To creatives in any field, taking credit for work that’s not your own is one of the biggest ethical transgressions you can commit. And the plagiarism of designs is an increasingly widespread problem, both internationally and in the region.
For example, last year, the US furniture brand Emeco and IKEA reached an out-of-court settlement after the former accused the Swedish furniture giant of copying the design of one of its chairs, an aluminium staking chair designed by the architect Norman Foster.
Also in 2016, the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), reported that it had confiscated 42 shipments of unauthorised replicas worth an estimated US $4.2m. The modern classic, the Eames recliner, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, was among the most commonly copied items, according to the CBP.
More recently, French interior designer Odile Soudant won a court case against Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie after the former couple failed to pay for lighting work that she carried out on their 40-bedroom chateau. According to reports, a company owned by Pitt and Jolie was ordered to pay €565,000 ($664,000) to the designer by the Paris court of appeal.
And we are aware that similar types of offenses occur all too often in the Middle East as well.
My attention was recently brought to few cases of corporate design copyright infringement, where furniture pieces from a well-known furniture designer were copied. While the pieces looked identical to the originals, they were, in fact, unauthorised replicas made in China.
In the name of ‘value engineering’ (VE), it resulted in a multi-million dollar saving. This makes me angry, and I know I’m not alone.
Firstly, in this instance, one person’s ‘saving’ is caused by another person’s loss. Secondly, this practice stretches the concept of value engineering beyond what is legally and morally acceptable.
VE is a legitimate – if much maligned – business practice, in which the necessary functions of a project are systematically sought at the lowest possible cost. It is not intended to involve duping suppliers into providing you with detailed product specifications so that you can take them to a factory in the Far East and replicate them at a fraction of the cost that it takes to create original, innovative, and high-quality design works.
At CID, we believe it is time to shine a light on the egregious abuse of copyright. I am keen to hear from any designers who have successfully used the protections afforded by the law in this region to recover damages for the unauthorised use of their designs.