The term of copyright protection for an artistic work is the life of the artist, plus 70 years. Until recently, the copyright protection for the work of designers was 25 years. However changes to copyright law mean that ‘artistic’ designs of manufactured goods, for example certain furniture, lamps and jewellery, now aligns the design world with copyright term for artists.

Michael Craig-Martin, 'Knowing' 1996
Michael Craig-Martin
Knowing 1996
Acrylic on canvas
support: 2442 x 3665 mm
Purchased 1997© Michael Craig-Martin

The change in the law has delighted many in the design world, whose new designs would now be protected from replication until the latter end of this century. Designer Tom Dixon OBE, says:

Current copyright laws leave designers woefully under protected compared to similar creative professions. This initiative is a small step toward establishing much needed protection of valuable intellectual property.

The change in copyright law will undoubtedly slow the proliferation of cheap replicas of design classics. Consumers will no longer be able to buy copies of classic designs such as the Barcelona chair, whose replicas cost £299, 12% of the price tag of the £2,400 version. But without cheaper imitations available for the wider audience, will design become an undemocratic luxury accessible only to the wealthy?

There are also implications for galleries, museums and publishing. In an interview with the Guardian, Lionel Bently, professor of Intellectual Property at the University of Cambridge says:

On the face of it, the bill looks like good news for design. But there are lots of people that have been critically overlooked: for example if the V&A has an exhibition of fabric designs from the second world war and post-war austerity era, permissions will need to be sought to include images of these designs in the exhibition catalogue and on postcards.

What do you think? Do you welcome the new law that aligns the intellectual property of design with that of artists? Or is the point of artistic designs of manufactured goods that they’re created to be produced more than once, and that there shouldn’t be an original that needs protecting?


Personally, as both a researcher and a publisher, I am not keen on the existing copyright provisions, as I feel the 70 year term is too long. When it comes to publishing the work of living artists, I find that most are very generous with their work and many will allow publication without recompense. Once an artist's copyright is handled by an estate or a copyright agency, however, rules on reproduction are applied hard and fast and at high cost. This means that while living artists are often willing to allow their work to be published without payment, dead artists receive payment without exception. I would prefer my image reproductions budgets to go towards supporting living contemporary artists, not their estates once they've passed on.

As an author I also hold copyright for my creative output and I have very little concern about my rights being enforced once I'm no longer here!

The UK has been known for hundreds of years for its innovative design capability. The additional protection will allow our designers to capitalise their rightful IP for longer and offers more protection from foreign copycats. If some designers wish to assign their rights elsewhere they have that option. For those who want to and need to earn from their IP this is a good move.