Dezeen Magazine

Panton chair by Verner Panton for Vitra

Design brands attack UK government over copyright law delay

News: design brands including Vitra, Artek and Flos have joined forces to attack the UK government for delaying the implementation of a law that would outlaw the sale of copies of their furniture and lighting products.

The brands have formed a coalition to lobby the government after learning that the law, which was passed last year, may not be brought into effect until 2018.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 contained provisions to bring UK copyright law into line with most of Europe, where manufactured goods are protected for 70 years after the death of the designer. Existing UK law only protects designs for 25 years.

"The UK has never had the same level of intellectual property protection as the rest of Europe," said Tony Ash, managing director of Vitra in the UK, USA, India, Middle East and Far East. "There it's 70 years plus the lifetime of the creator but here it's 25 years from creation. So we've always been at a disadvantage. We lose business and the designers lose royalties."

Ash claimed the anomaly meant the UK had become "a laughing stock" and told Dezeen: "The UK has become a Trojan Horse for the importation of copies into Europe".

The coalition, which also includes furniture and lighting brands Thonet, Republic of Fritz Hansen, Tecnolumen, Artemide and Cassina and is supported by designers Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby, claims the delay in implementing the law is "undermining the UK design industry and flooding the market with illegitimate and poor quality overseas replicas, with little benefit to the British economy".

The law was passed in Spring 2013 and was expected to be brought into force by April this year. However this month the government announced a consultation process on its latest plans, which involve a three-year transition process to allow affected businesses to adapt to the new law.

Tony Ash, Managing Director of Vitra
This image: Tony Ash, Managing Director of Vitra in the UK, USA, India, Middle East and Far East. Main image: one of Vitra's most copied designs, the Panton Chair by Verner Panton

It is understood that the Expired Copyright Homeware Organisation, which represents UK companies that import copies of designer goods, has persuaded the government that its members need more time to prepare for the changes.

However Ash said the delay was damaging to the businesses' design brands and designers.

"It beggars belief that more than a year after the law was changed, UK designers are still subjected to copyright regulations that allow the market for inferior quality fake goods to legally thrive," he said. "Make no mistake, these are poor imitations of what are iconic designs and there should be the same stigma attached to them as to buying a fake handbag, watch or DVD. The principle is no different."

He added: "We now have regulations that bring us into line with the rest of Europe. It's high time these were enforced and we urge the government to expedite this process. A drawn out transition undermines the UK design industry and only benefits overseas manufacturers who are importing these products, defrauding designers and ripping off the public."

Ash claimed that "99.9 per cent of the world's copyists are Chinese" and said that Vitra products including chairs by Charles and Ray Eames and Verner Panton were particularly popular with copyists.

UK industrial designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby backed the coalition's efforts.

"Imitation is not the greatest form of flattery in this case," they said. "These copies are of poorer quality and are thefts of designers' hard work and creativity that should be protected. The means are in place to clamp down on these illegal (at least this would be the case under the new law) copies, and the new copyright regulations should be brought in immediately and rigorously enforced."

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 contains a repeal of the controversial section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which gave less protection to manufactured goods than to unique or low-volume items such as works of art.

The act followed a vigorous campaign headed by Elle Decoration editor Michelle Ogundehin to give designers the same rights as other creatives. Ogundehin launched the campaign in 2011 after learning that the wife of Prime Minister David Cameron had bought a reproduction of the Castiglioni brothers' 1962 Arco floor lamp, which is produced by Flos.