Change to Copyright Law May Protect Iconic Designs of the 60s and 70s
Have you ever wondered why the Eames lounge chair or the Arne Jacobsen ‘egg’ chair did not benefit from copyright for the normal copyright term (the creator’s life plus 70 years)? The UK had, until last year, a section in its copyright law (s52, Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) which said that mass manufactured articles would only get 25 years’ copyright protection. The controversial section 52 has now been repealed, bringing the UK law in line with other Member States’ laws, and boosting the UK design industry. Now, designers of artistic yet mass manufactured articles will be able to protect their designs for the usual copyright term. They will have to prove that the article is a ‘work of artistic craftsmanship’, and factors like whether the designer was skilled in a particular craft, intended it to be a work of art, and whether the public views it as a work of art, will influence the courts. Many products have, historically, been deemed by the UK courts not to be works of art: a dress, a suite of furniture, a patchwork bedspread, and the Stormtrooper®s’ helmet from Star Wars®. It will be interesting to see which cases are brought. Designers who designed the piece to be very functional may struggle to argue they intended it as a work of art.
The depletion period, during which businesses could sell their stocks, ended on 28 January 2017, so sale of an infringing copy is now illegal, and licences from the copyright owners need to be obtained. Photos of articles in catalogues should also be removed if the copyright owner’s permission cannot be obtained.
Simply having an infringing copy in your house will not be copyright infringement, but having one in your business might be.