New copyright laws in the UK have come into effect, banning replicas of some of the most-copied icons of 20th century furniture design – including pieces by Arne Jacobsen, and Charles and Ray Eames (+ slideshow).
As of 28 July 2016, dealers cannot make or import new furniture copies. After a transitional period of six months, they will no longer be able to sell them either.
The change brings the UK – once derided as "a Trojan Horse for the importation of copies into Europe" – into line with the rest of the EU, which has longer-lasting copyright protections.
While the future of the laws may be uncertain following June's Brexit vote, for the time being UK copyright protections for industrial design have been extended. They've changed from 25 years after an item is first marketed to 70 years from the death of the creator.
Fake Hans J Wegner chairs destroyed by Norwegian authorities
This is the result of the repeal of section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, which previously exempted industrially manufactured pieces from the copyright protections afforded to artistic works.
Although there's still a legal grey area for items "inspired by" designer classics and boasting only small differences from the originals, the shift could spell the end for businesses that rely on rip-offs.
Here are 10 of the most copied designs that are now protected:
Eames DSW chair, 1950
Designed by: Charles (1907–1978) and Ray (1912–1988) Eames
The plastic Eames DSW chair with its Eiffel Tower-like base is one of the most copied pieces of furniture. Discount supermarket chain Aldi was recently selling pairs of replica Eames chairs for £39.99. That's a fraction of the £339 it costs to buy a single authorised version of the chair, manufactured for the UK market by Swiss design brand Vitra.
While UK law deemed the chair out of copyright 25 years after its marketing in 1950, the repeal effectively means it will be protected until 2058, 70 years after Ray's death.
The Eameses were famously advocates for democratic, affordable design, so the merit of replicas of their furniture is often a subject of debate among their fans.
Arne Jacobsen Egg chair, 1958
Designed by: Arne Jacobsen (1902–1971)
Originally designed for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark, Arne Jacobsen's Egg easy chair has since been manufactured by Republic of Fritz Hansen.
Recognisable to the British public as the diary room chair from the first series of Big Brother, it can be bought for £559 through replica retailer Vita Interiors. That compares to £4,283 from Fritz Hansen. The design is now protected until 2041.
Hans Wegner Wishbone chair, 1950
Designed by: Hans Wegner (1914–2007)
Also known as the CH24, the Wishbone chair has been in continual production by Carl Hansen & Sons since 1950. Its name comes from its characteristic Y-shaped back.
Retailing for £504 at design store Skandium, a version of the chair can also be purchased for £120 from Swivel UK. The Danish design classic is now copyright protected in the UK until 2077.
Barcelona chair, 1929
Designed by: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969)
Even though it was designed a full 87 years ago, the leather and chrome Barcelona chair remains one of the most iconic seats of the 20th century.
It will now be copyright protected in the UK until 2039. The official version manufactured by Knoll, retails for £5,232. Replicas can be purchased for £455 from Swivel UK.
Tolix chair, 1934
Designed by: Xavier Pauchard (1880–1948)
By contrast, the Tolix chair, designed five years after the Barcelona, will be newly copyright protected for only the next two years. The new copyright provisions cover designs for 70 years after the death of the creator, and Tolix's French designer, Xavier Pauchard, passed away 68 years ago.
The metal Tolix has been a ubiquitous design, with replicas available in supermarket chain Tesco for £59.99. Still made by original manufacturers Tolix, the official version retails for £187.
Jean Prouvé Standard chair, 1950
Designed by: Jean Prouvé (1901–1984)
French designer and architect Jean Prouvé first began work on the Standard chair in 1934, although it wasn't released until 1950. Traditionally manufactured in wood and steel, it has a distinctive shape with thin front legs and more robust, load-bearing back legs.
While Vitra holds the licence to manufacture it in the UK, where it retails for £547, an "identical" chair can be bought through Voga for €124. The UK's new copyright provisions will protect the Standard Chair until 2054.
E1027 side table, 1927
Designed by: Eileen Gray (1878–1976)
Previously out of copyright since 1952, the E1027 will now by protected in the UK until 2046. Gray originally designed the adjustable metal table for her own house, wanting a multipurpose item that could serve as an occasional, side or bedside table.
Aram Designs holds the worldwide licence for Gray's designs, and sells the E1027 for £510. At Swivel UK, the replica is £108.
Isamu Noguchi coffee table, 1944
Designed by: Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988)
Sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi is said to have described this 1944 coffee table as his best furniture design. Now manufactured by Vitra and sold for £1,324, it is replicated by the likes of Swivel UK for £230. It is now copyright protected until 2058.
LC2 sofa, 1965
Designed by: Le Corbusier (1887–1965)
Designed in 1928 and manufactured in the year of his death, Le Corbusier's LC2 is described as "the archetype of the modern chair" by manufacturers Cassina.
Its three-seater version retails for £9,024 from Nest, while replicas are available for £1,293. It is now copyright protected in the UK until 2035.
PH Artichoke lamp, 1958
Designed by: Poul Henningsen (1894–1967)
Danish architect Poul Henningsen's Artichoke lamp has a distinctive form that has proven difficult to copy. That doesn't mean plenty haven't tried.
Danish lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen holds the license to the suspension light, which retails with authorised dealer Nest for £5,445, while replica company Voga sells its copy for €478 (£400). Its copyright protection in the UK now extends until 2028.
Flip through a Restoration Hardware catalog, for example, and you’ll discover the $1,395 Copenhagen chair, a replica of Arne Jacobsen’s 1958 Egg chair, described as "a fresh and exquisite reproduction of modern Danish design of the 1950s." Of course Fritz Hansen, who holds the exclusive official license to manufacture the "authentic" $4,500 chair, sees it differently. "It’s not a tribute to the original design; it’s spitting on it," says David Obel Rosenkvist, Fritz Hansen’s vice president of sales. "For sure it would make Jacobsen roll in his grave." Though it’s technically legal for Restoration Hardware to make a close copy of this chair, Fritz Hansen nevertheless issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company, demanding they stop using Arne Jacobsen’s design story to promote what Rosenkvist calls its "rough and clumsy knockoff."
To gain more perspective on Fritz Hansen’s take on knockoffs and authentic design, we asked Rosenkvist a few questions—such as: Are knockoffs really so bad? Judging by this interview and previous ones I’ve conducted (see what Herman Miller’s Marg Mojzak has to say on the subject here; read quotes about the concept of "authentic design" from 10 design insiders here; and check out the essay that kicked off the discussion here) it’s clear that most manufacturers see this as a very black and white issue. As well they might, considering everything they’ve invested in the pieces they produce and promote. No one likes a cheat, especially the companies that suffer losses both concrete (financial) and abstract (damage to their reputation for quality) when consumers opt for a knockoff.
What is Fritz Hansen's most frequently knocked-off design? The most copied furniture from our collection is the Egg, Swan, and Series 7 designed by Arne Jacobsen in the 1950's and the PK22 designed by Poul Kjærholm in 1956. The PK20, PK24, and PK61 designed by Poul Kjærholm are also becoming increasingly copied. Particularly in the USA we have experienced some aggressive activity by companies copying our products and are investigating these companies and will take legal action wherever possible.How do knockoffs affect the design industry, from your company’s perspective? Knockoffs cheapen the entire design industry and the craftsmanship involved in true design. By creating cheaper, inferior versions and using poor materials to produce replicas of original design, it sends the wrong message and takes away from the design product. Design requires quality materials, craftsmanship by experts as well experienced design techniques. Copies are not only an infringement upon Fritz Hansen's design rights, but it's an exploitation of the original design history and heritage that has been built up over the last century.How do you protect your designs, both new pieces and old? What are the biggest challenges around preventing knockoffs of Fritz Hansen products, generally speaking?
We go to great lengths to protect our design products. We trademark the names of our products and our design rights are protected in parts of Europe. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same protection in the United States. Fritz Hansen invests a lot of time and resources in protecting their design rights by actively investigating counterfeit operations and taking legal action wherever possible to halt production and destroy any counterfeit products.
Although there is no comparison between the finishing standard of an original piece and that of a copy, Fritz Hansen has introduced a number of initiatives to help customers identify a counterfeit product. For example, all products produced since 2006 by Fritz Hansen bear a "Republic of Fritz Hansen™" tag as a sign of authenticity. The tag also includes an invisible thread which helps Fritz Hansen identify counterfeit products. All products manufactured by Fritz Hansen also include a serial number which enables customers to check online whether the product is a genuine Republic of Fritz Hansen product.Can you give me some examples of how Fritz Hansen invests in original, authentic design?
Fritz Hansen has always been invested in original design. Every piece of furniture we produce is original and authentic, designed by an architect and designer—this is a part of our company’s culture and DNA, it’s our value system. Every year we launch a new piece of furniture. Last year at Salone del Mobile in Milan, we launched the Favn sofa by Jaime Hayon. Hayon, a Spanish designer and artist, was inspired by the Danish classics like the Egg and Swan chairs (originally designed for the SAS Royal Hotel in the 50s by Arne Jacobsen with Fritz Hansen). Favn uses the same manufacturing techniques and materials as the Egg and Swan chairs, and everything is made in Europe.
Fritz Hansen has collaborated with some of the world’s most talented and renowned architects and designers of our time. This tradition continues to this day through collaborations with international design stars such as Kasper Salto, Cecilie Manz, Jaime Hayon, and Todd Bracher.Can you think of any instances or situations where you'd say knockoffs are not entirely evil? Any cases where they actually help the design industry? For example, I've heard people say they spur innovation, by provoking designers to keep creating new and exciting designs and moving things forward. And that since people who buy knockoffs often can't afford the "real thing," a knockoff isn't actually stealing a customer, since it's a different market. And that knockoffs create more demand for the real thing, and make it even more iconic, since more and more people are exposed to these examples of "great design"—like it cultivates their taste and when they have more money they're be more likely to splurge on the real thing. Any thoughts on any of these points, or anything to add?
Knock-offs harm the design industry. They do not add to the demand or contribute to the authenticity of the original. The design process starts with an original idea and is then executed through precision manufacturing techniques and quality materials. Knockoffs take away from this process by trying to look like design and in reality, don’t offer the same qualities—such as sustainability, environmentally friendly materials, longevity, quality, integrity, craftsmanship, or history. Knockoffs discredit and devalue authentic design with their association with inferior quality. It damages the design brand and product. The best designs in the world deserve to have the reputation they have. That is how these products became classics in the first place—because they are made so well.
We do not accept any company or individual that infringes our rights. Copies are an exploitation of the original design history and heritage which has been built up by Fritz Hansen over the last century. I've also heard people justify purchasing knockoffs with lines like "the designer is long dead anyway, so I don't feel guilty about depriving a huge business from my hard-earned money—it's not like the designer is benefiting from my purchase anyway." Any response to that idea? Of course the role of a deceased designer is integral to these designs; however, the role of the manufacturer cannot be overlooked in establishing these projects as design classics through their investment in product development and craftsmanship. The original design and its designer should always be respected. When buying an original Fritz Hansen design, you not only buy world class craftsmanship that will last for decades, you also buy a historical and sculptural piece that should be seen as a financial investment. Original design often only increases in value over time.