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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.

 

Barcelona Chair Mies van der Rohe Knoll

 

Barcelona chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for Knoll

Lounge Chair Black Cherry Charles and Ray Eames Vitra

 

Eames Lounge chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra

 

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.

 

Arco Lamp Achille Castiglioni Flos

Arco floor lamp by Achille Castiglioni for Flos

 

Wagenfeld bauhaus lamp TecholumenWagenfeld 24 table lamp by Wilhelm Wagenfeld for Tecnolumen

 

“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

 

Bibendum armchair white Eileen Gray Aram Designs

 

Bibendum armchair by Eileen Gray for Aram Designs

E1027 side table chrome Eileen Gray Aram Designs

 

E1027 side table by Eileen Gray for Aram Designs

 

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.

Panton Chair Verner Panton Classic Red VitraPanton chair by Verner Panton for Vitra

 

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.

 

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