The UK Intellectual Property Office has launched a consultation on when section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 should be repealed.

Section 52 

Section 52 provides that, when a work protected by artistic copyright has been exploited industrially (by making and selling more than 50 copies), the copyright term is automatically reduced from the usual life of the author plus 70 years to just 25 years from the date of marketing.  By way of example: an artist creates a painting.  As an artistic work, the painting would be protected by copyright for the life of the artist plus 70 years.  However, if the artist decided to licence his painting to be reproduced on T-shirts, 1000 of which were manufactured and subsequently sold in the UK, then the duration of protection for the original painting would be reduced to 25 years, running from the end of the year in which the T-shirts were first marketed.

The UK is one of only three EU member states which reduces the term of protection for artistic works when they are exploited industrially.  

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Repeal 

Section 52 will be repealed in its entirety by section 74 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA).   This means that a work protected by artistic copyright would continue to be protected for the life of its author plus 70 years whether the work had been industrially exploited or not.

This reform is the result of long term lobbying by designers who wanted a level playing field with their European counterparts and who saw section 52 as a barrier to new designers starting up in the UK.  They also argued that their profits were affected by the influx into the UK of inferior quality replicas sold at much lower prices, leaving them no money to invest in design innovation and long term business growth.

The repeal will have significant implications for businesses that import, manufacture or sell replica ‘classic’ design products (lookalikes of designs outside the 25 year term of protection such as furniture, lamps or something else) as they will have to entirely rethink their existing business model and deal with selling off existing stock.

Consultation 

The consultation focuses on when section 74 ERRA should be brought into force.  The objective is to allow a fair and proportionate transition period for affected businesses whilst ensuring that rights-holders are able to protect their copyright work for the full duration of copyright protection at the earliest opportunity.  The government is proposing a transition period of three years from April 2015 with section 52 being repealed on 6 April 2018.  The consultation seeks views on whether this is a fair, proportionate and balanced way to change the law and whether the three years allows a reasonable period of adjustment for affected parties.  It also seeks views on alternative transition periods, namely six months or five years.

The consultation closes on 27 October 2014.

Read the consultation document here.