Decoding Design

A UK campaign aims to increase design copyright protection

A UK campaign aims to increase design copyright protection

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Is design worthy of the same legal protections as art, film, literature, or music? A British campaign for "equal rights for design" aims to discourage intellectual property theft among designers.

 James Dyson: supporting a campaign to offer more legal protection for design

In the United Kingdom, authors, musicians, artists, and film makers have more copyright protection than designers. Their creations are protected for 70 years after the death of the original author (or group of authors), versus 25 years for design work. So now a magazine devoted to interior design, ELLE Decoration UK, has launched a campaign and a petition asking for "equal rights for design."

"We ask, why is design seemingly deemed less worthy of protection?" write the authors of the petition, which you can read and sign online here. The campaign organizers hope that the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will pay attention and alter its policy.

"The hypocrisy of our copyright laws promotes the UK as a default 'safe harbour' for copyists, manufacturers producing cut-price fakes of classic designs," the petition states. "We believe this amounts to UK-endorsed intellectual property theft." Supporters of the campaign include British design superstars James Dyson and Terence Conran (both knighted for their contributions to design in the UK).

“The aping of ingenious design and engineering impedes new ideas, sticks a finger up at investment in costly research and development, and circumvents any original thinking," Dyson is quoted in a statement from ELLE Decoration UK. "There’s nothing clever about it.”

In the magazine's press release for the campaign, statistics are presented on the UK design sector's economic impact in that nation. The release states that the sector contributes an estimated £33 billion (2.4%) to the UK's gross domestic product (GDP); in addition, the creative industries play a major role in fueling the UK’s economy, contributing £112 billion to the UK's GDP, 5.14% of the UK’s employment total and 10.6% of its exports.

“The UK was once a major player in industry and manufacturing with a global reputation for quality and excellence. And it could be so again. But Britain’s designers are still one of the country’s greatest exports," ELLE Decoration UK editor-in-chief Michelle Ogundehin said in a statement.

Although so far there are only 668 signatures (as of this writing) on the petition started by ELLE Decoration UK, it's likely that designers throughout the British Isles and around the world will pay attention, thanks to the high-profile designers involved and ongoing efforts to legally protect original designs in other nations, too.

In the United States, for instance, designers have been relying on--and working to establish more--copyright laws. While American designers can file for a design patent to copyright functional items' shapes, forms, and engineering, fashion designers have been campaigning for the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, which would protect clothing and accessory design for three years after their work first hits runways.

Yes, it is important for these bills and petitions to lead to new laws, although some innovation experts believe that copycat design encourages designers to be quick and fresh in their creativity to combat the knock-offs. At the very least, such efforts to establish more design copyright laws raise the public's consciousness about the dangers of counterfeited designs, which hurt legitimate businesses and eventually larger economies. And when debates are raised on the cultural value of design, they also affect how the design industry is perceived and supported by big business, consumers, and future generations of designers to come.

[Via Dezeen Wire, Dexigner]

Image: Nobuyuki Hayashi/Wikimedia Commons

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure