I just had to share this with you. I read this article on The Sydney Morning Herald (I'm not an Aussie, I just keep up to date with designer stories..) and knew the battle of copyright, true design and authenticity will be a battle forever fought. Any aspiring artist and designer faces the stomach churning panic you get when you discover someone else had the idea before you, or worse yet, someone has copied it. I blogged earlier about the guys who went to prison for copying Banksy at a profit and I'm sure we've all been to the market or been to Primark to get the Topshop version at a better price.
It seems now though, that in the design world, artists are fighting back...
"Earlier this year, under the not-so-watchful gaze of bar staff, someone
slashed a dozen or so designer lounge seats in Sydney's Park Hyatt
Harbourbar. A motive for the attack, which police are investigating, is
unclear. But many in Sydney's close-knit design community would like to
see it as "design vigilantism", the opening shots in a battle between
those who believe in original designs and those who make money by
The seats in question are copies of a design by
Charles Wilson, whose award-winning furniture can be found in the
Powerhouse Museum and NSW Government House.
"The whole design
community knew that those seats were copies," says the founder of
furniture-maker Woodmark, Arne Christiansen. "It's very disappointing to
see that a five-star hotel would do that, especially as the copies were
such terrible quality." (A hotel spokeswoman said the fit-out was done
in 2007 by a third party; she also said she didn't know who Charles
Copies, fakes, rip-offs, replicas - the debate over
what might be called "design appropriation" has been raging since at
least 1956, when the impeccably polite Charles Eames appeared with his
wife, Ray, on NBC's Home show. Trademark bow tie slightly askew, Charles
explained how his moulded plywood chairs were the result of "a
mass-production technique", while his plastic seats were an attempt "to
take a high-performance material developed during the war and try to
make it available to householders at non-military prices".
vision of mass-produced and affordable furniture has indeed come to
pass - though not how he might have imagined. Thanks to a boom in the
replica market, any fiscally challenged home renovator can buy a
knock-off Jacobsen Egg chair or Eero Saarinen Tulip table for a fraction
of the price of the original. And why not? Who, apart from Paul Keating
or Rose Porteous, would pay $6072 for an original Jacobsen Swan chair
when you can pick up a replica for $249?
According to the
managing director of the colossally successful replica business Matt
Blatt, Adam Drexler, "the high selling cost of originals bears no
resemblance to the actual manufacturing cost". Thanks to outfits such as
his, "the public has become aware that owning good-quality design
furniture doesn't mean you have to mortgage your house".
started Matt Blatt 10 years ago when he realised there were loopholes
the size of Tasmania in Australia's intellectual property law. "Any item
that has an active design registration cannot legally be copied," he
explains. But not all designers register and, when they do, it is only
good for 10 years. (In Europe, registration lasts 25 years.) "The Eames
Lounge chair was designed in 1956," Drexler says. "There is no
possibility of an existing design registration for it; hence, we can
legally copy it and sell it." The fact that the word "Eames" is
trademarked means Drexler cannot sell the Eames Lounge chair. "But we
can sell the same design and call it the 'replica Eames Lounge chair'
... you are informing the public that this is not a licensed copy ...
and that you are not passing it off as such."
Replicas have been
good to Drexler, who reportedly drives a (real) Porsche 911. "But you
know," he says, "there are a lot of people out there who don't like us."
He receives many lawyers' letters telling him to stop selling
unlicensed products. "I once asked my wife if it was good karma to have
so many [competitors] hate us," he says. "She replied, 'Think of all the
people who love us'. "
Richard Munao is not one of those people.
He runs Corporate Culture, which has an exclusive licence to sell many
iconic furniture designs in Australia. He also founded the Authentic
Design Alliance two years ago with four other furniture suppliers.
"Replicas are damaging the design industry in this country," Munao says.
"What incentive is there for a young designer to innovate, if the
minute you develop something successful someone steals it?"
not just the classics being ripped off, Munao says, but contemporary
Australian designers such as Matt Sheargold, Ross Didier and Charles
Wilson. "These young designers often work off royalties; when someone
copies their work, they miss out on that money," he says.
insists his store is not losing market share (though notes that Matt
Blatt's Leichhardt showroom is 3800 square metres "while ours is only
1100 square metres"). The alliance's real mission, Munao says, is
education. "If you look at the countries that are famous for design ...
it's because respect for design is ingrained in their culture. We don't
have that here. People don't really appreciate the value of original
design, which is why we can have the prime minister appear in a photo
shoot on a fake Jacobsen Egg chair. That would never happen in Denmark;
it would be totally taboo."
He also dislikes the word replica.
"Replica implies that it's made to the designer's original
specifications, or that it is somehow endorsed by the designer."
Besides, he says, originals last longer and maintain their resale value.
many replica barons, Drexler says that stores such as his help
democratise fine design. Rather than damage the industry, replicas
"educate, develop and broaden tastes in design, which in turn can drive
the growth in the overall industry".
Young designers have mixed
feelings about knock-offs. "I am not such a purist," Charles Wilson
says. "I believe that after a certain period of time, a cantilevered
tubular chair becomes a generic type and not a Bauhaus original. There
is also an argument that if the companies that produce Eames and
Jacobsen weren't living off the royalties from their old designs, they
might be more inclined to invest in stuff by new designers."
the designer is alive though, it's different. "That's theft," Wilson
says. He discovered the copies of his lounge chairs at the Park Hyatt
last year when he took clients there. "For a brief moment I thought I
was in luck as the meeting could take place on my own designs." He has
no idea who slashed the chairs but hopes it was "someone who feels very
strongly about original design".
Perhaps the last word should go
to to the high priest of haute design himself, Charles Eames, who once
remarked: "We want to make the best for the most for the least." Then
again, he also said: "What I really want is a black with feeling." Go