Origami Ethics and Politics

Although there are many rewards to creating your own models, the greatest is that it expands the origami world. Furthering origami should be the ultimate goal to designing models, for the more selfless we can be, the easier it is to work together, exchange ideas and grow from each other. When the origami world becomes an open forum for exchanging ideas and knowledge, each folder can achieve the most and contribute the most to origami as a whole. By exploring different origami methods together my friend Chris Palmer and myself have been able use each others insights to open up doors that might never have been discovered by ourselves. We are constantly bouncing ideas back and forth.

Unfortunately, not all origami relationships between people are as fruitful. In many cases the politics of origami achievements often get in the way working together and sometimes causes bitterness and distrust. In general the more people are concerned with who gets credit for what, the more people will be protective of their models and ideas and the less origami as an art can be enriched. In Folding the Universe, Peter Engel, in his section called, "The Case of the Purloined Pig" discusses the dispute between Akira Yoshizawa and Alfredo Cerceda where they each claimed to be the creator of the same origami pig. Besides general bitterness, one of the outcomes was that Yoshizawa became even more extremely protective of his models. He will now only show models that have already been diagrammed and published. The problem with this is that like most other folders, Yoshizawa designs models much faster than he can publish them. Since he is growing old, the origami world risks the danger of losing all of his unpublished masterpieces simply because he is so untrusting of other folders. Especially since Yoshizawa is such a powerful force in the origami world, his over-protectiveness could cause other folders to also become over- protective of there work and thus stricken origami progress.

Although the conflict between Yoshizawa and Cerceda is an extremely rare case being that the two pigs were identical, when designers' models are similar, disputes of origami ownership are all too common. Oftentimes, folders get caught up in the personal gratification of origami, the, 'hey look, I am the first one who ever did this; I hope everyone sees, but nobody copies me.' Many people feel that it is not safe to show their models before they are published. They are worried that people will see it and just by looking at it will be able to figure out how to fold it and then will claim that they designed it. One might think that this never happens, for origami is a peaceful art and most folders are kind and sensitive, but actually, it happens more than we think. The problem is that the possible scenarios for infringement are not that black and white. There is a lot of gray in-between. What might be a completely original model to one folder might be considered a mere variation by another.

There are already obvious unsaid origami codes of ethics: If your model is a variation of somebody else's, then mention that when publishing it. Origami USA has a policy which states that

"complete control over the use of every model belongs to its creator, and that complete conrol over the use of every set of diagrams belongs to the diagrammer. Origami USA recommends that you obtain written permission from the creator before diagramming or photocopying someone else's creation or folding it for commercial use. (Convention '93 Annual collection "Copyright Information")

However, even with this list, there seems to be a lack of sensitivity among designers. People do not seem to credit each other enough and consequently seem less cooperative. For instance in some origami books, there is little mention of how the authors were influenced, in particular, by whom. I don't understand why anyone would not want to mention their influences, for knowing this information is beneficial to both designers and folders and also promotes origami cooperation.

Especially in the scientific origami realm, there exists turbulence which I think has been a result of people not talking enough to each other. When origami designers feel stepped on there most common reaction is to withdraw from the open exchange of knowledge. This is of detriment to folders and the origami world as a whole.

The general rule to follow as an origami designer should be to be to be as open as possible. That includes being open with your ideas and also open with recounting the source of your ideas. So, lets say that you have just designed an origami wrist watch. The first thing to do once it is complete is to appreciate it for what it is. Be happy that it now exists and can be appreciated by a potentially endless stream of folders. Next it is important to acknowledge the source of inspiration or influences behind the designing of the model. Some questions you might try to answer in recognizing the influences are, "How did you get the idea for what to fold? Is it a variation on a model designed by some else? Did any preexisting model influence either your method or process of designing?"

It is especially important in the realm of strictly geometric models, that folders be careful to avoid messy situations. All origami models are or at least should be geometrical in some sense, but strictly geometrical models are those whose subjects are abstract shapes. These models are usually far more mathematically based and the mathematical ideas associated with the different folds are like doors which can open up into a wealth of new folding patterns. Because these mathematical ideas are so tangible, in geometric folding the tendency for influence is more common and also more easily seen.

So say that you have just designed a geometric model and you think you were influenced by someone else's preexisting model. Then it is a good idea, if possible, show your model to that person and find out whether or not that person has already designed it. Next, you should open up dialogue and find out whether that person feels that it is indeed a new model or just a variation on his own.

It is of extreme importance to go out of your way to give credit where it is due. Citing your influences in depth is beneficial to you, those you cite, and to those who fold your model. Its an easy way to earn respect in the origami community. People enjoy getting history about what inspired a designer to try to create a given model and what method they used.

It is a fact of human interaction that when you come in contact with someone else's work you are bound to be influenced by it. Origami is an art where we can all learn and grow from each other. When we cooperate and share our ideas and breakthroughs, the most progress can be made.

[BARF] [Jeremy's Page] [BOOK] [One Man Show] [Video] [BARF Newsletter] [Diagrams] [PDF diags] [Contact]

This page transfered to https://make-origami.com/BARF/ in Oct, 2021 with permission from Jeremy Shafer.
Back to Make-Origami.com