Let’s play a game I call “Stupid or Ethical?”
The first time I interviewed Robin Lee, president of Lee Valley Tools, I asked him a few questions that readers had been asking me for years. Robin’s answers are paraphrased below, though I’ve heard him say them so many times in the last decade I could almost quote him verbatim.
Q: Why doesn’t Veritas come out with an inexpensive Bed Rock plane to compete with Lie-Nielsen?
A: That wouldn’t be fair to Tom Lie-Nielsen. We’d rather produce our own line of planes instead of copying his.
Q: Why doesn’t Veritas come out with a line of less expensive Stanley 750 chisels to compete with Lie-Nielsen?
A: That wouldn’t be fair. Besides, we have our own line of chisels already and might do something different in the future.
Q: Why doesn’t Veritas make an infill plane to compete with all these makers who charge thousands of dollars for a plane?
A: That’s their market. We’d rather build our own planes than copy someone else’s.
Q: Why doesn’t Veritas produce a less-expensive brass-back dovetail saw….
Well, you get the idea.
On the other side of that fence, Lie-Nielsen has stayed out of Veritas’s back yard on a number of occasions. During one visit to the Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, I saw a prototype of a bullnose plane. When Veritas came out with its bullnose shortly thereafter, Lie-Nielsen shelved its plans.
The question isn’t about the legality of copying tools. It’s much more important than that. Some might contend that this sort of behavior is stupid. Shouldn’t these companies be out to grab as much market share as possible? Or is it somehow ethical to steer clear of your competitors’ ideas and instead push your own ideas (assuming you have any) forward?
My bias is obvious. My work gets ripped off everyday. People copy my articles, put them on CDs and sell them on eBay. They post them for free download on Russian sites. They place my copyrighted text whole cloth on their foreign web sites and claim it for their own.
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right.
For me, copying tools is a simple issue. Ask yourself one question: Will the copy confuse the reasonable consumer? If the copy looks so much like a competitor’s that it is going to confuse buyers, then it’s dishonest.
I’m not saying you can’t do it. Or that you’re violating laws. I’m just saying that I won’t support you with my dollars.
— Christopher Schwarz