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Flos' iconic Arco lamp which made the headlines when Samantha Cameron bought a knock-off ACID CEO Dids Macdonald
01 Dec 2014

Cut copying now, not later, says Dids Macdonald

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ACID CEO Dids Macdonald writes on changes in copyright law that could shake up the industry, which she says can't come a moment too soon

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Many would say not, when so often poor quality copies erode the heritage of iconic design; cause purchasing confusion; and promote unfair competition - not to mention the moral and legal aspects. 

Controversy reigns on the thorny subject of continuing to allow replica companies to sell unlicensed copies of iconic designs in the UK. The rest of Europe, apart from the UK, Romania and Estonia, have adopted legal changes which effectively mean that iconic works created before 1989 are covered by copyright (the life of the creator plus 70 years). The Enterprise Regulatory and Reform (ERR) Act of 2013 contained provisions to bring UK copyright law in line with the majority of the EU.

The UK’s failure to support iconic design to date has allowed Great Britain to be a haven for EU purchasers who otherwise would not be able to purchase replicas. However, help is at hand with the repeal of Section 52 of the Copyright Patents and Design Act; but will it really make a difference? On one hand it is now illegal to sell unlicensed copies of iconic designs but Government is now debating whether replica companies should be allowed six months, three years or five years from April 2015 to change their business models to trade lawfully. 

The legal definition of 'iconic' is also causing confusion, so determining the terms ‘artistic and iconic works’ and ‘works of artistic craftsmanship’ is critical. Government has a unique opportunity to support the design sector and act decisively by allowing six months for replica companies to get their acts together (after all, they have known change was afoot for many years) and producing clear guidelines on what is and isn’t an artistic work protected by copyright. Or, take the easy option, allow a longer transition period and wait until the flood gates open for companies to battle it out in court about what is and isn’t iconic; a costly and time consuming exercise which further fuels confusion in an already confused market. 

From iconic to everyday, European and UK designers are ranked among the world's leading pioneers, whose ingenuity has broken moulds, opened new horizons and made a lasting impact. In furniture design, whether domestic or contract, the same is true. Official licensors of iconic furniture adhere to strict rules. They invest heavily in significant pre-development testing, sustainable development and product longevity. Their brand reputation survives upon a promise not to cut corners in styling and quality. Take Rolls-Royce, a classic example of a company with a design and engineering strategy that has stood the test of time on quality and sustainability. Henry Royce once remarked, “The quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten.” How true.

In 2011 Elle Decoration cut five knock-off pieces of iconic furniture in half. While on the surface the products looked almost identical, closer inspection of the insides revealed a vastly sub-standard quality in comparison to the five iconic designs sold through authorised licensed manufacturers. This was clear and unequivocal evidence of the outward appearance of a product (which looks like a design classic) deliberately confusing a purchaser who may not be aware that they are buying an inferior unauthorised replica. 

Sir James Dyson backed the magazine's campaign, stating, “The aping of ingenious design and engineering impedes new ideas, sticks a finger up at investment in costly research and development, and circumvents any original thinking. There’s nothing clever about it.” 

So long as the importing of unlicensed products is allowed to continue, the market for UK bespoke makers will be unfairly undermined by the confusion of inappropriate replica furniture. This also has the potential to damage our balance of payments both by reducing value added within the UK and the potential export of UK manufactured products. 

The results of a recent survey confirms ACID’s recommendation for a six-month transition period of Section 52 of the CPDA to become law from October 2015. 

Click here to read Double Standardonoffice editor James McLachlan's feature on UK copyright law.

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