As 3D printers break through, EU expands copyright to furniture and extends term by a century

Posted on Aug 7, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge
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The UK has just changed its copyright-and-patent monopoly law to extend copyright to furniture and to extend the term of that copyright on furniture with about a century. This follows a decision in the European Union, where member states are required to adhere to such an order. This change means that people will be prohibited from using 3D printing and other maker technologies to manufacture such objects, and that for a full century.

The Guardian celebrates “an end to cheap Chinese knock-offs” in an article that describes how classic furniture design that’s older than 25 years will be moved out of the public domain, where anybody can use the design for any purpose, and back under exclusive rights – the exclusive monopoly law we know as “copyright”.

Designs of furniture are normally protected by a special form of patent, known as a design patent, which can be awarded when the design goes clearly above and beyond the basic function of the object. (The patent we normally know as a “patent” is formally called a utility patent to distinguish it from a design patent.)

The designs won’t just be moved from being under design patent to being under copyright instead, but the exclusivity terms are also extended a lot – from having been 25 years after first marketing, to being 70 years after the death of the designer. Assuming this designer lives an average lifespan, and designs something at the height of their career in their mid-30s, that means the term of the exclusivity is extended by a full century.

This is strikingly odd, and hostile toward a maker-oriented future that’s already happening (and certainly can be expected to play out in that next century).

The obvious first argument is that the very existence of exclusive rights are justified by allegedly incentivizing the design process. “You come up with something good, you get a monopoly on exploiting it commercially for 25 years”. Therefore, extending the monopoly term retroactively makes no sense at all – somebody is not going to change their minds 25 years ago because of changes to law today. Designs that already exist won’t stop existing because of later legislative efforts. Therefore, moving designs out of the public domain is arguably stealing from that public domain, as it negates property rights of makers.

The second odd observation is that the UK law in question commingles patent law and copyright law, which are rather different beasts. Furniture is normally protected by something known as a design patent and not by copyright, and this has enormous ramifications for 3D printing: when something is under patent, you’re absolutely and one hundred percent free to make copies of it for your own use with your own tools and materials. When something is under copyright, you are not. Therefore, this move is a direct assault on the 3D printing revolution.

(I argued five years ago at a business leader meeting that people would be sued out of their homes for manufacturing their own slippers from a drawing they found, just as they had been for manufacturing their own copies of music albums. Business leaders at that meeting laughed at me at first, realizing how ridiculous our laws in this area have become: completely out of touch with reality.)

Therefore, moving furniture design from a design patent to copyright law means that people can and will indeed be prosecuted for manufacturing their own furniture using their own tools. There’s an important difference here in EU law versus US patent law:

In most European countries, the exclusive exploitation rights granted by a patent are restricted to commercial exploitation. A private person who builds the patented invention in his own home for his own personal goals cannot infringe on a patent. […] United States law is more strict. It forbids anyone from making, using or selling the invention, even when the use is strictly personal.

So in the United States, a change from patent protection to copyright protection would not matter much when it comes to maker culture and 3D printing. In the European Union, which is where this is taking place, it matters a whole lot.

The Guardian, in its rant against “cheap Chinese copies” and “scam merchants”, doesn’t even try to hide that this is about European protectionism – preventing the Chinese from offering better value for money – and nothing morally justifiable at all:

Take, for example, the famous Eames walnut and leather armchair with matching ottoman. The officially licensed and copyrighted producer, Vitra, sells them for £6,814 in John Lewis. Yet copies made in Chinese factories sell over the internet and in some stores for as little as £399. It is these low-cost knock-offs that will now be banned.

An insightful comment under the Guardian article objects to this hypocrisy, and asks a very relevant question about where the real scam is:

The people selling these copies are not necessarily “scam merchants”. Everybody knows they’re copies and not Vitra or Herman Miller originals. […] But – is there really £6800+ worth of value in the Vitra product? Or are they just charging that because they can? Who’s the scam merchant?

A relevant question indeed. Where’s the real scam when something designed 50 years ago is suddenly off limits to 3D printing and home manufacturing, requiring people to buy it at a 2000% markup instead?

Last but not least, remember that the copyright monopoly is fundamentally, irreparably incompatible with privacy, which remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. Got_rolled_over

    Think as an artist. You make an illustration and people like it. It sells well.

    Then someone takes a photo of your illustration and gives it out for free. Other people can use whatever magic is at hand to put your illustration wherever they want, for ‘personal use’ for the cost of materials.

    You no longer have people buying your work, supporting your college debt, your studio or your materials. Without copyright, you can’t tell people to stop taking your work for free.

    It’s the same extension with 3D printing. You can make a couch and sell it for however much you want, but if the facility comes along to easily copy it then you need to protect your work. Standard illustrative copyright is currently lifetime plus 70 years. This means that you can hand down a legacy, things you have made, support your children and grandchildren with your talents.

    Copyright is defense against copying, not inspired works. You can still design your own couch similar to someone’s design and print it yourself. You just can’t just copy a design you’ve already seen and make it yourself. Within 50 years, 3D printing could be so capable as to make the couch from start to finish for you- who knows. So the law is in place to expect that.

    3 years ago
    1. Got_rolled_over

      And a market is what you make it. Is a couch worth £6300? Is a a painting worth thousands? Is the sandwich you got from Boots worth £3.35 with the rest of the meal deal? Maybe yes, maybe no. But people pay it.

      A knock off is a scam because it’s a stolen idea. If they can make couches so easily and cheaply, why not experiment and make up their own designs? Because they are trying to piggy back off of the prestige of someone else.

      3 years ago
      1. Falkvinge

        The concept of a “stolen idea” is a contradiction in terms, and the rest of your reasoning falls with it.

        3 years ago
        1. Got_rolled_over

          When you’re in a trade where your idea is all you have, you try to be a bit less philosophical. I’m not saying the concept of a couch is off the table because one bloke said ‘oh hey, let’s lie on bench with cushions.’ I’m saying if you make something, and that’s your craft, someone mimicking it is taking your livelihood, and you need to be defended.

          3 years ago
          1. Falkvinge

            It’s natural that all people want money. In fact, this is one of the major drivers between the free market.

            That doesn’t make people have any right to money. In particular, sunk costs are irrelevant to this question, as are cost structures that need to be met.

            The only relevant question is whether property rights are respected and whether there is a paying customer for what you’re trying to sell.

            If you can’t sell what you want to sell, you just don’t have any right to anybody else’s money, regardless of whether they have “copied your idea” in using their own property rights to manufacture something using their own tools and materials.

            (It’s noteworthy here that both patents and copyrights are a strong limitation on property rights. And more importantly from my perspective, they’re both incompatible with privacy and fundamental human rights. Profit just doesn’t get to factor into it.)

            3 years ago
          2. Silly Goose

            So you’re against violations of property rights?

            What about when people are extorted to fund Pirate Party parliamentarians’ salaries?

            3 years ago
          3. Eric L.

            Actually, Rick has compared taxation to theft.

            Next question?

            3 years ago
      2. RobSa

        If someone comes up with a good idea, good innovation or other useful snippet of intellectual property then the most moral thing to do (if morality is part of your world view) would be to share it with everyone in the public domain. Trying to illicit some personal gain at the expense of everyone, especially when referring to information exchange in which the originator is no worse off for sharing, seems to be the most immoral way to progress the arts and science.

        3 years ago
        1. def55

          This was well said. I would add that reciprocally, the most moral thing to do for the public would be to compensate for work you did to create the intellectual good. We, as a society, are currently failing to do this. We should fund all digitizable creative work the same way we fund science; by allocating some public money for it.

          However, the fact that we, as a society, fail to do the moral thing and support our common digital culture does not give the right to creative workers to immorally limit the availability of their work. Two wrongs don’t make right.

          3 years ago
    2. thoughtnaut

      By your logic, Picasso wouldn’t be able to pay his college debt or pay for his studio or materials if there were prints of his art.

      3 years ago
      1. Got_rolled_over

        Ah, that’s where LICENSING comes in. If Picasso licenses someone to make prints of his artwork*, then he makes some money; retains paternity (right to call it his) and moral (right to demand it not be altered by the license owner); and other people get to enjoy his artwork without paying out the neck for an original painting.

        Now if someone were to print is artwork without a license- well Picasso worked hard and he’s not getting the money he deserves. So that’s theft (known as plagiarism) and not just frowned upon, but liable for court action.

        Copyright protects your work. Copyright is also free. You don’t have to register it, just have evidence you had the idea/illustration/couch design first.

        *(or god forbid the couch maker license his couch schematics, and someone pays for the schematic, and prints themselves a couch)

        3 years ago
    3. Falkvinge

      So by your logic, when you don’t have paying customers because somebody else can provide the same offering as you but better, still using their own tools and materials, you should have some sort of right to a livelihood anyway?


      No, that’s not how a free market works. That’s not how any of this works.

      That’s how a planned economy works, and these monopolies have much more in common with a planned market than a free market.

      As an entrepreneur, there’s only one thing that matters: whether you have an offering that results in sales. If you don’t make sales, you simply don’t deserve any money.

      And an artist who wants to sell their work is no longer an artist, but an entrepreneur, even if they hate that word.

      3 years ago
      1. ThomasVeil

        I really don’t like the argument Got_rolled_over makes, but your reply makes me want to defend it. By your logic, artists or designers that come up with ideas shouldn’t be paid. They create nothing of value, because everyone can copy it and just manufacture it. Somehow just the manufacturer is worth making a living.
        Essentially you’re just submitting to rules that the physical world puts on us. But who says those physical rules are good for society? Physics wasn’t created to support a great society. That’s why we come up with laws and social structures to fix these problems (e.g. that the strongest can’t just kill the weakest).

        Designers and their specialization add great value to our society, and we should try to come up with systems to support them.
        Having 70 years of copyright after they are dead is really off the rails though.

        3 years ago
        1. Juraj Oršulić

          There is another thing called the trademark law. The designer can manufacture his design by himself, and brand it with his trademark which is protected, which will ensure that everyone recognizes that it’s the original thing. Why prevent others from making cheap knock offs?

          3 years ago
          1. ThomasVeil

            The whole point of the article is 3D printing – where we can expect in some foreseeable future that many products can be perfectly multiplied by anyone. So if you say that just the name should make people rather buy the original, you’re basically saying they should just donate money.

            I would agree, in a perfect society people would just donate to what helps everyone (In fact donating would be a much better procedure than using trademarks, which can be gamed too). But that’s not how it works.

            3 years ago
          2. Juraj Oršulić

            I don’t quite think the donation analogy stands. People buy the original brand because it’s a sign of quality and, to a certain point, prestige. It’s why you buy a Rolex with one L. You trust the brand and their expertise at making what they’re known for. This is a very natural concept which is formalised with the trademark law – it prevents someone from stealing this trust by faking a trademark, and I strongly support the trademark law.

            On the other hand, the purpose of the copyright law isn’t to prevent you from stealing someone else’s brand and its inherent reputation, it’s to limit your freedom and the knowledge you’re allowed to use while you’re making your own stuff, with your own name on it, and that’s why I’m against it in this form. It’s alright when we’re talking about art, but restraining 3D designs with copyright limits our technological and scientific progress.

            3 years ago
        2. Silly Goose

          > By your logic, artists or designers that come up with ideas shouldn’t be paid.

          Not just for having ideas, no.

          > They create nothing of value, because everyone can copy it and just manufacture it

          A good design for X certainly makes X more desirable, but the next step is persuading someone to buy it.

          _Then_ “the artist” gets money, if he’s made a deal with the manufacturer / seller of X, etc.

          Or should all GPS receiver manufacturers be paying “royalties” to Albert Einstein’s descendants for the theory of general relativity?

          Even you have to draw the line somewhere.

          3 years ago
          1. ThomasVeil

            > Not just for having ideas, no.

            The obvious question is “why”. Why shouldn’t we incentivize people to have good ideas. Good designs for example don’t just randomly happen, it needs time and effort – possibly years of education. Society benefits… but then there should be no payment for it?

            >A good design for X certainly makes X more desirable, but the next step is persuading someone to buy it.

            Production and marketing are different fields. Why should our society value them so high, while valuing the idea not at all?

            > _Then_ “the artist” gets money, if he’s made a deal with the manufacturer / seller of X, etc.

            I don’t get why they should give the artist money, if they can just copy it for free. You put the artist at a big disadvantage (which they already have… they tend to earn badly compared to marketers/sellers/producers).

            > Or should all GPS receiver manufacturers be paying “royalties” to Albert
            Einstein’s descendants for the theory of general relativity?

            Nope – which I clearly wrote in my text.

            3 years ago
    4. Jade Set

      Sure, some people that are moderately interested in art would settle for the picture, but the ones that truly appreciate art purchase the paintings and support the artist. Artists make livings selling paintings despite pictures of them being in circulation on the Internet. Many artists of other mediums even allow and encourage the circulation of their work– musicians, authors, programmers– and *still* make a living either via the common pay-per-access model or via alternative business models.
      Our copyright system has been proven time and time again by these artists to be unnecessary. The only ones really harmed by sharing are the companies that are becoming more and more irrelevant– publishers, record companies, and broadcasters.
      This move on copyrighting furniture design is much too premature and can harm innovation in 3D printing. There are zero instances of 3D printing harming anyone as of yet– this law may be solving a problem that may never exist, for all we know.

      3 years ago
    5. ThomasVeil

      I agree with some structure to support designers (because we need their insight). But “lifetime plus 70 years” is an absurd time span. I think 25 years for example is way enough. If you can’t make money in that time, then your idea is just not good enough. And if you don’t feel 25 years of protection is enough incentive, then you’re doing the job for the wrong reasons.
      We have to weigh it with the downsides. 100 years of protection stifles innovation. There is a lot of research supporting this.

      3 years ago
    6. RobSa

      I’m not interested in the financial endeavors of any artist, designer or creative person. I have not one single concern about whether a design is used in a way that does not match the creator’s expectation. That is inconsequential.

      Artists and anyone pursuing a career in information mediation have to learn that copyright isn’t compatible with modern life. We use devices to share and take whatever information we want. For example, I have taken their work for free all the time for decades now.

      I have no interest in preserving outdated business models or artificial barriers. I couldn’t care less about someone’s desire to earn a living from a particular activity. I want to build a better world where everyone has instant free access to everything that has been published.

      3 years ago
      1. Colin

        Ruthless, but I more or less agree. When an artist sells a work, they’re participating in some society. Copyright exists (in principal) for the betterment of that society. That doesn’t necessarily mean the financial betterment of the creator – and especially when it comes to digital goods, the best way to reach this goal is to make the creation freely available.

        You can try to claim that a world in which inventors and artists can’t limit the distribution of their work (beyond choosing to keep it private altogether) will limit innovation, but I would disagree. The wheel was invented before copyrights or patents, as was the hammer, the spoon, and so forth. Linux has been incredibly successful, despite none of the creators directly profiting form it, as has much other open source software. A great deal of creation happens not because of monetary incentive, but because of passion or curiosity. Obviously not *all* creation, but enough to keep the world moving.

        In many cases, artificial restrictions like this *harm* artists and innovators. Relevant to the DIY 3d printing community, Stratasys owns some patents that have prevented DIY’ers from sharing designs and innovating in this area. Fan-made content (mainly those inspired by films) pretty regularly gets censored from video/image sharing platforms. This harms both these fan artists and their communities. And although Get_rolled_over claims copyright is irrelevant to “inspired works”, the grounds on which these videos/images are deemed illegal is by using the same characters as the original work, despite characters being ideas and not really copiable things.

        3 years ago
        1. Got_rolled_over

          Copyright doesn’t just lock down your art. All the shit on Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, the internet- all copyrighted, all in the public domain. All of that work is ‘freely available’.

          Taking that work against the artists’ will (such as using it for your company logo, or printing on a bottle), without first agreeing a license with the artist is illegal.

          That’s all copyright enforces. Its not this huge evil cloud zapping poor iddle citizens. I honestly don’t think many of you have a practical understanding of copyright.

          3 years ago
          1. RobSa

            The fact is that artists can eat because they derive their income from another source, not their creativity, especially if that product can be reproduced digitally. Even so the premise of your argument is false because some people will always pay or donate if they so choose. All this fretting over people using technology to share information is pointless.

            3 years ago
      2. T.C. Masterson

        This position seems like a rewording of greed and it won’t work in our favor. Even though information flow is unimpeded, no designer or maker of any kind will be able sustain themselves financially with what they make. They’ll be unable to invest time to their craft and it will result in an extreme decline in the quality of every new creative work.

        We’ll be the ones who suffer as a result. Makers, and we as a society, deserve better than this. Designers need to be compensated and given credit for their work.

        Imagine if you weren’t for your work. Or if the same thing happened to the medical profession.

        3 years ago
      3. Got_rolled_over

        You don’t care how something is used, but the artist does. What if their work is used in war propaganda? Or to support efforts they don’t agree with? If their work gets misused, then it looks as if they support that action, and it can ruin their reputation and future business.

        And on your point where everything should be free; that’s a beautiful idea but who gets to eat in that world? Certainly not the creators, just the consumers.

        3 years ago
    7. diy crafts

      Therefore, moving furniture design from a design patent to copyright law means that people can and will indeed be prosecuted for manufacturing their own furniture using their own tools. There’s an important difference here in EU law versus US patent law:

      3 years ago
  2. stabzy

    Copyright is for greedy pricks that care about nothing but money

    3 years ago
    1. Jade Set

      True that, mate.

      3 years ago
    2. T.C. Masterson

      I know, right? How dare they expect to be paid for their work.

      3 years ago
      1. stabzy

        They are getting paid for it, they just want more money because they can.

        3 years ago
    3. btao

      Very true, until you’re a designer, like me. My company spends 500,000USD/yr to litigate against counterfeits. We pass that off to you, the consumers.

      3 years ago
  3. Joey Ballard

    It’s a cute effort. It will be about as successful as shutting down torrents. 3d printed things can be downloaded.

    3 years ago
    1. Kandi Klover

      Exactly. Useless show pony laws that are only back by angry retarded commenters making piss poor excuses. Rage as they may they’ll never be able to do anything about it.

      3 years ago
  4. arc

    The writer is spot on. Not all items will match my example. Say a new wheel is invented, and copyrighted. Other people in other towns, even countries, may have similar ideas, but can’t make a living from this new wheel due to copyright.

    Why should a person or a group have the right to limit or prevent someone from making a living. That’s the point right? The copy right holder becomes rich at the expense of everyone else. Is the idea really unique, over 8 billion people on the planet means lots of people may have similar ideas, but not the money to copyright.

    There is little in furniture that has not already been done, having manufactured sofas for the last 25 years. A sofa is made for a human so it already has the constrents that it needs to fit us.

    As a small business we certainly could not afford to patent or copyright our work, our own designs based on what came before..

    We made a living, but this is not good enough for some greedy people they want to become rich and prevent anyone else from making a living in fear of patent or copyright, the software market has shown you don’t have to be infringing copyright to lose a tone of money, you just have to be sued, win or lose, you still lose.

    Imagine a super computer knocking out thousands of designs and having copyright on each, a new form of copyright trolling, no ordinary person would be able to making anything.
    I know this is most unlikely at least I hope not.

    Patents and copyright are for the rich and should exist for less time not longer to give ordinary people a chance to make a living.

    3 years ago
  5. Anne van Rossum

    Even as a company I think the most long term strategy is to innovate faster than your competitors, not starting to defend old product lines.

    For an artist I don’t think this should be different. If people copy your paintings, make new ones.

    3 years ago
  6. Kandi Klover

    It’s just a show pony law to help these people go back into their little fantasy worlds. Not gonna make any difference at all. People been using the printers and xerox machines at Kinkos and other similar stores to reproduce photos and such. It’s a joke and an easy excuse to not have to actually deal with any real problems.

    3 years ago