don’t know about other southern states, maybe local hardwoods are coming back to life somewhere.

    An issue we haven’t discussed… yet, is the use of local timbers instead of cutting down tropical forests… care to comment???

    Skip

  • I hear the DMZ between North and South Korea is really nice. Nature has come back well. Hopefully it doesn’t become a series of golf courses as a result.

    We have wing elm, white oak, red oak, mesquite, osage ash and cedar. When you have such treasures in good supply, why should we chase after obscure woods?

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    And we have pecan, hackberry, cedar elm and mesquite here. There is also the occasional cherry, dogwood and black walnut individual single tree, although not very often.

    We could ship a huge amount of Chinese tallow back to them, think they have used all of theirs up?

    Speaking of black walnut, northern sawmill buyers have bid up the price of BW here so much that landowners are willing to plant small groves of it to wait for it to grow. If we could get the price of other local hardwood species up to a similar level, then landowners would plant for sure.

    Of course, the retail price of the sawn lumber to us woodworkers would go way up too…. sorry.

    Skip

  • I note that “underpayed” is all relative – folks don’t get pressganged to work in third world factories – they work there because the total package of wages / hours / working conditions are better than their alternatives. I’d rather work 12 hours in a factory with heating than 14 hours in a field!

    The low wage / mediocre quality level of production is something that all economies go through on their way up. When the US was bootstrapping itself, Europeans were outraged that we worked so hard, and for so little.

    I think that buying Chinese made tools, when they are of good quality, is a fine thing.

    Americans are not babies – we don’t need special protections to survive and thrive.

    We shouldn’t give Lie Nielsen or Veritas the “bigotry of low expectations”. Let them compete – they’ll do fine! Check out Bridge City Toolworks – their prices are stratospheric, but they’re selling works of art, and they’re thriving.

  • BobStrawn

    While I agree, TJIC, that ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ is truly one of the great books of all time, (I check out webpages) I don’t agree that the exploitation of workers is ever a good idea. Industry has a history of doing every ill that it can possibly wring a profit from. We all need protection from misguided power and money that is only lead by the urge for more power and money. Industry that does not take care of the workers, and does not take care of the mess they make, is parasitic abuse of power.

    The American Company, Bridge City does indeed make some lovely stuff that is made in America. This has nothing to do with and does not justify a Chinese Company’s exploitation of man. It amazes me how things work sometimes. It took a communist country to show me clearly the end result of unfettered capitalism. Sadly both economic forms lead to ruin. Balance is the secret to just about everything,
    Laws reduce freedom while protecting freedom. It is a paradox. When the harm a company can produce is well beyond that that an individual can produce, I see no sense at all in allowing companies to operate without checks and balances.

    In relative terms, can these people afford, reasonable health care, shelter, food, savings, and a better future for their children? If not, I would argue that they are being exploited. I do not trust a company that exploits their employees. Who knows what they are willing to do to me? Who knows what compounds will leech out later and reduce my quality of life.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Hello Bob;

    You said:

    “One of the big issues is the China thing. A lot of folk are developing a real hatred of things from China or India. Personally I would rather support the company that takes care of their employees. I would much rather buy from Canada that China for the same reason that I would rather buy food from a share-cropper than a slave owner. I think that people that share control, profit and future are more likely to make caring decisions. People who exploit people are much more likely to put toxic stuff in baby formula. As we turn our face away from the suffering of others, we practice the same skills that endanger our world.

    I would rather buy local, but my real priority is to buy ethical. I would rather not reward selfishness. Business should be win-win. I try to consider trade practice, environment and business ethics, when I buy. I don’t want to give more money and power to a person or company that does not care about people. Even people who they will never meet, of different faiths, colors and languages.

    I approve of WoodCrafts effort to offer quality products at lower prices, but I would rather not have products made by underpaid labor drive a quality company like Lie-Nielson out of business.”

    TJIC said:

    “I note that “underpayed” is all relative – folks don’t get pressganged to work in third world factories – they work there because the total package of wages / hours / working conditions are better than their alternatives. I’d rather work 12 hours in a factory with heating than 14 hours in a field!

    The low wage / mediocre quality level of production is something that all economies go through on their way up. When the US was bootstrapping itself, Europeans were outraged that we worked so hard, and for so little.

    I think that buying Chinese made tools, when they are of good quality, is a fine thing.

    Americans are not babies – we don’t need special protections to survive and thrive.

    We shouldn’t give Lie Nielsen or Veritas the “bigotry of low expectations”. Let them compete – they’ll do fine! Check out Bridge City Toolworks – their prices are stratospheric, but they’re selling works of art, and they’re thriving.”

    TJIC – you did not address Bob’s main statement about selling a copy of a copy. Bob said he was happy with his service from Woodcraft and the products they sell in general. He said he had a specific problem with them taking a Lie Nielsen product to China and having a knock-off made to undersell them. You just have to understand Bob-speak to sift that out; but it was very plainly stated behind the leading ethics issue. This is Bob’s site. Challenging him on ethics will draw a response, which is only fair after all.

    When Woodcraft sells Chinese woodworking products of established Chinese heritage we all benefit in the chain from artisan to purchaser…. In fact, Japanese who complain of cheap Chinese knock-offs must accept that they originally copied them from the Chinese many centuries ago.

    Finally, my own concern – except for a bit of translating – is that sale of cheap Chinese goods here undermines sale of high-dollar Chinese tools (here). We are missing a wealth of historical Chinese masterpieces because we only think of them for cheap products and knock-offs.

    Just my 2 cents worth, ya’ll just go on about your business now…

    Skip

  • BobStrawn

    I have before me a pair of Myland Scissors. They are made in China. They are beyond any doubt in my mind, the best scissors I have found. They are wicked sharp, and they stay that way. They are stainless steel, and the times I have left them out in the rain on cedar wood, has proven that they are some of the most stainless I have encountered. http://www.amazon.com/SE-Chinese-Scissors-5-inch/dp/B00110KB48/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1248721433&sr=8-4

    If by chance I find out that they are made by horrible, horrible people, then I will probably not buy them anymore. If their quality is representative of their standards and ethics, and I suspect there is a correlation, then I suspect that they are very honorable people. It would not surprise me if they still paid their employee’s a token of what they are really worth. But producing value means maintaining a certain level of skill. Quality tools require quality materials. In turn this can raise the awareness of people to the value of people.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    ” If by chance I find out that they are made by horrible, horrible people, then I will probably not buy them anymore. If their quality is representative of their standards and ethics, and I suspect there is a correlation, then I suspect that they are very honorable people. It would not surprise me if they still paid their employee’s a token of what they are really worth. But producing value means maintaining a certain level of skill. Quality tools require quality materials. In turn this can raise the awareness of people to the value of people.

    Bob”

    Well said, Bob, very well said indeed….

    For what it’s worth, my own views have been developed over time since the ’70’s when Japanese were making cheap knock-off copies of American goods. I have been a bonsai practitioner since the ’70’s and the Japanese claim to originating bonsai – and bonsai pots and bonsai tools – has fallen away to reveal that bonsai is a copy of Chinese penjing – including penjing pots and penjing supplies.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot and the Japanese are squealing… High quality original Chinese penjing pots are less expensive (but not cheap) here now than Japanese copies…. so claims of cheap Chinese knock-offs of hi-quality Japanese pots fall on deaf ears here! I suspect the same could be said for wooden body planes…

    Skip

  • James Voos

    There is something that really troubles me about the Woodcraft business practice in this case. They have done this before with Kevin Drake’s hammers. Initially they offered them, but then came up with a chinese knockoff at a much lower price.

    The chinese have no respect for Intellectual Property laws. I know from experience. Look at how much software piracy goes on in China at retail shops. I used to work for a large Personal Finance Software Company that found chinese copies of our product that even used our company name on them!

    We have watched our manfacturing base in this country disappear with the promise of a “Service Economy” whatever that means. Is minimum wage retail jobs at Walmart the service economy we have created. Software development has moved off-shore, and along with it, high paying jobs.

    I was a strong free trade advocate based on my business school background. Now I am not so sure. I think we should support the innovators in our country, and not do business with those who don’t create innovation.

    Now we are facing global warming, yet the third world manufacturers are not interested in participating in improving the situation. These are troubling times, and for me, a time to examine our set of business assumptions.

  • Skip J.

    Welcome on board James! A true free-trade convert! Now you guys are seeing what we have been saying all along… for me’n Bob, that would be decades. We had a viable middle class for a long time here, starting in about the postwar ’50’s. Now we’re back to the same old lower class, and a few of the very wealthy who got out before the downturn. The middle class is really hurting now…. talk about a class war!

    Again, welcome!

    Skip

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