INDUSTRY REPORT: The Australian design industry has long been plagued by a problematic relationship with replica furniture.
With weak legislation around design copyright and Intellectual Property, replicas have been a thorn in the side of both emerging and established Australian designers, who have seen their work ripped off by international and local companies.
As Australia’s largest interiors trade events, Decor + Design and the Australian International Furniture Fair (AIFF) have been working hard to eradicate replicas from the exhibitions.
We’ve done so in strategic partnership with the Authentic Design Alliance (ADA), an independent association aimed at stopping design theft. It advocates on behalf of both importers and Australian designers, and is helmed by Anne-Maree Sargeant, formerly Editor at Large of Belle Magazine and contributing design editor to Inside OUT for 10 years.
Says Decor + Design and AIFF Exhibition Director Chris May:
“It’s important to us that we support, nurture and showcase Australian design, and focus on authentic design. Since taking over the show in 2015, we have worked closely with the ADA to confirm our position regarding replicas, asking exhibitors who may have replica products ranges not to include them on their stand, as well as educating the wider audience at the Australian House & Garden International Seminar Series.”
The ADA’s partnership with Decor + Design also extends to the respected VIVID design competition. The 15th iteration of VIVID was held in 2018, with the Authentic Design Alliance Award for Merit presented to Marinos Drakapoulos for his ‘James Chair’.
While strong progress has been made, education and lobbying is still required to solve this problem. We asked Anne-Maree Sargeant to give us some insight into how designer fakes have become so pervasive within the Australian furniture and interiors industry, and what can be done to stop them.
Anne-Maree, why did the Authentic Design Alliance (ADA) start and what is the core problem?
The ADA was founded in 2010 by a group of distributors concerned about the proliferation of counterfeit iconic designs flooding the Australian market.
Cult, Living Edge, Ke-Zu, Euroluce and Stylecraft formed a coalition agitating for Intellectual Property (IP) laws to change to prevent the importation of fake design.
Around the same time Herman Miller took Matt Blatt to court over trade mark infringement for the use of the Eames name to sell knock-offs of the iconic American designers’ furniture.
Both parties settled, and the High Court ruled that the word ‘REPLICA’ must legally be used when marketing unauthorised copies of original designs and using the creator’s name.
This backfired, and actually allowed retail and online sellers of knock-offs to unfairly leverage the name and reputation of established designers to sell copies of their work. No other industry allows this!
By 2012 living designers also found their most successful products copied en masse. Australian companies began knocking off work by independent Australian designers, joining the counterfeit market.
By then Italy had criminalised the replica industry, with the UK joining the EU in doing the same in 2016 – levelling fines of up to £50,000 and up to 10 years jail!
Meanwhile, our lax IP laws for furniture and lighting in a design uneducated marketplace has seen Australia become the global dumping ground for fake designer furniture.
It’s impossible for imported products to be design registered if they have already been showcased in the market place, so international designs are savaged here by counterfeiters. Global brands are simply astounded that legally our government simply won’t act. Worse – their distributing partners here are left with no protection against knock offs.
What’s the mission of the Authentic Design Alliance?
In 2016 the Authentic Design Alliance was handed to my governance, as counterfeit design had become such a huge problem it required a full-time focus in the quest to stop design theft.
Fuelled by consumer thirst for cheap products that are not made to last, the culture for ‘disposable decorating’ became the norm. Just look at the fake Eames and Arne Jacobson Series 7 chairs left on pavements!
Compounding the problem, many design and building professionals simply don’t know or don’t care what products are genuine and what are fake. It’s a double-edged sword!
ADA 2.0 relaunched as a member-funded education platform with two aims.
To educate and promote the value of investing in original design, and to advocate for radically improved Intellectual Property (IP) protection for the furnishing sector.
Being member-funded, we rely on the commitment of the brands, designers and individuals that enable our activity. Memberships directly funding our talks, workshops, events and advocacy.
Authentic Design Alliance Members and our Affiliated Partner organisations like Australian Design Centre, Design Canberra, Jam Factory Adelaide and Good Design Australia work with us and help spread the message that buying fake design damages not only the future of our industry but robs designers and brands of a rightful income. It’s design theft.
What have been some of the industry changes you have advocated for to date?
Almost as soon as we took the reins, we discovered the Federal Government was holding a 2-year Productivity Commission Inquiry into Intellectual Property, across all sectors.
This galvanised us. We collated 25 written objections to the proposed changes, with contributions from a range of industry heavyweights that included manufacturers, importers, retailers and most importantly the Australian furniture designers like Adam Goodrum, Tomek Archer and Kate Stokes of Coco Flip.
We also submitted two 5,000-word rebuttals at different stages, and made 12 appearances at public hearings in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne to promote our objectives.
18 months later the final report made no recommendations for any changes due to a lack of economic proof the design industry suffers financial loss to counterfeit design.
So, replica remains legal, design registrations – which are complicated and expensive – remain at just 5 years + 5-year renewal (10 years) and no automatic copyright protection exists.
If a designer registers every single product they launch they only have 10 years to recoup an income from their investment. After 10 years the products are up for grabs for anyone to legally copy. Design registrations don’t offer any protection outside Australia. Many designers/ designer-makers simply don’t bother.
What about Copyright protection?
Designers and brands believe Copyright should automatically protect their work – as it does in UK, EU and New Zealand. This is not the case in Australia.
We’re launching a massive 2019 campaign focussed on copyright, supported by the Australian Copyright Council.
We ask the simple question – if other creative disciplines like photography, art, music, literature, film and even architecture are protected automatically by copyright – why not industrially designed products like furniture, lighting and designed objects?
Our own Instagram images are protected. This article is protected by copyright. Legally no one can reproduce either without permission from the author.
So when it takes around 2 years to develop and launch a new product, add to that the massive time and financial investment required – why should furnishing products be treated differently to other art forms like photography, literature or music?
In 2016 the UK joined the EU in extending automatic copyright for furniture to the life of the designer plus 70 years after their death. This means most of the design icons are protected, as are their living designers. This goes a hell of a long way to supporting industry growth and creativity!
Meanwhile, Australia is known as the ‘Wild West of fake design!’ We’re seen as one of the worst offenders globally when it comes to design theft.
You’ve worked with the team at Decor + Design on issues we’ve had in the past with exhibitors showing replicas. Please tell us about that and your thoughts on the 2018 show.
The Decor + Design audience is so important to us on so many levels.
It captures a unique segment of interior designers, decorators and retailers, many whom are not as well versed in the contemporary design vernacular. That runs in tandem with Australian consumers not being as design savvy as those in more entrenched design cultures such as Europe.
Previously the number of offshore exhibitors peddling cheap copies of famous designs at the show was very concerning. As an industry trade fair with such a strong following, exhibiting replicas sent the wrong message to visitors. Showcasing all these new products, whilst showing replicas wasn’t cementing a commitment to design.
We started working closely with the D+D team in 2016, with the full support of event director Chris May.
Chris and I developed a strategic 4-year plan to eradicate copies from the show floor in both Decor + Design and the co-located show AIFF where the internationals exhibit. Many exhibitors simply weren’t aware they were displaying copies of an original design!
In 2017, we saw a marked improvement with very few visible copies, but in 2018 we were pleasantly astounded!
AIFF had not one replica exhibitor. Within the D+D show, exhibitor agreements stated no copy designs are permitted, so the entire show was pretty much devoid of fake design.
This was such a radical turn around in such a short time and 12 months ahead of what we’d discussed! We commend the D+D team for not only supporting the aim but for delivering ahead of time.
Like to support original Australian design?
Decor + Design readers who qualify and would like to join the AUTHENTIC DESIGN ALLIANCE are able to get instant individual membership upgrades or an extended offer – contact to learn more or head here.
Members fund all of the ADA’s activity. Individual Memberships for industry professionals are $198 annually or ADA Supporters can help at just $77 per year. Bronze Business Memberships start from $990.
WATCH Anne-Maree Sargeant and designer David Trubridge discuss authentic design at D+D 2016 (3 minutes)