The government have finally set a date for the introduction of a new copyright protection law which will make it ILLEGAL to manufacture or sell copies of mass-produced designs after 6 April, 2020. This move comes after pressure from designers and design groups (such as ACID and Be Original Americas), who have been campaigning for more protection for furniture designers against copycat traders, who are gaining profit from the designs of others.
The new rules replace segment 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and lengthen the copyright protection for a furniture piece from 25 years to 70 years, following the designer’s death. This will give industrially-manufactured artistic works, the same terms of protection as art, literature and music.
The Intellectual Property Office has published the new guidelines, you can read them, here.
At Good to be Home, we have spoken to furniture design and replica companies who give their opinion on the law … it is evident that many designers are passionate about the subject!
Some designers don’t understand why the law wasn’t amended years ago…
Product & Design Manager, Kirsty Whyte, www.heals.co.uk, said:
‘As a designer myself, I find it unfathomable that this law wasn’t amended years ago to bring us in line with the rest of Europe.
‘The objective of most designers is to design a classic of the future that will stand the test of time.
‘Buying a piece of fake furniture doesn’t seem to have the same stigma as buying a fake designer handbag, and it should. Although I do feel good design should be affordable and accessible, there are alternatives to buying copies.
‘There is a huge amount of time, effort and investment to develop a design before it is retailed; this also reflects in the end price. The fakes just steal the designs and reap the profits without the hard work. One of the UK’s best attributes is innovation and design, but selling these fakes just threatens the design industry.
‘The next challenge will be enforcing the law when it comes into force in 2020…until then we can only support the originals!’
Director, Corporate Communications at Herman Miller, Mark Schurman, hermanmiller.com, said:
‘It’s a lifeblood issue for many, and even more so for the smaller manufacturers and individual designers. Here at Herman Miller we oppose the knock-off industry and, by extension, welcome added protections for those who create/manufacture authentic design.
‘Herman Miller, along with other designers and makers of original/authentic designs, are constantly and actively promoting awareness and education among consumers about the harm done by knock-offs. The proliferation of knock-offs acts as a disincentive to designers and manufacturers to develop new design, as the more innovative and costly the new creation the less likely the designer and manufacturer is to recoup their sizeable investment.
‘To put this in perspective, Herman Miller spent approximately $50 million in R&D this last year, not inclusive of royalty payments to the designers themselves. The potential impact of that curtailed economic incentive to produce new design is a greater harm to society at large, which stands to lose the potential benefit of higher performing, more healthful, more sustainable, more beautiful designs in everyday life.
‘Knock-offs also harm the reputation of designers and authorized manufacturers, since the knock-off invariably compromises the quality and performance of the original design. Far too often (particularly in the secondary, resale market of knock-offs) these are also not understood to be fakes, but are mistaken to be the real thing. The knock-off makers are also generally not operating with the same commitment to the support of design broadly (not investing in wholly new design, not supporting design education, not active in design foundations, etc., unlike Herman Miller and its peers). Moreover, knock-off manufacturers typically don’t have the same labor and environmental standards as the authentic producers, or within their supply chain, to the further detriment of society’.
Designer, James Harrison, www.jamesuk.com said:
‘It is fantastic that this law will finally be coming into play – in my opinion it is crazy that it has taken so long to catch up, there was a strange disconnect between design and copyright.
‘We have such strong creative industries in the UK so it is great that the value of design is finally being recognised.
‘We have had multiple problems with copies- a lot of which are in China but the most frustrating and blatant is a UK company who have built a business on selling replicas and rip offs. They have directly copied a piece of my furniture that I designed and are even selling it as the same name.’
The reason many major designers have supported this move is, other companies can create their designs, sell them on to the public and gain a large profit, and the original designer receives none of that profit.
The reason this is allowed under current law is because the application of ‘replica’ to a product title allows them to sell a copied version.
At the moment, for many, it is too expensive to carry out legal action.
Designer, Martin Nihlmar, www.jimmiemartin.com, said:
‘I wanted to use the services of ACID but in the end that would only have meant huge fees from their partnered lawyers which isn’t something a company the size of ours would be able to afford. An initial letter to the vendor alone would set us back almost £1,000.00. So it doesn’t give you much confidence in being able to stop anyone from copying your work.
‘It is one thing to take ideas and inspiration from other designs. But to claim the designs to be your own, they need to be original, or used in an original and new form’.
Some companies believe that furniture design is like fashion.
Robert Cain, Blue Suntree, www.bluesuntree.co.uk, said:
‘My thoughts are that the law should, hopefully, be good for the industry that by 2020 our designs will get an increased copyright, if they are protected by artistic copyright.
‘The problem you have is knowing what items will have copyright and which ones do not, not every piece of furniture designed 60 years ago is artistic.
‘Our feeling is that furniture design is like fashion and should move on every few years, so by 2020 it is very unlikely that we will still be in a mid-century phase and the new fashion in interiors will have started, it is up to the furniture retailers to adapt to that or to indeed start something new themselves, like we have done.’
However, some believe the law won’t have the positive impact that some might think.
It’s no surprise that designers think the new is a good thing but journalist, market analyst and independent public affairs campaigner, Ivan Macquisten, believes the law will hamstring designers.
Ivan, adviser to ECHO (Expired Copyright Homeware Organisation), the consortium set up to campaign on the changes, said:
‘I have spent the past two and a half years in opposition to much of the design world as they lobbied first for the adoption then the immediate introduction of new legislation, that they argued, would defend their rights and put an end to copycats.
‘As with so many fresh laws on the statute book, this one appears to do one thing yet actually does the opposite.It would appear to strengthen the rights of designers, yet it actually hamstrings them.
‘It would also appear to ensure quality in the world of design from now on; sorry, it is more likely to lead to far less innovation and a huge drop in investment.
‘It should bring designers more money as rip-off merchants and replica retailers go out of business; apologies, but wrong there too.
‘Well, at least consumers will turn their attention to classic designs now the cheap imitators disappear… not going to happen.
‘Section 52 of the Copyright, Design & Patents Act 1988 limits industrial design rights to 25 years from the first year of manufacture or marketing. This allows designers to capitalise on their designs for a quarter of a century but prevents ongoing monopolies from hitting consumer choice and pricing.
‘The UK government decided to bring the law in line with artist and author rights by upgrading the weaker design right to copyright, extending it to 70 years after the death of the designer. This decision ignored the other existing protections under patent and trademark law, which helped balance rights under the old rules. The result, say some in the legal profession, is what was balanced is now unbalanced.
‘Whatever your point of view, it was the decision to make the law change retrospective that drew much of the protest from anti campaigners. It means that any design whose rights had already expired under the old 25-year rule but would qualify under the new 70-year rule will be re-enfranchised.
‘The result is that plenty of businesses, who have been legitimately plying their trade, employing people and paying taxes, will simply go bust as their activities become illegal overnight. That will happen on April 6, 2020 – the five-year delay, dating from the final consultation findings, won by the antis, whom I advised.’
Want to read more? For Ivan’s full response, click here.