Tag:  “copyright”  | (2) posts

An End to Faking It

Contrary to what many think, IP-law is not subject to an EU-wide harmonisation. This is probably due to the existence of the Community Trademark but bear in mind that all the national systems are still well and alive and existing alongside the EU-trademark.

Recently, the UK Copyright legislation has been amended. Very frustrating for rights’ owners, UK Copyright expired 25 years after the creator’s death. Most other countries have 70 years.

This meant that especially objects of industrial design and designer furniture were reproduced quite legally in Britain. Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair and similar classics were among the popular items. The big frustration for rights’ owners was that these products were widely exported across the EU borders.

Some British knock-off manufacturers even had web pages targeting, say, German, Italian or Danish costumers. Some manufacturers even had concrete and public plans of setting up showrooms where consumers from countries with higher copyright protection could see the products and order them.

This was all legal under UK law – but not legal in the rest of the EU member states.

A common misconception by many consumers in the EU is that goods purchased in one member state in general may circulate freely. This is not the case when the goods are illegal in the member state whereto they are ordered. The Internal Market of the EU will always yield to IP-rights. Offering goods for sale indirectly through show rooms does not change this. However, for the rights’ holders enforcement may be extremely costly and cumbersome as each infringement had to be countered nationally.

All this is now well in the past. A recent amendment to the UK Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988 has brought the protection of copyrighted materials in the UK in line with the continental European countries, i.e. 70 years after the creator’s death.

Surely a good thing in the name of harmonisation of legislation, the protection of rights and an incentive to invest long term and create jobs in the creative business sector in the UK?

So is everybody now happy? No. The makers of these classic furniture knock-offs have complained that their business and the jobs will be heavily affected. Lamentable, but hardly a valid argument for sustaining a business that exists mainly with the focus of selling copies to countries where protection is high. And at the end of the day we are still talking about (now) illegal counterfeits.

Others that may be unhappy could be companies such as McDonalds. In Europe McDonalds famously rebranded their restaurants with designer furniture. Then quickly after the stock of same furniture was discovered to be heavily supplemented with designer knock-offs. Although this furniture to some extent – at least in the UK – may have been legal, McDonalds were publicly lambasted by Danish furniture company Fritz Hansen. The company suspended all supplies to McDonalds and accused McDonalds for endorsing piracy and setting intellectual property rights aside. I am sure that many will agree that this was not PR which McDonalds was happy with.

For lovers of copy furniture all is not lost. The works of Arne Jacobsen will exit copyright in 2041 and Mies van der Rohe in 2039…

Thorbjørn Swanstrøm, Trademark and Design Attorney, Attorney at Law, Partner

A new dawn for protection of designs?

It is no secret that the differences in national European law concerning the protection of designs, has been driving many Danish rights holders crazy for years on end. It has been difficult to come to terms with the fact that while many of our prominent Danish designs - designs of which we as a nation are proud – are protected under national Danish copyright law for the lifetime of the designer plus 70 years, it has been perfectly legal to purchase cheap (and sometimes not so cheap) copies in England and have them shipped to Denmark.

Many holders of such rights have fought in vain to stem the steady flow of such copies from England first to private consumers, and eventually and inevitably to the numerous flea markets, garage sales and even auction houses. While importing the copies for purely private use is perfectly legal in Denmark, the selling of such copies on the Danish market is not. But trying to stop private individuals from reselling their used copies is, to say the very least, a losing fight.

Help might just be at hand though, as the UK has recently announced a new measure to increase the protection of such rights. If passed, the protection of copyright in relation to manufactured furniture will be increased from the current span of a short 25 years to the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years, bringing it into line with most other European Union member states.

From a legal perspective, the differences in national laws on copyright protection have given rise to many interesting questions. The laws on copyright have not been harmonized in the EU. Coupled with the laws concerning the free movement of goods in the Union and the advances of internet shopping, it has been possible to find loopholes which allow citizens in some countries to purchase copies from countries with a more lenient law, while in other member states it is punishable even to import such copies. Is it fair that individuals in Denmark can own copies, when in some countries – such a France – it is punishable by law to even cross the border with a fake watch? Importing fake designer furniture into France can cost you a fine of up to EUR 300.000 or even a three year stay in prison.

With such extremes in copyright protection with France and Italy at one end of the scale and the UK at the other, it seems improbable that the laws on copyright will be harmonized anytime soon. For now, all we can hope for is that the UK enacts the suggested provision and sets up a solid system for enforcing it too.

Mette Bender, Attorney at Law