Repeal of Section 52 of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
The arco lamp (Castiglioni brothers) and the butterfly chair (Lucian Ercolani, founder of Ercol) are two examples of iconic products, which, until a recently announced change in the law, would not have been able to receive the full duration of copyright protection in the United Kingdom.
In the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, copyright protects an article for the creator’s life plus 70 years. However, there are exceptions, including Section 52 of the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act (CDPA) 1988 which limits protection to 25 years for industrially manufactured copies. An article is regarded as ‘industrially manufactured’ where more than fifty copies are made, or it consists of goods manufactured in lengths/pieces and the goods are not hand-made. The effect is that plaques, most sculptures, and printed literary or artistic matter (e.g., calendars, greeting cards, stamps) have full copyright protection, whereas mass produced designs (e.g., furniture, vases, lamps and other decorative items) are limited to 25 years. Few other European Union countries limit the copyright of industrially manufactured artistic works.
On 25 April 2013, the UK Parliament passed the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013. Section 74 ERRA allowed the repeal of Section 52 CDPA at a date to be decided later. The government opened a consultation lasting from 15 September 2014 until 27 October 2014 to decide on a date of repeal.
On 18 February 2015, the Government published its response to the consultation which confirms that Section 52 CDPA will be repealed effective 6 April 2020 in order to ensure ‘fair treatment of all types of artistic works’, ‘rewards for British designers’, and to ‘encourage a new generation to innovate and grow’. There will be express provisions so that copies of industrially manufactured artistic works that already existed or were imported before 6 April 2020 can continue to be distributed, hired and sold indefinitely after repeal, but any unlicensed copies may not be imported or made after the repeal. The government will issue non-statutory guidance on what items may attract copyright protection and factors to consider closer to the date of repeal.
The change in law will be of particular interest to manufacturers of replica furniture and decorative items who will need to re-evaluate the licensing requirements of their business model as they had previously relied on the shorter term of copyright protection.