Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Act

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...importing copyright laws for replica furniture

After a change to copyright laws earlier in the year, consumers looking to buy affordable furniture replicas have reported to have been caught out by retailers who had to adapt their practices to conform to new regulations.

Outlining the changes to copyright rules in the UK, Luke Corcoran – specialist in commercial law – explains what consumers can do if they find themselves in a dispute with retailers.

Accessorising copyright laws

Historically, UK copyright laws protected furniture designs for up to 25 after a designer’s death, meaning that they cannot be replicated without a license.

Under the new rules, which were implemented in April, this copyright period was extended to 70 years, meaning that many classic pieces of furniture that consumers could pick up as affordable replicas were outlawed, with retailers offering such pseudo-classics facing fines of up to £50,000 and a possible 10 year prison sentence.

In a change to the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988, Section 52 was repealed as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 – this increased the 25 year time limit to 70 years, which bought UK laws in line with our European neighbours.

It was, in fact, due to a challenge from a European design giant that UK laws were amended, as Swiss firm Vitra lobbied the British government to update its laws so that they would fall in line with the rest of the EU – as they successfully argued that Britain was becoming an unlicensed replica market.

Caught between a rug and a hard sofa-space

Changes outlined in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 were initially tabled to take effect from 2020, so that retailers stocking replica furniture could attempt to shift leftover products before the change in copyright law.

Facing the threat of an EU court battle from Vitra, the government announced last year that the changes were being fast tracked and retailers of replica furniture had just six months to comply with the reformed Copyright, Designs & Patents Act.

This led to some retailers to take drastic action to remain in business, often to the detriment of their customers.

The Guardian cite the case of Voga, which was the UK’s leading replica furniture importer, which decided to move their operation to Ireland, where the old 25 year copyright rule still applies – however Vitra have set their sights on the Republic, hoping to lobby the Irish Government in adopting the EU laws on design copyrights.

Voga’s website now features a ‘Still Legal‘ page, which explains how consumers can purchase with confidence as the company moved their operations and are operating within the law, as long as consumers organise their own delivery – Voga claim to have lowered their prices to ensure consumers are not left out of pocket.

While it seems that the company has now figured out a process to legally offer its replica products to consumers the Guardian spoke to a disgruntled consumer, who – back in March – had to pay for a third-party courier to deliver a chair from Ireland despite already paying delivery charges imposed by Voga.

Explaining how the change in copyright law could affect the relationship between consumers and retailers, Luke said:

“Importers were surprised by the Government’s move to bring forward the date of compliance with the new copyright laws, this meant that some may not have updated their websites or communicated effectively to consumers how the new regulations could affect them.”

“This means that consumers may have been slapped with unexpected additional charges, which could cause the retailers to be in breach of contract – meaning that consumers have a right to cancel the purchase and receive a full refund.”

“For consumers that made a purchase from an affected retailer without realising that they would have to organise their own delivery, there is a grace period of 14 days where consumers are legally able to cancel their order and receive a refund; this 14 days only applies if the order was place online, over the phone, or via mail without any face-to-face contact.”

“Consumers who already have classic replicas in their home should be aware that they are not breaking any laws for owning the furniture and that they are legally allowed to sell the product to another private owner – if a dealer buys the replica furniture then it is the dealer themselves that are breaching the new laws.”

Written by Luke Corcoran.

For more information on commercial law and the services offered by Simpson Millar, please call:

0808 129 3304

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