Fake replicas of classic designs banned under new copyright ruling

A change to copyright law means that fake versions of classic design icons such as Ray and Charles Eames’ chairs will stop being sold from 28 January 2017 onwards.

DSW chair, by Charles & Ray Eames
DSW chair, by Charles & Ray Eames

Update 27 January 2017: The six-month grace period, which gave retailers, manufacturers and designers time to sell or get rid of fake replica products, ends tomorrow 28 January. This means that leftover products now either need to be destroyed or the owner needs to approach the copyright holder for a licence, according to law firm Gowling WLG, which specialises in intellectual property law. 

The law firm adds that the ruling also affects 2D images of protected products – for example, publishers which have printed photos of classic designs in books may now need to obtain a licence. Simply possessing the products, with no intention to sell or trade – for example, a restaurant which uses fake Eames chairs – will not infringe the law in most cases, according to Gowling WLG.

A change in copyright law has now come into effect in the UK, which looks to protect classic designs from imitation.

The repeal of section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 came into effect on 28 July, and means that iconic design products will now be protected for 70 years after a designer dies.

This includes products such as Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair and Charles and Ray Eames’ DSW plastic chair.

“Works of artistic craftsmanship”

Retailers, designers and manufacturers have a six-month grace period in which to sell or get rid of any replica stock they own. The ruling states that no replica products can be sold after 28 January 2017. Additionally, no new replica products can be manufactured between now and January, unless the company gains rights from the original copyright holder.

To be granted the right of being a classic design, 3D designs must qualify as “works of artistic craftsmanship”, according to the Intellectual Property Office – this means they have required special training and skill to make, they are seen as a “piece of art”, and the designer purposefully intended to create a work of art.

For any designs created after the year 1988, designers are also protected by registered and unregistered design rights, says Dids Macdonald, founder at Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) and communications chairman at The Furniture Makers’ Company.

“Designers should register their designs”

Designers can fall back on registered design rights if they choose to register their designs, and unregistered design rights if they don’t. Registered rights last for 25 years, and unregistered rights last for 15 years after production.

Macdonald advises: “Designers should register their designs as a priority, and if they’re relying on unregistered rights, then they should keep signed and dated records.”

ACID has a database, where people can send their designs for free. The organisation will note the time and date the work was submitted with a unique number, so that designers have evidence of when a design was first created.

“Become intellectual property-savvy and understand the rights that protect you,” Macdonald says. “Design rights are still valid in Europe and the UK until Brexit comes into force.”

For a longer read on the banning of imitation designs and how classic icons will now be better protected, read our detailed piece from June here.

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Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Jake Jennings August 8, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Design law is heading in the right direction. Sounds great.
    My first thought was what happens to one of the most copied pieces of design out there, one that you see in almost every shop. The artwork for “Keep Calm and…”
    I wonder how highly this will be enforced?

  • Nick Turpin January 28, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Its a shame that genuine Eames chairs are sold at such a price that most ordinary people couldn’t afford to own them.

    The immitators have shown that they can be produced to a pretty high standard and still retail at £28.

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