This month UK copyright law with regard to furniture and lighting finally comes into alignment with that of mainland Europe. This will greatly extend the protection given to designers and the licensed manufacturers of their works, which here in the UK have been especially vulnerable to the trade in inferior quality, lookalike products.
In addition to restoring the integrity of widely known and copied design classics such as those from Mies van der Rohe and Charles and Ray Eames, it is hoped the new protections will help incentivise ongoing investment into new design in the UK.
Introduced last July with a transition period ending 28 January, the repeal of section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 means that copyright on industrially produced works of ‘artistic craftsmanship’ is now extended from 25 years after introduction to the market, to the lifetime of the designer plus 70 years.
The repeal follows long campaigning from manufacturers, designers, design writers and retailers. Issues raised included protection of creators’ royalties, European manufacturing jobs, consumers being misleadingly sold goods of wildly variable quality and of revenue that allows manufacturers to nurture new design and invest in innovative production.
“For far too long the UK law allowed some furniture retailers to actively mislead their customers into buying unauthorised, unlicensed, poor quality ‘replicas’ or ‘copies’ of the authorised designs. Essentially they were selling fakes. The change in the law is good news for consumers who can be confident that they are now buying a high quality and long lasting asset. And it should lead to the growth and development of the UK furniture industry as more UK designers and manufacturers see the long term benefits of investing in high quality furniture design”. – Daniel Aram, Managing Director, Aram Designs Ltd
The extent of change brought about by the repeal remains to be seen, but the complete disappearance of ‘inspired-by’ furniture seems unlikely. Designers or licensees will be required to prove case-by-case that the work in dispute represents ‘artistic craftsmanship’ – a term without a statutory definition. Things to be judged will likely include the level of skill involved in the design and making of the original, as well as less easily measurable factors such as the artistic intention of the designer and the supposed public perception of a work.
However things unfold, Aram views the repeal as a welcome affirmation of the importance of intellectual property – a valuable piece of consumer protection and ultimately a healthy development for all sectors of the furniture industry.