Last month the Court of Session in Edinburgh heard claims that the kings of cut-price tartan goods, Gold Brothers, were in breach of copyright law. The family firm which has a chain of shops across the country has, in the past, come under strong criticism from various parties for devaluing Scotland's heritage and turning the Royal Mile into something resembling an "Eastern Bazaar". In their defence, Gold Brothers claim that they are simply providing tourists with what they want, including novelty memorabilia and Chinese made kilts retailing for under £20!
The action was brought against them by Rosemary Samios, an Australian citizen with Scottish roots, who bought the rights to the "Isle of Skye" tartan from weaver Angus McLeod in 1992. Since then she is said to have enjoyed "considerable commercial success" by granting manufacturers a licence to reproduce the tartan, designed to reflect the colours of the island, at an initial cost of £12,000 plus a 10% royalty on sales.
Following a raid on a Fife warehouse, which revealed hundreds of metres of the tartan in question, Lady Dorian at the Court of Session granted Mrs Samios an interim interdict banning Gold Brothers from making, marketing, importing or exporting goods made in the design. Mrs Samios is also claiming £150,000 for damage to the reputation of the genuine tartan by "its application to cheap products of inferior design, quality and materials". Gold Brothers are said to have been producing scarves, rugs, hats and kilts in the Isle of Skye tartan design renamed "Skye Isles" and "Bright Skye".
According to existing intellectual property rights, printing any tartan design without a licence is an infringement of copyright law. The Scottish Register of Tartans Bill, due to be considered by MSPs in September, will aim to collate the thousands of registered designs and provide further subject-specific protection. This Member’s Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 25 March 2008 and seeks to establish a Scottish Register of Tartans and require a Keeper of the Register of Tartans to maintain and oversee the Register and new registrations. It also sets out the process for registering new tartan designs in the Register. It remains to be seen what this new piece of legislation will do when it comes to the forum but is worth keeping a particular eye on in light of the fact that it may set precedents for the protections of many other valuable subjects.