The New Copyright Bill: How Does This Affect Interior Designers? (posted 13th May 2016)

The old law stated that after 25 years of a design being in existence it may be replicated and sold as ‘authentic replica’ furniture. The new law extends this time period to include the lifetime of the designer as well as an additional 70 years.

So how will this affect the design world? Will ‘design’ become more exclusive and elite? Or will manufacturers who replicate items find a loophole? Will the economy boom with original design pieces accessible to all? What will ‘faux furniture’ be? A chair with three legs instead of four? Is it made using a synthetic material instead of the original (think real fur versus fake – we’re much more socially happy with the fake fur!) Or what happens if it’s made in the UK and supports a local market? Then if we throw into the mix that people who buy replica furniture probably (purely from a price-point-of-view) would never have bought the genuine original – can we justify restricting most of the population to a very limited range of furniture and design? Is good, trendy design only for the rich?

The New Copyright Bill: How Does This Affect Interior Designers?
Carl Hansen's Shell Chair

How has the public (not design world) reacted? Did they buy these modified replicas? Did Joe & Jane Bloggs know the difference? Did this push for a new design trend where designers begin to manufacture more accessible (price-wise) items? Such as Tom Dixon and Conran – easily available on the high street at Heals, Conran, John Lewis etc but still a statement in design (and not dirt cheap).

The New Copyright Bill: How Does This Affect Interior Designers? 

Tom Dixon's Melt Pendant Ceiling Light

With such an ease of access to information (the internet) and our desire to discuss these topics (this blog post for example) should one assume that Joe & Jane Bloggs have known that they weren’t buying a design original (sure they may be spending £500 of their hard earned pounds, but that’s a lot less than the £5000 for the original, but potentially still quite a lot for them!)

Will this new law encourage the designers to supply their products faster? At the moment it’s much quicker (lead time) to buy a replica – order today, deliver tomorrow. Versus potentially three or four months for an original. In a consumer driven market where we have a desire to own what we buy immediately (why Amazon Prime does so well and is so popular) will Joe & Jane Bloggs really want to wait for a month for their coveted sofa or will they be prepared to forfeit the design exclusivity and opt for something that’s delivered soon, fast, easily? And after all, if it’s a good replica will the Jones’ really know?

We can currently buy the design classics, both as originals and replicas. Is it fair to revoke access to the replicas? Consider also that this is an industry and creates jobs. Let’s look at a few more angles.

Intellectual property. As interior designers the designs we create are our currency. If we showed someone our work and they didn’t hire us, but replicated what we’d done how would we feel (apart from hungry and poor if this happened on a regular basis)? We (Suna Interior Design) are very proudly 15 this year, so technically speaking all of our designs are still covered (under both the old and the new law).

When we create our designs we have to be realistic – could what we offer our clients continue to be so on-trend if we couldn’t use authentic replicas? Our work, as with many other interior designers, is driven by budget. Our skill (well one of them) is to maximise the look that our budgets allow for.

In the pharma industry companies generally have a 20 year patent from when their drug comes to market (there are exceptions and I’m generalising). The company will only have the remaining time to make their profit. Because as soon as that patent is up, profit share on that product tends to fall by approximately 80% (known as the ‘pharma cliff’, where pharma ‘replica’ companies are able to make and sell a generic product). We don’t complain about this limited patent life, unless you’re a pharma company! In fact a side effect of having a limited patent period in the pharma industry is that it encourages the development of new drugs and medicines. So that when the patent expires the company will have another source of income. But the result for Joe & Jane Bloggs is that new medicines are being developed.

We are acknowledging the designers who are creating beautiful items that we covet. And we respect the intellectual property and beauty of the items (whether it be for 25 years or their lifetime plus 70 years). We’re asking for designers to please not to rest on their laurels – keep creating!

The New Copyright Bill: How Does This Affect Interior Designers?
La Voliere Pendant Lamp available from Conran

So, how do we feel about this new law? Well it sparked a debate in our office, argued from all angles and is the reason I’m writing this today. If you believe that rules are made to be broken, will replica manufacturers find a way around the new law? Or are you of the mind that so much effort and time goes into creating something, why should someone else benefit from your hard work? Does this new law effectively close the replica industry which gives many people access to trendy design replicas that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford and creates jobs? Or is it a lifeline to designers who put their all into creating something beautiful, so beautiful that we all want a piece of it?

What are your thoughts on this topic?


*The law I’m referring to is section 65 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill  which proposes to omit section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, which encompasses the “effect of exploitation of design derived from artistic work”.