Let’s be crystal clear on what constitutes a fake… to compare design with fashion; just as only the original Roland Mouret studio can make an authentic RM dress, the same applies to certain manufacturers who legally own the rights to make particular designs.
But whether we’re talking a legitimate Chanel handbag or Vitra, a multinational corporation who own the licence to make all of the Eames’s furniture, the point is the same… anyone else flogging their work, is an UNauthorised, UNvalidated, UNmonitored, UNendorsed intellectual property thief.
These suppliers of ‘faux-furniture’ will often use the original designer’s biographies and credentials as marketing to mislead the customer, as well as using words such as ‘inspired by’ or ‘in the style of’ after the description. When shopping for classics, always look for the words ‘licensed manufacturer’ and if you are still unsure, do some research!
Under current UK copyright law, designs can be freely reproduced 25 years after being created – hence the proliferation of “authentic replica” furniture. When you can pay around £400 for a replica Eames Lounge Chair, around a tenth of the price of an authentic model, it is easy to see why they are so popular.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic about these ‘authentic replicas’ and buyers of affordable fakes and many are trying to highlight the importance of supporting legitimate businesses and designers.
For example, earlier this year Samantha Cameron discussed how she had bought a replica of Achille Castiglioni’s classic Arco lamp – a mere £250 compared to the original’s price tag of £1,600. When Elle Decoration’s editor in chief, Michelle Ogundehin saw this, media uproar followed.
“Here was the ambassador for British fashion basically buying a knock-off design. If she doesn’t understand the importance of that, then that is very worrying. If Samantha Cameron sat on the front row of Fashion Week wearing a fake Burberry coat, you would never hear the end of it.”
The ELLE Decoration UK campaign for Equal Rights for Design highlights the extent of the misunderstanding around these unlicensed copies and asked for the government to support the campaign and the UK copyright laws. And they have.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Bill has passed through the House of Lords for its second reading this week, all thanks to Elle Decoration’s ’Get Real, fight the Fakes’ campaign.
However, buried within the bill is section 65, an innocent looking paragraph that ultimately could have a dramatic knock-on effect for the world of designers, manufacturers, publishers and museums. This is due to the bill proposing to “omit section 52″ of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, which covers the “effect of exploitation of design derived from artistic work”.
But not for long. Repealing section 52 will extend the copyright of design to the life of the author, plus 70 years – meaning you would have to wait until 2048 until you could buy that Eames Lounge chair knock-off.
Terence Conran, founder of The Conran Shop, commented on the news of the bill, “By protecting new designs more generously, we are encouraging more investment of time and talent in British design. That will lead to more manufacturing in Britain, and that in turn will lead to more jobs … Properly protected design can help make the UK a profitable workshop again.”
While designers rejoice at this news, the ‘faux-furniture’ industry is furious, claiming the move will threaten more than 6,000 furniture companies in the UK alone.
But while this may be a victory for the protection of designers’ intellectual property, bringing the discipline in line with music and literature, a crucial by-product of the bill has been entirely ignored.
“On the face of it, the bill looks like good news for design,” says Lionel Bentley, professor of Intellectual Property at the University of Cambridge. “But there are lots of people that have been critically overlooked: from university lecturers teaching design history, to book publishers, to museums – everyone will now have to seek permission.”
For example, if the V&A holds an exhibition of fabric design from the Second World War, permissions will need to be gained to include images of these designs in exhibition catalogues and on postcards. This new law will also apply to any book published that illustrates a work of 20th century design will no doubt have to be edited and reprinted.
It has been said that a clause can be easily formulated that would capture the replica design manufacturers, but not affect all these third parties. Ultimately though, does this bill represent a move forward for designers, finally bringing the intellectual property of design in line with other creative disciplines? Or is it another example of adding needless red tape, affecting the world of publishing, teaching and museums?