As noted back on the blog last year (here), the UK Government has extended the term of copyright in ‘industrially produced’ artistic works from 25 to 70 years from the creator’s death (the same term as other types of copyright work). This is a significant change, bringing back to life legal rights in a number of design classics such as Anglepoise® lamps and Barcelona chairs.
The Government gave those who imported or produced copies of works before 25 October 2015 (when the Government consulted over the changes) until 28 January 2017 to sell-off any existing stock. Any unsold stock after this date without a licence will be deemed to infringe the rights holder’s copyright if it is sold/communicated/put into circulation.
An updated copy of the Government’s useful guidance can be found here.
For customers, it’s likely that the cost of certain iconic design pieces will increase in price, either as a result of less competition or of the passing on of licence fees to end consumers. For those involved in designing, manufacturing and retailing such works, an added level of due diligence will be needed to check if an item is back in copyright (who designed it and how long ago did they die?) and, if so, to check that any licence is granted by the correct rights holder. Businesses with existing licences on works still within the previous 25 year term should also expect to have to negotiate new licence agreements with the current rights holders, given that these rights will now be more valuable to owners and the initial licence agreements unlikely to cover such a longer ownership term.
Brand owners should exercise extra vigilance in patrolling copies of their brand. Online monitoring tools such as reverse image matching and keyword searching can prove invaluable in ensuring that brand owners’ rights are not exploited by unauthorised third party imitations.