A big issue in jewellery and fashion is the copying or stealing designs and how to stop this happening.
Hopefully we all know that we shouldn’t use trademarked or copyrighted images or logos in ourwork without permission – for example Mickey Mouse or other Disney characters. Where things become more complicated is where a designer’s idea is reproduced in a very similar but not identical way, for example a with change of colour, a slightly different material or a different length.
It may seem obvious that something has been copied but it can be expensive to prove that someone didn’t have exactly the same idea.
A law change seeks to make this situation clearer and help designers protect their work. The Intellectual Property Act, which recently came into force, allows designers to register a design with the Intellectual Property Office and makes it a crime to “produce a copy that differs from the original in only immaterial aspects” from a registered design. An immaterial difference might be reproducing the exact shape and form of a piece but in a different colour or main material – it will look very much like the original. What isn’t clear yet is how the courts will interpret how a copy differs from the original under the new law but in existing copyright cases something does not need to be an exact copy to breach copyright but instead it may use many of the same ideas in the same way.
This doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from things you see. There is a difference between trying to copy the jewellery you see in a fashion show and being inspired by the styles and colours you might see on the catwalk to create your own pieces.
We all absorb ideas from everything we see around us whether walking down the street, flicking though magazines or perhaps watching an old movie, and these inevitably influence the jewellery we design. But most of us then put our own spin on that in the materials we choose, the colours we included and the techniques we combine. It may be possible to see influences from other sources in our work but that is very different from making and selling something deliberately intended to replicate another designer’s piece.
As jewellery makers we would all hope that no one copies another designer’s work to make money out of their ideas but it does happen.
With the changes in the law what jewellery designers need to weigh up now is the likelihood of their designs being copied and the potential cost of that – legal action, loss of sales – against the cost of registering a design or designs (which could run to hundreds of pounds). But even if small jewellery businesses don’t have the ability to register designs, it may be that the new laws help deter people from copying designs and helps educate people about what is stealing an idea or design.