Spring brings news of statutory changes to UK copyright law that will extend protection for iconic designs significantly.

On 25 April 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill passed into law, as it was given Royal Assent. Much of it is irrelevant to IP lawyers, covering everything from directors' pay to the establishment of the Green Investment Bank via the regulation of letting agencies. However, it has been used as a vehicle to make some important changes to copyright law, the main ones being:

Copyright protection for designs

  • Perhaps the most interesting change for the majority of our readers is the repeal of section 52 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) (see our earlier update on 'safeguarding against copycats'). The term of copyright for an artistic work is the life of the author, plus 70 years. Section 52 limited that term to 25 years (the same as for Registered Designs) where the work has been mass produced (i.e. more than 50 have been made).
  • This change will help designers and manufacturers of iconic designs, as they will have a new way to crack down on the replica market, and arguably brings the UK into line with the rest of Europe (only Estonia and Romania also have a limitation for mass-produced items).

During the passage of the bill, the Government made it clear that it will not mean that replicas become "illegal overnight", but will apply to newly manufactured or newly imported goods. This change provides a strong new remedy to furniture manufacturers and others in the face of a growing appetite amongst consumers for cheaper, lower quality replicas of classic designs.

Orphan works

  • Where people want to use copyright works, they can seek a licence from the copyright owner. However, where the owner cannot be found, despite a diligent search, the works are known as "orphan works". The bill inserts new sections 116A and B into the CDPA, allowing licences to be granted in such circumstances under a scheme of extended collective licensing.

There is a lot of detail still to be announced, including when the relevant changes will be implemented, and how. As soon as we know more, we'll let you know.