Replica or rip-off? Australian designers call on government to put a stop to replica designs

feature-replica-ripoff-200The “Tractor” stool is a stunning piece of Australian design from BassamFellows which has only been on the market for a year, but already retailer Matt Blatt has a “replica Craig Bassam tractor counter stool” for sale on its website.

Industry group the Authentic Design Alliance says replicas like this are threatening the livelihood of Australian designers and manufacturers and has launched a petition to the Federal Government today to lobby for legal change in a bid to address what it says is a systemic problem.

The original Tractor stool is sold by LivingEdge and created by BassamFellows, made up of Australian-born designer Craig Bassam and American-born creative director Scott Fellows.

“BassamFellows is a design company known for exquisite, high-quality, contemporary handcrafted furniture,” according to the LivingEdge website, proudly advertising the product.

An almost identical stool is also advertised on furniture retailer Matt Blatt’s website, which it describes as a “replica Craig Bassam Tractor Counter stool” which was “originally created by Australian-born Craig Bassam of US-based furniture design team BassamFellows”.

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The original Tractor stool on the left and the Matt Blatt replica on the right.

Matt Blatt is well known as a retailer of replicas and legal action against the retailer commenced by American furniture brand Herman Miller was settled out of court last year.

Herman Miller, which owns the rights to produce and sell Eames originals, claimed Matt Blatt’s website was misleading consumers as to the authenticity of certain items by selling counterfeit furniture – specifically, copies of certain Charles and Ray Eames pieces – that were not clearly identified as replicas.

The terms of the settlement are confidential but the Matt Blatt website now displays the following message: “Matt Blatt’s replica products are not manufactured or approved by, or affiliated with, the original designers, manufacturers or distributors including Herman Miller, Charles or Ray Eames, Knoll, Fritz Hansen, Flos, Studio Italia, Giogali, Artemide Spa, Tolix or Xavier Pauchard.”

SmartCompany contacted Matt Blatt for comment but the company did not respond prior to publication.

Alongside Matt Blatt, Milan Direct also sells design replicas in Australia. However, when SmartCompany spoke to owner Dean Ramler last week he defended his decision to stock the replicas and said replica furniture only makes up a “very small” part of Milan Direct’s range.

“You are legally allowed to sell replicas as long as you say it is a replica,” Ramler says.

Ramler argues that design replicas make design which is no longer protected by copyright available to the mass market.

“You can only have a patent for 10 or 12 years and most of these replicas are based on designs from the 1920s, so it is fine as long as you are making it clear to the customer it is a replica,” he says.

“We are pro replica and aim to make replicas affordable, but we complement that with a broader range of furniture.”

However, Anthony Collins the managing director of Stylecraft and founder of the Australian Design Alliance (ADA) questions the quality of the design that Ramler is bringing to the masses and the cost of replicas to the Australian design and manufacturing industries.

Collins founded the ADA in an attempt to address what he says is the insidious problem of replicas.

“Four years ago I was so sick of seeing copies that I emailed four of my biggest competitors about starting the ADA and within 15 minutes they had all replied,” Collins says.

He says the ADA’s petition aims to effect long-term change by changing the laws surrounding the intellectual property of furniture.

“The music that I play in this showroom needs a licensing fee to APRA and if you take a photograph in here then that’s your intellectual property,” he says.

“Everything seems to be protected except for furniture.”

Collins says protecting new design needs to be distinguished from protecting classic design like in the Herman Miller and Eames case.

“The debate gets quite divisive about classic design, you get the arguments ‘I can’t afford it’ and ‘It was designed 60 years ago’,” he says.

“We are more about protecting new independent design.”

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