Letters to The Times
August 5, 2012
March 31, 2012
Following is an exact transcript of a feature, in The Saturday Times, 31 March 2012, about the ELLE Decoration UK Equal Rights for Design campaign, based on an interview with myself and campaign supporter Sir Terence Conran, entitled, “Buy the real thing or nothing, says Conran in war on ‘fakes'”, written by Sacha Bonsor. My comments are in italics…
“If you are reading this in the comfort of a replica Eames chair, or by the light of a spin-off Poul Henningsen’s PH lamp, you might want discreetly to dispatch them to your less favourite relative before your next dinner party. One of the country’s most prestigious designers, Sir Terence Conran, has joined the Elle Decoration editor-in-chief Michelle Ogundehin to wage war on anyone wooed by what they term “faux furniture”.
Not to “wage war”, rather to ensure consumers really understand the hidden costs of these seemingly innocuous bargain buys. From the threatened loss of legitimate businesses whose products are faked and the exploitation of Britain’s young designers whose designs are ripped off, to the consumer, thinking they’re investing in a designer classic when actually it’s worthless if it’s not the authentic, licensed version.
Their aim, says Ogundehin, is to inject a “sense of shame” into buying replica furniture in the same way that, in the fashion world, buying a fake Louis Vuitton handbag is frowned upon.
See above. Not shame, “understanding”. And also the confidence to buy something else if an original classic, or designer piece, is deemed too pricey. There are many fantastic affordable designs available without recourse to fakes, and it’s ELLE Decoration UK’s enduring mission to proffer these Style-for-Less alternatives.
The row started when Ogundehin read last October that Samantha Cameron had bought a rip-off of a designer lamp – the 1962 Arco lamp by Achilles and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. She wrote on her blog: “I am appalled. Surely she should know better?” A media furore followed.
“Here was the ambassador for British fashion basically buying a knock-off design,” she says. “If she doesn’t understand the importance of that, then that is very worrying. If Samantha Cameron sat on the front row of Fashion Week wearing a fake Burberry coat, you would never hear the end of it.”
Absolutely. While the ELLE Decoration UK campaign for Equal Rights for Design in no way seeks to embarrass Samantha Cameron, the public knows she would never wear fake clothing, or carry a knock-off handbag, so why is it ok to buy fake design? It highlights the extent of the misunderstanding around these unlicensed copies so I call upon Samantha Cameron to publicly back our campaign, and for the government to wake up to the negative impact of the fakes industry, and the fact that they’re condoning it by default because of the hypocrisy of the UK copyright laws, unless of course they’re happy with Britain being seen as the knock-off capital of Europe?
When Ogundehin talks about “fake”, she is referring to reproductions rather than counterfeits (which involve an intent to deceive). Under copyright laws, it is illegal to copy any design that has been registered for up to 25 years after the issue date. So producing a piece of furniture that the copyright has expired on and is in the public domain is not illegal, though Ogundehin would argue that it is an “unauthorised imitation”.
Let’s be crystal clear on what constitutes a fake… To draw a fashion analogy, just as only the original Roland Mouret studio can make an authentic RM dress, so only certain manufacturers legally own the rights to make particular designs. But whether we’re talking a young outfit like Tatty Devine that creates own-brand jewellery in the East End or Vitra, a multinational conglomerate who own the licence to make all of the Eames’s furniture, the point is the same… anyone else flogging their work, is an UNauthorised, UNvalidated, UNmonitored, UNendorsed intellectual property thief. And often these people use the original designer’s biographies and credentials as marketing collateral to mislead the consumer into parting with their hard-earned cash! They stop just short of illegal “passing-off” of their wares as originals by inserting the words “inspired by” or “in the style of” after the descriptions, but sometimes it’s really hard to tell who’s real and who’s a phoney, so we’ve started to compile a Fakes Blacklist on our Equal Rights for Design FaceBook page. But always look for the words “licensed manufacturer” when it comes to classics. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. These pretenders claim they’re making design “accessible”, but really they’re just callously creaming a quick buck off the back of another’s creativity while side-stepping the hard slog of research, development, investment, marketing, testing, pain, sweat and love that goes into the production of any original design. And crucially this isn’t just “old” stuff… I cite the recently publicised case of Tatty Devine vs Claire’s Accessories.
“There is no doubt that the ‘fake’ industry has grown hugely over the past ten years,” says Sir Terence, whose Conran Shop in Marylebone will be the first to launch a series of window displays next month highlighting the Get Real: Fight the Fakes campaign.
Consumers set demand. An industry can only grow if people buy. Clearly there’s a demand for cut-price furniture, products and even fashion, but I believe there are plenty of original alternatives without recourse to the immoral arena of fakes. ELLE Decoration is committed to finding and promoting those affordable designs, so our readers can get great style at whatever level they’re able to pay.
“The growth of the internet means companies selling fakes can set up quickly at low cost and reach global markets. People are taking more pride in their homes and magazines and blogs are beautifully styled and people want to emulate that and get a certain look, which is understandable. However, there really is no need to buy a fake. There are so many alternatives available; I find the practice dishonest.”
Sheridan Coakley, the founder of the furniture store SCP, is not convinced. “During the term that they are protected by the law, the designer and the manufacturer have a monopoly over the design and can charge what price they feel fit,” he says. “Once it is in the public domain, the market decides the price, which generally drops. This enables many more people who couldn’t afford it before to buy it. Is this not a good thing? You only have to look at [Elle Decoration’s] website to see that the only companies supporting their argument are the very same companies who want to extend their monopolies.”
Actually Sheridan that’s not remotely true. Designers and companies both small and large have contacted us, thrilled about this campaign, because they understand that it protects ALL designers, not just the big guns. And what of the manufacturer’s duty of care to its creators, the providers of the goods you found your business on? Or are they just expendable commodities, useful to you today, broke tomorrow? The Vitra, Knoll and Cassina’s of this world also contribute to protecting the larger legacies of their designers whether that’s the maintenance of museums, show-houses, foundations or archives, all for the benefit of future generations. The knock-off merchants do none of this. Additionally, you seem to be saying that retailers, and one therefore assumes yourself included, routinely overcharge for their goods? So are you ripping off the consumer too? I wonder how you’ll feel when your “stock” falls… eg Matthew Hilton’s best-selling Balzac Armchair, designed for you in 1991, which runs out of copyright in 4 years time? And I wonder how Matthew will feel, now he knows you don’t care about his future either?
Sir Terence and Ogundehin want the law changed to put design on a parity with works of literature, music and art, which are protected for 70 years after the author’s death. The Conran Shop window, which will be replicated in other windows across the UK, will feature a real design next to a fake. If they get 100,000 signatures on their e-petition (called Equal Rights for Design at www.elledecoration.co.uk) it will be debated in the Commons.
Correct. Change the law to put design on a par with other equivalent creative disciplines as our campaign petitions and this all goes away. For example, the public accepts it’s illegal to openly peddle a knock-off Picasso or rip off J K Rowling (or Bloomsbury, her publisher), on the printing of the latest Harry Potter, so why should those who manufacture or create design be treated any differently? I believe it takes just as much effort to create a great design as it does to make a painting or write a book, and the hypocrisy surrounding UK copyright laws with regard to design is killing the industry. And when every contributed penny to Britain’s coffers counts, this is madness.
“The intellectual property reform is worth £7.9 billion to the economy,” says Sir Terence [according to the results of Professor Hargreaves independent report into Intellectual Property reform commissioned by the government, see my post highlighting/translating the juicy bits here]. “Design has an important contribution to make to growth when it is sorely needed. If the UK Government were to change the copyright laws that are intended to protect designers it should go a long way to ensuring our brilliant young designers can make a decent living.”
The difference between buying a replica Eames and a Primark dress in the style of Céline is that consumers know that the dress won’t last long. Ogundehin and Conran argue that with design replicas, consumers are less aware of the lack of quality and heritage.
“The most important thing, and my responsibility, is to show consumers how much wonderful stuff there is out there, as a good alternative to fakes. That’s what Elle Decoration will be doing in its next issue,” says Ogundehin.”
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.