UK to criminalise deliberate
copying of design


Radice stool by Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi

News: the deliberate copying of a design is set to become a criminal offence in the UK, in line with the law on breaching copyright and trademarks.

The change, announced this week by the Intellectual Property Office, is intended to simplify and shorten the legal process surrounding design right disputes by moving them from the UK's civil courts to its criminal courts.

Design right provides automatic protection for the three-dimensional shape of an unregistered design – although not its two-dimensional aspects, such as surface patterns – and lasts a maximum of 15 years.

The trade organisation Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) welcomed the government's decision, but said there was still "a long way to go".

"It's great that the government has taken a first step to protect designers from those who copy their designs, but there is still a long way to go to ensure we receive the same protection as musicians or filmmakers," said ACID chief executive Dids Macdonald.

In a column today, Design Week editor Angus Montgomery agreed that the UK's current intellectual property system leaves designers in danger of being unprotected.

"[D]esign right itself is a seemingly marginal protection. Yes, it covers unregistered designs, but only 3D designs (products and furniture but not graphics or illustrations) and is only effective in the UK," he said.

"So while creating a new crime doubtless sends out the right  message – and hopefully makes serial copiers less likely to offend in future – the practical effect would seem to be minimal."

The government is also introducing changes to ownership so that a commissioned design is now owned by the designer, not the commissioner, as it had previously. The proposed changes can be read in full here.

Today's announcement follows the government's recent decision to extend copyright protection on industrial design from 25 years to the length of the author's life plus 70 years – see all news about copying.

In Milan last month, designers including Marcel Wanders and Tom Dixon told Dezeen in a movie (below) how they are responding to the phenomenon of copying. "It’s become an increasingly big problem for us," said Dixon. "People can steal ideas and produce them almost faster than we can now."

However, in a recent opinion column for Dezeen, architect Sam Jacob argued that the extension of the copyright term for design would "protect existing interests instead of promoting innovation".

Photograph shows Radice stool by Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi.

  • Crack

    *cough* Fosters…

  • Really?

    Have to agree with Sam Jacob on this one, “protect existing interests instead of promoting innovation”.

    What does this mean for open source design and 3D printing etc?

    • Graham Barker copywriter – Leeds & Manchester

      What’s wrong with protecting existing interests? Without protection, there would be no existing interests.

  • dromberg

    The problem really lies in the term “deliberate”. Very hard to prove in my opinion.

    And as I pointed out in another comment (about the Foster coffee-table): accidental copies of existing designs happen all the time. You really can’t check 100% securely for existing designs as there are far to many. I don’t want this to become the first step into criminalising designers who, without malicious intend, “had an idea the second time”.

    • Nor

      I totally agree. Due to the ambiguous nature of design, it cannot be explicitly detected what is being copied from where.

      In addition to that, my question would be, to what extent do two seemingly different design have to resemble so that we can establish that one copied the other? Are there specific measurements for shape, colour, functionality, material, etc. in order to check the similarities?

      Even if two objects were to look similar, through the documented design process, in my opinion, the designers could claim ownership over their originality by demonstrating how they arrived at a certain solution. Therefore, without malicious intent, two (or more) people could have the same (or a very similar) idea at any given time.

      • Harvey

        Fair point, however when a massive firm like Fosters finds that their design is easily mistaken as someone else’s, where everyone can see that an infringement has occurred, don’t they have an obligation to behave responsibly? Or is it okay for them to behave the same way as the replica manufacturers and just take it with no regard for the loss of business for the actual owner?

  • What? This move will stifle innovation concentrating power and wealth into the hands of a small elite while stunting adaption, modification and competition.

    How can the government be so foolish don't they realise this legislation is only in the interests of their powerful friends?

    …oh wait

  • How

    This means that everybody will sue everybody. Because everybody steals from everybody.

    Makes perfect sense.

  • Dan Leno

    The ageing UK design establishment is running out of ideas and seeking the last resort for making money.

  • momo

    So I can’t design a column anymore? Or a ceiling which becomes a wall? Or… see where this is going?

    It’s like saying you can’t use any new words recently added to the English dictionary, or am I going on a tangent?

  • I’d like to see the government use resources to successfully prosecute design theft. Who patented the chamfer or the sweep? Will this be relevant to designs previously completed and updated? This kind of legislation not only hampers design but the work and theory of creativity. The UK is on a roll this week with killing craft as a creative industry.

  • Protection of design is a must if you wish to see the new designers flourish.

  • To create something new you have to understand the history of its form and meaning, in my opinion, so there’s always some kind of copying involved.

    An ‘exact copy’ nevertheless has nothing to do with inspiration or creation, it’s a way of stealing.

  • Chris Rooney

    This smacks of “thoughtcrime”. You can’t prove someone copied another designer intentionally, but if your chair looks like a chair, you can be put in handcuffs.

  • will

    Why doesn’t the UK government help homegrown designers promote their products, rather than bring in a law that can’t be implemented?

  • anui

    Urquiola will be the first one.

  • In theory this is a good idea to protect the work of designers and architects. In practice however this will be a very difficult law to enforce. Where is the line drawn between inspiration and copying? Also what happens with simply shaped objects – if someone designs a circular tabletop will this design be protected for 15 years?