Seeking Creative Protection

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Working in the design industry from an editorial platform allows us at CID to be the ears and mouth, hearing and spreading the news of the industry joys, mishaps and complaints. From starting a new firm to launching a fresh collection, major players in the industry are up and running, but with commercial success also comes commercial set backs.

Often times we hear designers comment about their client’s tendency toward cheaper models of specified products, usually at the expense of keeping costs down and below budget. In doing so, original designs are copied in their aesthetic and sourced from a factory in discreet locations in unregulated countries such as China. This leads to creative infringement on part of the original designs and their creator. And it is also widely argued that this leads to theft, as the successful design is used yet the original creator is denied all the benefits of its production.

Tuula Juselius, CEO and founder, Secto Design, explains: “There have been some projects, like restaurants and cafes, where our lighting pendants have been specified by the interior architect. As our representative has contacted the buyer to discuss the terms of delivery, he is usually told, ‘Your products are so expensive, that we decided to order similar ones from China.”

She adds: “As we have participated in trade fairs in Dubai, quite a lot of potential clients said that our lighting designs are so beautiful, but because of their price, they would prefer to manufacture them in China.”

Secto Design is known for its range of contemporary and minimal lighting pendants that explore the many uses of natural materials, like birch. In creating the handmade pendants like Octo 4240, which consists of PEFC-certified form-pressed birch, a lot of research goes into ensuring that the wood is lacquered appropriately and sits at a safe distance from the heated light bulb so as to avoid dangerous mishaps. A randomly manufactured lighting pendant is not likely to come with the same amount of consideration for the consumer.

So how is it possible that in a region as well governed as the UAE, that designers feel unsupported in the face of growing creative infringement?

A report released by Dr. Brian Fitzgerald and Dr. Rami Olwan, professors of Queensland University of Technology, thoroughly analyses copyright law in the UAE. In the report, it states: “Copyright subject matter is defined in Art 2 of the UAE Copyright Law in much the same way as in many other countries. It covers literary works such as books, computer software, databases, lectures and speeches, dramatic works, musical works, audio, visual and audiovisual works, architectural works, drawings, paintings, sculptures, works of applied art, photographs, maps and derivative works.

While architectural work and drawing are directly stated in the 2002 legislature, interior designs and furniture concepts remain not included.

Indu Varanasi, design director, at i r design, explains: “There are no rights. There is no entity or body which protects the rights of the [interior design] industry. The designer cannot register or appeal towards any creative rights. “There should be a body which represents the designer in case of a dispute. Most designers cannot afford lawyers especially if we are dealing with large companies. An arbitration panel should be created. This will have a dual effect, it will regulate the industry against malpractices, like irresponsible design, and protect designers and clients.”

It should also be duly noted that under copyright law in the UAE, article two states that “the authors of the works and holders of neighbouring rights shall enjoy the protection stipulated by the law herein, if an infringement has occurred upon their rights inside the State…” Therefore, even if interior design was included into the copyright law, would having a copied design in China and sent to the UAE be recorded as infringement within the state?

According to Juselius: “When we see copies of our models, we inform the manufacturer, owner, seller, that they infringe our rights and ask them to stop the production, marketing and sales of the copies. Most often, we [have this conversation through] a lawyer who is specialised in immaterial rights.”

When asked about the current status of creative rights in the UAE, Juselius notes: “We cannot tell because we do not know the area well enough, but we have the impression that design products, in that sense as we understand them in Europe, is a rather new phenomenon in the UAE, and because of this, people and companies are not familiar with the immaterial rights.

According to Varanasi, interior design is unlike other professions such as medicine and law, which requires a qualification to practice. “This profession does not require any pre-qualification or membership to protect rights and malpractices. [And since] Dubai wants to become the design hub for creativity, it would be beneficial to all if stringent measures are laid down.”

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With the UAE making governmental initiatives toward sustainability and green building, it’s likely that they will also be taking a firmer stance on creative protection for designers. Especially with Expo 2020 coming up, designers from around the world will be flocking to Dubai to work on projects. A priority in guaranteeing success of coming designs would be ensuring their artistic rights. However, it’s not only up to the legislature. Clients and designers need to begin having more honest dialogue between one another, while education for the public is also something to work toward.

Varanasi furthers: “There is a lot of education going on for the industry professionals [as of now], but not for the public at large.”

Juselius notes that courses and seminars about immaterial rights would be an active step forward for clients and the general public to understand why it’s important to pay for and appreciate original designs. But is it only clients who seem to be one foot in the light and one foot in the dark?

Varanasi explains that often times a realistic budget of a potential project isn’t discussed with the designer, hence they are unable to create a space within reason.

She says: “My usual question is do you want a Corolla or Mercedes? Both take you from point A to point B. [Also], designers should be aware of the budgetary costs of all the materials that they are using. The ability of the designer to realise the visuals within the budget is the actual calibre of the designer.”

This article was originally published in Commercial Interior Design magazine in September 2014. Photo credits: first photo TAF Architects, second photo Secto Design.

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