Earlier this year, a restauranteur in Norway ordered 100 chairs to furnish his establishment. Those of you who were paying attention in Furniture Design History 101 will recognize the Hans J. Wegner design that he ordered:
It's been referred to as The Round One, The Round Chair or simply The Chair. Designed in 1949, it's a prime example of the Danish Modern style, and Nixon and Kennedy sat in these very chairs during 1960's first-ever-televised Presidential debates, giving it a publicity boost.
The copyrights to the chair are owned by Denmark's PP Møbler (who have given it the less sexy name of pp501/pp503). The restauranteur, however, had ordered the chairs from a Chinese company. Norwegian customs officials intercepted the shipment upon arrival and contacted PP Møbler, and the shipment was frozen.
According to Danish Furniture, the restauranteur then "offered PP Møbler a substantial amount to release the chairs." Instead, the company mandated that the following happen:
"The entire consignment," reports Danish Furniture, "was destroyed at the customer's expense."
The story has since been picked up by several publications, and the most robust discussion we've read on the episode has been in Fine Woodworking's comments section. In addition to the expected China-bashing, one commenter offers his opinion that the restauranteur--who not only paid for the chairs he never received, but also paid for their destruction--might not be at fault:
A restaurant owner sees these handsome, reasonably priced chairs in a restaurant supply catalog and thinks they will look great in his restaurant. (It's entirely possible he's never heard of Hans Wegner, and it also seems unlikely that, with malice aforethought, he sent some Chinese manufacturer pictures and said, "Make me 100 of these--I can't afford the real deal.")
Another blames consumerism in general:
The people (consumers) have set a demand. It's not only China, it's the people hiring China to copy these pieces for the Western market demand, they just fill orders like any manufacturer would. And because of their society they can do it at a very low cost sometimes degrading the original through material, finish, details and craftsmanship.
Then there was this interesting comment:
Before we bash the Chinese too much, let's not forget where Wegner got his inspiration for this chair. It's very much based on classic Chinese chairs from the 17th and 18th centuries. So who copied who?
To clarify on that last point, an earlier piece of Wegner's was in fact influenced by a Ming Dynasty chair design, and he made no bones about it: The resultant piece is called the China Chair, and Fritz Hansen has been producing it since 1944.
Of course, that cultural borrowing cannot be used to justify present-day design piracy, particularly since we now have laws governing this sort of thing.
I do not feel that Chinese design piracy can be stamped out on moral grounds. If there is profit to be made producing knock-offs, and particularly if that profit is crucial to bare survival in an impoverished region, I believe that that profit motive will greatly overshadow any moral qualms.
I also don't believe design piracy can be eradicated by legal means. Most drugs are illegal in the United States, yet despite us spending billions on a futile drug war, they not only continue to flow into our border, they have made drug cartels worldwide very rich. You can't stop people from making something that they know other people want to buy.
This may sound like a stretch, but I believe the problem could only go away with better design education within China and an attendant army of globally-savvy marketers. If indigenous Chinese design became so good that it was more profitable to produce than copies, then you'd have built-in incentives to innovate. But until that happens, we can expect to see more chair-crushing videos.
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OMG...65 years later and someone still owns that design?!?!? I'm glad I live in the free world. Design rights should be 20 years at most. That's just insane!
Why do you sit there waiting for copyrights to expire? How about coming up with your own shit?
I'm not waiting.
Having unlimited rights to furniture designs means that only the wealthy can afford the best looking furniture. I agree that furniture design "patents" should be limited to 20 years or so.
That's terrible logic. Why can't there be mid to high-quality average priced original pieces? I feel like im in the freaking twilight zone I hope u people aren't designers with all this narrow minded talk.
Those 'knock-off' chairs hardly look as detailed or polished as the original design. They're simplified in many ways. I would say, without knowing the details of what their copyright/patent law protects, that the Chinese made chairs are inspired-from, but not carbon copies of, the Round Chair. They are obviously not rounded or blended, which to me is the entire point of the original.
Design should be, after this long, at least somewhat affordable. I'm not saying that everyone should be able to buy a Jalk bent plywood chair at walmart, but by producing only extremely expensive items, you're in a way saying that those who are not a part of the super elite very wealthy class of citizens aren't worthy of well designed products. Perhaps licensing replica 501/503s would be a viable option for Mobler.
Stupid choice for a restaurant chair anyway, this 'restauranteur' deserved his punishment for everytime guests would jam their fingers between two adjacent armrest or the table tops. Also, no possibility of flipping these onto the table top for cleaning the floor. Who the fck is this restauranteur has he ever been near a restaurant? I know nothing and I'm still doing a better job ffs.
Don't know how all you guys can say copyright should be limited to 20 years... It should be forever protected! So many talented designers trying to make a living but can't because of this crap. I mean so many other ideas and designs why do they have to get a copy when you could buy a great original design?
I've designed hundreds of products which probably 80% have design patents. I own none of them. I was paid a salary or one time commission for the work.
It's in MY interest that the guy paying me can't sit on one good design for eternity. I want his patent to expire so he has to hire me to do the next great thing.
kind of an interesting one , as they are clearly not exact copies and are much rougher in design. design rights are pretty hard to protect and enforce normally especially with a char that will often fall in to the must fit rule as it has to have 4 legs a back etc to be a chair and used for a person. so these do seem to be more inspired by that knock offs but obviously close enough for the authoritys which is good in some ways.
Please use "restaurateur" (grammarist.com/spelling/restaurateur).
This happens in Mexico all the time as well, not just in China; story I heard was that a big hotel was opening in a resort area, and they wanted a few dozen Barcelona chairs but didn't want to spend the money on the real deal; they hire a local industrial designer who works with a local manufacturer, copies of the chairs get made with a few tweaks here and there, then client has chairs at a much lower price. Lots of people make a little bit of money. Is it illegal? You bet. Is it wrong? Is it wrong to try and make money to feed your family as a small welder or upholsterer in a third world country?
Yes of course its wrong. How would you like it. Imagine that same poor guy finally comes up with THE design that's going to finally save his family for good after years of dedication to the craft and then some prick just rips it right the fk off and takes all his could have been profit.
Besides that's not sustainable. They will always be poor if they rely on copying. Their children will have no enterprise, just more stealing from the people who actually did the hard work of inventing in the first place.
Every economy has relied on copying. The UK had no IP protection during the birth of the industrial revolution. The US relied on copying European inventions for its first 100+ years. Then Japan, Taiwan and Germany and now it's China.