UK copyright law changed to
protect design classics


Dezeen Wire:
the UK government has announced changes in the law that will extend copyright protection of 'artistic' manufactured goods from just 25 years to the life of the creator plus 70 years, giving design the same term of protection as literature and art. 

The UK has been one of only three EU member states (Estonia and Romania being the other two) to place a limit on the duration of copyright protection for works produced through an industrial process.

Elle Decoration UK editor Michelle Ogundehin has been campaigning for design to be given the same copyright protection as art, music and literature - see all our stories about the Equal Rights for Design campaign here and watch our interview with her below.

Here's some more information about today's announcement from the Design Council:

The Design Council has welcomed today’s announcement by the Government that copyright in designs which qualify for copyright protection is to be enforceable beyond the current 25 years to a term of ‘life of the creator plus 70 years’. Under the new measures, certain ‘artistic’ designs of manufactured goods (for example certain furniture, lamps and jewellery) created before 1987 may now be protected from unauthorised copying under copyright law.

Sir Terence Conran said: “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 – which we desperately need right now. Properly protected design can help make the UK a profitable workshop again. We have the creative talent – let’s use it.”

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council, said: “This is good news for UK design. First, it will help protect more classic UK designs from illegal copying, which costs the UK design sector dearly in lost revenue every year. Second, it will encourage more investment in a truly artistic, design-led approach to manufacturing, as these will enjoy more protection than before.

New technologies have made it easier than ever to copy and reproduce the finest details of original designs and doing so has become big business. In addition, we welcome the work the Intellectual Property Office is leading this year into the protection of design more generally.”

The changes are part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, announced today by the Government. We understand that the Bill will repeal section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which currently restricts copyright to 25 years (calculated from the date on which the work is first placed on the market) on artistic works which are exploited through an industrial process. In practice, this means that owners of any copyrights in classic designs will be able to use copyright law to prevent the sale of unauthorised copies of such designs. Not all works will necessarily be artistic works (and therefore able to be covered by copyright) and the repeal will not apply retrospectively, so retailers will be able to clear any unauthorised existing stock.

Spending on UK design output amounts to almost £33.5 billion, or 2.4% of GDP and there are estimated to be 350,000 people in core design occupations in the UK [1]

The UK had been one of only three Member States (Estonia and Romania) to place a limit on the term of protection for copyright works which are produced through an industrial process, and today’s move will clarify and update the law in line with the rest of the EU.

Responses from other designers: What does this mean for you?

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 – which we desperately need right now. Properly protected design can help make the UK a profitable workshop again. We have the creative talent – lets use it. Sir Terence Conran

Current copyright laws leave designers woefully under protected compared to similar creative professions. This initiative is a small step toward establishing much needed protection of valuable intellectual property. Tom Dixon

As a designer actively pushing boundaries technologically and aesthetically and whose entire life is devoted to enriching industrial design with uniqueness and creative insight, one requires the full support of all authorities, fellow designers, clients, institutions and governments in order to secure copyright and retain the absolute soul of why we design, retaining at all costs our cultural and commercial integrity. Ross Lovegrove

I am very happy to hear of these changes that help to recognise the true value of design, which is very encouraging for the design community as a whole. A big thank you to those who championed the cause. Bethan Gray

This is great news for the design industry and will bring the UK in line with the rest of the EU. As retailers of genuine modern classic furniture as well as the worldwide licence holders for Eileen Gray designs, we are more aware than most that the market is swamped with a multitude of cheap copies. My hope is that this change will encourage design creativity to flourish once more as UK designers will feel more confident that their intellectual property is protected and that pursuing a career in design is worthwhile. Ruth Aram, Aram Store

Take the 620 Chair Programme - it took five years to fight a plagiarism case in Germany; it cost a huge sum for a small company; and only then does the producer stand a chance of achieving copyright protection. So, the 620 Chair Programme is protected but Rams's 606 Universal Shelving System is not protected. Of course, 606 is one of the more copied products on the market (I even saw a 505 shelving system recently). The 620 Chair Programme is already protected for 70 years after Rams's death because it is protected under German law - fortunately he has just celebrated his 80th birthday, so there is no sign of the 70 years starting yet.

However, furniture producers still need much more help with the process of achieving copyright protection in the first place. It is here that I would like to see more time and effort taken by the legislators. The copying of furniture is out of hand and, ultimately, it is the customer who loses out. Vitsoe would be able to support and service its long-term customers much better if its market position was not constantly being eroded by products that copy the look (of its shelving system) but fail to give the high product quality and careful service which genuinely allow customers to live better, with less, that lasts longer. Mark Adams, Vitsoe

[1] Source: independent research for the Intellectual Property Office by Imperial College London, 2011.

Movie: Michelle Ogundehin on Equal Rights for Design


Watch this movie on Dezeen Screen »

  • Fantastic news and very welcome! Well done all involved :-)

  • Caesar Tjalbo

    None of mrs. Ogundehin make any sense. None.

    Frankly, 25 years after the death of the designer is already 25 years too long.

  • Davey

    Oh dear! I was hoping that patents and copyrights would expire soon and that I would be able to buy a decent folding bike that folds up really small for a moderate price. Looks like it’s never going to happen as those bikes sell for many times what I think they are worth.

    There has been a similar fiasco in the UK with inverter generators and just how that firm got their patent beggars belief. The reason why I say that is because I saw an inverter-generator at the London Boat Show at least twenty years before “that firm” got their patent. The unit was a modified large frame Bosch vehicle alternator. This had been fitted with extra windings. There was also the inverter module which was the size of a small shoe box. Anyway this box of tricks would produce two kilowatts or more at 240 volts and would boil an electric kettle no problem.

    The frequency was independent of engine revolutions so this was another advantage. I didn’t think it was possible to patent ideas which are already in common use but in this case it looks as if you can. Maybe the patent officer hadn’t been to the boat show. I faintly remember the unit being branded as “Kestrel” but AFAIK they don’t make them anymore. It must be extremely annoying to be told that one cannot produce an item that your company invented but there you go! It’s all down to the lawyers and the liars. You see it’s just not true true that money talks – it shouts!

  • A conservative step backwards from the elitist Conservative government.

    • Clayton Baxter

      Difference between patent and copyright! Though I agree, way too long. Long patents and copyright actually stifle creativity, as there is no need to innovate and many speculative patents are used to prevent competitors improving on patented ideas, without putting the idea into the market. There should be a use it or lose it rider to patented designs.