Westminster Council is planning to crack down on copyright infringements of its iconic street signs, but experts are doubtful it can enforce ownership effectively.
The London borough claims to have identified more than 100 companies that exploit the design, which was created by the late Misha Black in 1967. Westminster Council bought the copyright for £50 000 from Black’s son Oliver last July.
The borough is looking at how to deploy council officers to check for copyright breaches and finalising how much to charge for licences. Prosecution for copyright infringement can result in fines of up to £5000 or up to six months in prison.
‘We are hoping to break even on our initial investment, ploughing any profits into improving roads and streets,’ says Westminster Council director of transportation Martin Low. ‘But profit is not our first motive – the primary purpose is to protect the signs and make sure they are appropriately used.’
However, chief executive of Anti Copying in Design Dids Macdonald recommends the council charges a ‘nominal’ licence fee. ‘Otherwise it is putting an intellectual property straitjacket around an iconic piece of design,’ she says.
Macdonald believes the council will find the new law ‘very, very difficult to enforce, as there is so much counterfeiting of brand names’.