Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act: reproduction furniture businesses beware!
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 was passed on 25th April. One of the reforms in the Act will bring UK copyright law into line with the rest of Europe in respect of reproduction furniture (and any other artistic manufactured items that originate from copyrighted designs).
This Copyright reform has severe implications for reproduction furniture businesses.
In most cases, copyright in artistic and other works lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years. Copyright doesn’t need to be registered to be enforceable – it exists as soon as the work is created, provided it meets certain tests.
Where an article has been made to a copyrighted design and that article is itself an artistic work (such as particularly stylised designer furniture) then it is an infringement of copyright to copy the article or import/distribute a copy.
There can be considerable civil damages as well as criminal consequences for copyright infringement.
There is however an exception in UK law (but not generally in the rest of Europe) for any industrially-produced articles (meaning that more than 50 have been produced). Any such articles are generally only protected by copyright law for 25 years.
The new position
Under the new Act, the 25 year rule is to be abolished in the UK.
This means that if you are currently manufacturing, importing or selling reproduction furniture based on classic designer furniture first produced more than 25 years ago, but it is less than 70 years since the designer died (or he is still alive) your business – though currently lawful in the UK – may soon become unlawful.
When does the law change
The provision in the new Act which reforms copyright law is not yet in force: the Act allows the Government to decide when to bring it in. There will inevitably be transitional arrangements to allow businesses to clear old stock and to allow them time to move over to manufacturing non-infringing items.
The Government has not yet given any details of how long this transitional period will be. Lobbyists in the reproduction furniture industry are calling for a transitional period of several years while those representing copyright holders would clearly prefer a shorter period.
Businesses would be well-advised to start planning for the new regime now.
Matt Worsnop is an Associate Solicitor at BHW Solicitors in Leicester and writes regularly on intellectual property issues. Matt can be contacted on 0116 281 6235 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.