The High cost of Be­ing orig­i­nal

Azure - - CONTENTS - By El­iz­a­beth Pagli­a­colo

How to fight the prob­lem of knock-offs

EAR­LIER THIS YEAR, Nor­way and Switzer­land de­stroyed ship­ments of Weg­ner and Le Cor­bus­ier fakes, re­spec­tively. Fall­ing into line with many E.U. coun­tries, the U.K. re­cently re­vised its Copy­right, De­signs and Patents Act 1988 to make it il­le­gal to im­port, fab­ri­cate and ul­ti­mately sell the most ubiq­ui­tous knock-offs, from the Eames “Eif­fel” chair to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona.

The huge mar­ket for cheap ver­sions sug­gests that for the av­er­age con­sumer, repli­cas don’t present an eth­i­cal cri­sis. For many peo­ple, there is no dis­tinc­tion – ex­cept, of course, in cost – be­tween real and fake. The Guardian even con­flated the two, an­nounc­ing the new U.K. law, which ex­tends pro­tec­tion to 70 years (from 25 years) af­ter a de­signer’s death, by say­ing: “Mid-cen­tury de­sign clas­sics, such as Charles Eames chairs, Eileen Gray ta­bles and Arco lamps are set to rocket in price.” In fact, the li­censed prod­ucts aren’t rock­et­ing in price; the fakes are sim­ply be­ing pulled out of cir­cu­la­tion. The pa­per then let read­ers know they had six months to “snap up” repli­cas. Oliver Wain­wright, the news­pa­per’s de­sign critic, es­pouses this de­sign-for-the-masses vibe. He en­gaged in a Twit­ter dust-up ear­lier this year in de­fense of the cheaper ver­sions. “‘We wanted to make the best for the most for the least,’” he quotes the Eame­ses as hav­ing said. “So isn’t this ex­actly what Charles Eames would have wanted?”

Well, not ex­actly. The “best” pre­cedes “least” for a good rea­son. The Eame­ses might have a few ques­tions about the 54 fac­to­ries mak­ing Eames fur­ni­ture in China alone, es­pe­cially about qual­ity and labour stan­dards. Plus, such com­pa­nies as Her­man Miller and Vitra that make li­censed re­pro­duc­tions have not only nur­tured decades­long re­la­tion­ships with the foun­da­tions of these dead pioneers but also in­vest in sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies to faith­fully man­u­fac­ture their de­signs to to­day’s stan­dards.

Leav­ing aside, for a mo­ment, the is­sue of clas­sics, Trubridge’s ac­tions re­flect the sen­ti­ment of many de­sign­ers try­ing to make a liv­ing. They might de­vote up to two years, from con­cept to mar­ket launch, to de­vel­op­ing a prod­uct, only to see it quickly and brazenly copied. “Some peo­ple say it’s kind of a com­pli­ment,” says Dutch de­sign star Mar­cel Wan­ders, “but it’s only wicked thiev­ery.” Michael Anas­tas­si­ades, who cre­ates min­i­mal, al­most ce­les­tial light­ing un­der his own brand and for Flos, also finds the prac­tice deeply of­fen­sive. “You feel some­how vi­o­lated. Some­thing you’ve cre­ated with so much ex­cite­ment, en­ergy and pas­sion – all of a sud­den some­one takes it, and puts their copy out there.” It’s even worse when they add a de­tail or dis­tort pro­por­tion to elude the law. “You think, ‘Did I de­sign this? This is really ugly, hor­ri­ble.’” Par­a­sitiz­ing some­one’s cre­ativ­ity is one thing, but tak­ing a po­ten­tial sale is an­other. As Theo Richard­son, co-founder of New York light­ing stu­dio Rich Bril­liant Will­ing, de­scribes it, “We have a team that de­pends on this com­pany func­tion­ing. Ev­ery time you steal, you’re steal­ing the liveli­hood of the peo­ple on this team.”

Tom Dixon is prob­a­bly one of the most fla­grantly copied de­sign­ers in the world, so much so that the knock-off phe­nom­e­non has mo­ti­vated the Bri­ton to con­stantly rein­vent his de­sign process and seek out new tech­nolo­gies or mak­ing pro­cesses that add a unique, cus­tom­ized, and there­fore in­vi­o­lable, touch to each prod­uct. But is this the so­lu­tion? Who is to say that copy-mak­ers won’t even­tu­ally get their hands on the same tech­nolo­gies? Some knock-off pro­duc­ers have al­ready per­fected in­dis­cernible copies.

Such pro­duc­ers op­er­ate in a num­ber of ways. Big box re­tail­ers or im­porter-dis­trib­u­tors might head to de­sign fairs to spot, pho­to­graph and re­verse engi­neer, with ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fi­ciency, new prod­ucts. These com­pa­nies could also eas­ily steal from a man­u­fac­turer’s on­line cat­a­logue, which of­ten in­cludes CAD files.

Knock-offs are il­le­gal, but to sue is to en­gage in a years-long strug­gle. “The last thing you want to do is pay money for some­thing that takes you in a neg­a­tive di­rec­tion, fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally,” says Gregg Buch­binder, chair­man of Emeco. His com­pany’s famed Navy Chair has been the sub­ject of more than one trade­mark law­suit. Wan­ders says his com­pany fights back against 10 to 20 cases a year, but only when the copies have made their way to a ge­o­graphic re­gion where Moooi can fight them, and not at the fac­tory in, say, China. Be­cause it might take years to set­tle a suit, a com­pany can just move to a new fac­tory and churn out ad­di­tional fakes un­der an­other name.

It may seem a rar­efied feud be­tween de­sign­ers and copy­ists, but con­sumers play a cen­tral, if silent, role. We are the mar­ket – the de­mand – af­ter all. Ev­ery time we favour the bar­gain price, we ig­nore all that goes into a good de­sign, from the in­no­va­tion of ideas, ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques, to the sup­port of skilled, ad­e­quately com­pen­sated labour. It hits at the heart of what good de­sign is and why it is im­por­tant. “There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween in­spi­ra­tion and steal­ing,” says Wan­ders, re­fer­ring to the ways in which de­sign­ers can in­flu­ence each other – which is nat­u­ral, con­sid­er­ing the rapid pro­lif­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal im­ages. “It’s im­por­tant to make that dis­tinc­tion.” The dis­tinc­tion is that knock-off com­pa­nies don’t em­ploy de­sign­ers. They do not in­no­vate, they only im­i­tate, and cut ev­ery cor­ner in or­der to boost their prof­its. Nancy Bendt­sen, of Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer Bensen, which has fought copies in the le­gal sys­tem, ex­plains, “It is so sad when peo­ple don’t un­der­stand how much it takes to ac­tu­ally pro­duce a piece, and they steal the fi­nal out­come of all that en­ergy.”

Take Emeco as an ex­am­ple. Says Buch­binder, “Emeco has an alu­minum fac­tory. We bring in raw ma­te­ri­als; we cut, bend, weld, grind, an­neal, heat treat, sanoflex and an­odize – all un­der one roof. In all these things we’re ex­perts.” The an­odiz­ing process that gives Emeco chairs their sil­very sheen is more than a sur­face ef­fect: it makes the chairs non-cor­rodi­ble. Fake ver­sions are coated in sil­ver paint – mak­ing the aes­thetic con­ces­sion while skip­ping steps that keep Emeco chairs sturdy for 150 years. As some­one who helped res­cue the Navy Chair from ob­scu­rity (when he pur­chased the fac­tory from his fa­ther in 1998), Buch­binder is pas­sion­ate about the value of a truly en­dur­ing prod­uct. “In our cul­ture, there’s this thing that’s sad, this so­ci­ety that is con­sume and throw away. Peo­ple don’t buy things to keep. Our de­sire to buy more crap will di­min­ish, I hope.” And this is per­haps the best ar­gu­ment against the knock-off in­dus­try: it’s hell on the en­vi­ron­ment and tax­ing on our al­ready di­min­ish­ing nat­u­ral re­sources.

While the prob­lem of fakes has seemed only to in­crease, stricter laws and aware­ness-rais­ing ef­forts by non-prof­its like Be­o­rig­i­nal Amer­i­cas have be­gun to net wins. Be­o­rig­i­nal Amer­i­cas, based in

New York, has also re­cently launched a fel­low­ship to bet­ter ed­u­cate stu­dents on how an au­then­tic de­sign process plays out. Says Sam Grawe, pres­i­dent of Be­o­rig­i­nal Amer­i­cas’ board and global brand di­rec­tor at Her­man Miller, “They really get the nose-to-tail ex­pe­ri­ence in what it takes to make a prod­uct.” Stu­dents visit Her­man Miller, Emeco, Bern­hardt and dozens of other com­pa­nies. For the av­er­age con­sumer, ed­u­ca­tion is also key. Even China is get­ting over its taste for knock-offs – and it’s thanks to fairs like De­sign Shang­hai, and a grow­ing mid­dle class more keen on buy­ing the real thing. The copy-mak­ers might keep on copy­ing, but the con­sumer has the fi­nal choice. Says Wan­ders, “It’s really all about ethics.”

Last sum­mer, as part of a de­sign event, David Trubridge de­cided to stomp on knock-offs of his un­mis­tak­able Flo­ral and Kina lamps. Be­cause con­sumers covet them, they are prime tar­gets for knock-off com­pa­nies. Yet, while Trubridge was be­moan­ing lax laws around fakes in Aus­tralia, Europe and other coun­tries have be­gun to take copy­right laws much more se­ri­ously.

De­stroy­ing fakes was part of an event hosted by the au­then­tic De­sign al­liance in aus­tralia. “We will not put up with our de­signs be­ing copied any­where,” David trubridge said. “it harms us and it harms the fam­i­lies my work feeds.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.