Hidden in the recesses of the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill are some potentially radical changes to the UK’s copyright regime.  These proposed reforms would result in a drastic increase of the duration of copyright protection for certain artistic works.

Section 52 of the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988 currently curtails the duration of copyright in many mass-produced artistic works to 25 years, as opposed to the term of the life of the artist plus 70 years which is usually afforded to works of artistic copyright.   After a period of 25 years from the date when the articles were first marketed, the copyright owner essentially loses his right to prevent the production of copy-cat articles, although he may still enforce his copyright in respect certain forms of reproduction (for example, within a film).  

The rationale behind this section is that the law of designs is intended to afford protection to designs of articles that are marketed for sale.  Artists should not be able to take advantage of the extensive period of copyright protection where they choose to exploit their works commercially and so the term of copyright protection for those articles is aligned with the term of protection for registered designs by section 52.  There was also a concern prior to the introduction of the CDPA that copyright protection was open to abuse by manufacturers of purely functional items, such as automobile spare parts.

Current indications are that the repeal of section 52 would come into immediate effect, thereby renewing the previously expired copyright of certain mass-produced artistic works.  The Government cites various examples of designs which will benefit from the repeal in its Impact Assessment, including the Fritz Hansen Egg Chair, the Flos Arco Lamp (discussed above) and the Eileen Gray Side Table.  However, many other industries are also likely to benefit, including jewellery designers, toy and games manufacturers and retailers of official merchandise.

If the Bill is enacted, we can expect radical changes to UK copyright law to occur more frequently, with the Secretary of State being granted the power to change the permitted exceptions to copyright infringement simply by statutory instrument.

This post is an extract from an article originally published in World IP Report.