"Legal systems don't really defend designers
at all" - Tom Dixon


Tom Dixon at Global Design Forum

London Design Festival: "Legal systems don't really defend designers at all" when it comes to copying, British designer Tom Dixon told Dezeen today at the Global Design Forum, a day of talks from leading figures in the design world as part of the London Design Festival (+audio).

Above: Tom Dixon spoke to Dezeen after his talk at the Global Design Forum today

In his presentation earlier this morning, Dixon commented on the threat foreign manufacturers pose to his design business. Searching for his work on eBay produces seven pages and only two genuine items, he said: "All the others are copies at a third of the price from Hong Kong." Copiers use drawings from designers' websites to produce accurate replicas and even steal marketing images to paste into their own online catalogues, he explained. "It's very quick and pernicious. I used to laugh it off and be flattered that people bothered to copy, but now I'm more nervous."

Speaking to Dezeen after his talk, Dixon explained that "in Australia for instance, if you call something a Tom Dixon replica you can bypass the law: you're stating what the thing is, it's a replica, so therefore it's legitimate even though it's a copy." He says that designers "just have to be smarter, faster and quicker to market."

Dixon is therefore enthusiastic about technological advances that are making the manufacturing process more fast and flexible, citing his use of robotic machines that bypass the high set-up costs and inflexibility of mass-production and enable the same design to be produced in Britain, the US and China simultaneously, simply by sending a computer file.

"Localised production will become more and more the model, just because we won't be able to afford to ship things so much," he told us. "Perhaps you do want things which are more adapted to your personal needs and maybe you'll cherish things which are more personal anyway. Previously those things were only available to people that could afford tailor-made shoes but there's no doubt that it's already possible to personalise things for your own needs right now. So that could be a massive growing trend."

In May the UK government announced changes in the law to give ‘artistic’ manufactured goods the same term of copyright protection as music and literature, following a campaign spearheaded by Elle Decoration UK editor Michelle Ogundehin.

Read Dezeen's report on how localised, digital manufacture is revolutionising industrial design here, and watch our movie filmed with Tom Dixon at his digital mini factory in Milan here.

The Global Design Forum is a new conference taking place today, organised by the London Design Festival to bring together designers, critics, technology experts, trend forecasters and trade and government representatives to discuss the global agenda for design.

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  • uberbigpete

    Competition is what encourages new ideas and innovations. The legal protection should only go so far as to stop imitation of the design, not the idea or concept. If we use government to squash competition, we are stopping new and possibly better ideas from surfacing.

  • Matt

    A design patent and registered trademark would solve your eBay issue. It is a sad fact of life that inventors/creators need to purchase such a thing but it is the only way to legally claim title in the capitalistic society we live in.

  • Josh V.

    Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Dixon. Copyright laws have inhibited many of the electronic musical arts since the golden age of sampling. There’s a good TED Talks from Johanna Blakley about how a lack of copyright protection in industries like fashion and perfume have spurred intense competition and forward progression of ideas.

  • Tired bored designer

    Tom Dixon is Mr Bean.

  • honest snob

    If you want to “impress” someone, you still need a real thing, not a replica, so stay calm Mr. Dixon, those who can afford it, still buy the original only.

  • remio

    Replicas are free marketing. More people will know your designs. An original will be a status symbol. Someone who buys a replica would never buy an original.

  • Jonathan Allen

    I have been an electronics designer for close to 35 years, and my first design was copied within 6 months. It was the highest compliment my designs have ever received, even though I’ve since put my name on 5 US patents, and designed enhancements to the world’s most sensitive laser interferometer (LIGO), which can now detect vibrations no larger than 1/10th of the radius of a proton (10exp-24 meter). Defending designers has more to do with offering credit where credit has been duly earned, which in my realm is a rarity.

  • philip atkinson

    I am an English lawyer, not Australian, but I suspect Tom Dixon would be in a different position if his name was a registered trademark in Australia. However I am concerned that collaboration, which is their new method of working, is going to throw up huge issues, which designers are no more prepared for than architects and construction companies are for the impact of collaborative BIM.

  • efj

    This is needed. “Receiving a % of your idea” … what is wrong with that? Artist and creative types need to push for their cut. It’s as simple as that!

  • dan ny

    What immediately springs to my mind: Why not turn these clearly talented manufacturers into assets? Work with rather than against.

  • Dayle

    Tom Dixon is the biggest design thief of them all, copper sphere pendants have been around since the 70s, thus I find it absurd he thinks he has the right to whinge about this considering how many reproduced copper balls he has sold in recent years. Let’s have a true and inspiring designer become an advocate for this topic, not Tom ‘Reproduction’ Dixon.