My heart and my head are torn…
This week, the government repealed section 52 of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents act meaning that the UK will extend the amount of time that artistic copyright exists on ‘industrial practices’ (aka knock-offs), bringing it in line with the rest of the EU.
Essentially the amendment means that no-one can make copies of protected designs for the author/artist’s life, plus 70 years; a lot longer than the current 25 year limit… Elle Decoration are rejoicing after a year long campaign and the design industry is hailing it as a coup.
Undoubtedly it is fantastic news for designers and craftsmen both now and in the future, though not necessarily for design-loving, but relatively poor, consumers.
And this is my dilemma:
Intellectual Property laws allow growth and security when creating something beautiful and unique but, frankly, I’d quite like to own some cool furniture.
It’s not that I don’t think craftsmen and designers should be recognised and rewarded for their work, more that there’s a disparity between this and other creative industry outputs.
A great piece of art? I hang a print
The best music? I buy the CD
New writing? I get the book
(The obvious answer to this would be miniature imitations of originals so they could sit on a bookshelf and be admired, but the only person I know who has things like this is my Knoll-working uncle who already owns the full sized versions anyway)
Sir Terrance Conran argues that:
“By protecting new designs more generously, we are encouraging more investment of time and talent in British design
…Properly protected design can help make the UK a profitable workshop again…
…We have the creative talent – lets use it”
Of course he’s not wrong, but perhaps a solution can be found, allowing the average-Joe design fan to experience and enjoy the best of British design in their homes, at the creator’s gain, not expense.
Co-created ranges with high street retailers (like Conran with Marks and Spencer) are one route though these are still ‘expensive’ to the everyday consumer. Inevitably, the recession has made it mark.
And with some of the most design-savvy everyday names disappearing (the Home Retail group which owns Argos, Habitat and Homebase announced the closure of 75 Argos stores in October), the design industry runs the risk of alienating itself from some of its best advocates, creating a chasm between average but affordable, and innovative, beautiful and very cool but completely unattainable…
Perhaps lessons can be learnt from the fashion industry, where high fashion sits comfortably alongside high street and joint ranges are becoming the norm (see H&M and TopShop for fantastic examples of how to do this very well).
Or a British version of Ikea that promotes great design at really affordable prices and possibly compromises on quality of materials in order to focus on the quality of the creation.*
Or even something as obvious as designers creating their own ‘ready-to-wear’ ranges of furniture, cutting out the middle-men who they say take their profits and bastardise their detail and intricacies.
Something needs to happen, whatever it is. If not, design will continue to be superb but no-one will recognise it outside of the industry, and Ikea will continue to dominate unchallenged (a position which can only lead to a deterioration in quality across all facets).
If Britain can pioneer this then, to steal Conran’s words, the UK can become both a profitable workshop and a guiding light, and the knock-on effect will benefit the wider creative industry enormously too.
Other interesting articles on this: