The fast tracking of the repeal of section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, which previously exempted industrially manufactured pieces of furniture from the copyright protections afforded to artistic works means that as of 28 July 2016, manufacturers and dealers in the UK cannot make or import copies of furniture that were previously considered out of copyright. Previously items of furniture would have received copyright protection for 25 years from the first marketing of the product but this has now been extended to 70 years from the death of the creator.
As the repeal has already been enacted (as at 28 July 2016) manufacturers cannot produce new items of (the now) in-copyright furniture but a transitional period of six months has been granted to allow retailers to sell off stock and this period will expire on 28th January. After this period, any unsold stock should be destroyed or you should receive permission from the rights holder to continue their trading. Simple possession of an article after this date will not be a breach of copyright, such as having a copyright protected chair in your house, although possession may become an infringement if done so while acting in the course of a business.
A key issue will be the date of death of the creator of the design, as even with the extension of copyright to 70 years’ items may remain outside of copyright if the creator died beyond the 70-year period.
We would advise seeking legal advice if there is any doubt on the copyright status of an item and we would also advise seeking legal advice if products are thought to have been ‘inspired by’ in-copyright pieces of furniture, as this is likely to be difficult to prove if challenged.