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Get real: fighting against design fakes

Get real: fighting against design fakes

Copied designs do immeasurable financial damage to independent design brands and makers,” says Terri Winter, from top3 by design. In the UK, copied designs are now illegal – with fines of up to £50,000 and 10 years jail – and these dramatic changes provide an example for Australia to follow, with the Authentic Design Alliance leading the way for law changes.

The ADA is a members-based education platform open to individuals, businesses, brands and design industry practitioners to promote original design, aiming for replica/fake designer furniture and lighting, and IP theft, to become illegal in Australia.

CEO of ADA, Jo-Ann Kellock, discussed the group’s work. “[ADA] is a collaborative platform that monitors, recommends and advocates on behalf of designers about changes to both Federal and State Government legislation, distribution of revenue and procurement.

“These levers set the frameworks in which all designers operate. Depending on their settings, design policy frameworks can make a much better world for all Australians. However, they mostly go unnoticed until another sector takes priority or another country makes changes which impact on Australia’s competitive environment. This is why designers need to pay attention to policy and fight for design led frameworks,” she said.

In the UK, copies and replica are now illegal – with fines of up to £50,000 and 10 years jail – these dramatic changes to British design protection provide a worthy example for Australia to follow.

We have a slightly more difficult task, however, given ‘original design’ is not valued by Australians as it is in Denmark, for example. Similarly, getting the attention of government has been difficult as the extent of design theft has been difficult to quantify in economic terms. Currently, replica, or fake designer furniture and lighting is legal. Australian design registration protects original designs for a paltry 10 years – meaning once expired, the original concept is up for grabs for anyone who wants to make their own versions of someone else’s design.

The issue extends beyond replica furniture, lighting and objects – the central problem is copying an original design product.

David Trubridge with his Coral lighting piece, and a replica on the right hand side.

Not all copies are flagged as replicas. We speak to Australian designers who, on a weekly basis, discover copies of their original designs in hotels, restaurants, office fit outs, and in large quantities. Significant quantities that dwarf volumes sold at consumer retailers. In these instances, Australian businesses are sending the images and product specifications, owned by the designer or licensed manufacturer, to Asia to then be copied and imported to Australia. How is the designer rewarded for their original idea, product development, and marketing?

Rightfully, designers are due royalties from sales. Terri Winter, from top3 by design, explained the effects replicas have on designers. ”Copied designs do immeasurable financial damage to independent design brands and makers. They use social media savvy brands to share their work and create a community. More and more frequently we see original designs directly from an Instagram account,” she said.

“Whilst copies can be cheaper, I have never seen a copy be an “improvement” on the original. Design knock-offs leverage sales from the credibility of the original creator. In several instances copy designs are not even much cheaper then the original.”

Robbing Australian designers of this income stream is damaging their futures, and if it continues there will be no real incentive for our designers to create original products. Unless they move to the UK or other protected territories.

Outside the design industry the word ‘replica’ is not clearly understood by the broader audience. In talks and panel discussions we’ve held over the past 12 months both audience members and panelists state that their friends think replica is vintage, or a trend.

This public attitude is a large contributor to the replica market. With so many cheap copies flooding the market, and a prevailing attitude of “throw it out when it breaks, buy another ‘bargain’ – cheap copies are treated as disposable decorating items. This attitude is not sustainable. Buy well and buy things you love, that last. Good design is not always expensive – support original design and say no to fakes!

The word ‘replica’ is damaging in itself. Let’s be clear – an object is either real or fake.

Australians need to support original design.

This article was originally authored by Anne-Maree Sargeant of ADA on Australian Design Review.

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