I just read a scathing critique of the lack of copyright protection for industrial designers: Australian journalist Joe Aston's "Industrial designers deserve [the] same copyright treatment as Hollywood." In it, self-professed design-lover Aston sounds extremely pissed off, takes shots at both America and Asia, and makes some points you've heard before, some you haven't:
How is it a gross moral and commercial trangression to download a film or an album from a file sharer, denying the filmmaker or songwriter rightful compensation for their work, yet the purchase of a blatant rip-off of a designer's original chair or table or lamp is a misdeed we sanction?
I'd argue that Hollywood studios have put systems in place to detect illegal downloads, and that these systems can be operated by people sitting at computers. Spotting and tracking knock-off furniture, in contrast, must be performed by people in the field doing physical inspections. If the knock-off furniture is coming in from overseas, ports make good choke points to deploy them, as Norway has shown; but how do you catch domestic pirates?
Aston's take on the "design should be for the masses" argument:
Proponents of ripped-off furniture argue that good design should be accessible to the masses. But there's a clear difference between accessible style and stolen style. Which is why a developed economy prohibits High Street shops from selling fake Louis Vuitton luggage. Leave that to Thailand and Indonesia. Otherwise, what other possessions should people have a right to that they can't afford? A Porsche? Bang & Olufsen TVs?
That seems like a bit of a stretch to me, but I'll let him have that one. Here's the bit I found most interesting:
There is plenty of good, affordable and original furniture available today – and regulating against fakes would only ensure there is more still, to satisfy that transferred demand. It might be Eames and Philippe Starck and Hans Wegner who're copied, but it's the young designers whose work the fake market devalues.
"Replicas", as is their Orwellian descriptor (it's like referring to "rape" as "sex"), also devalue the classics, so in fact do not make good design accessible. They do precisely the opposite.
They kill it. Take Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's 1929 Barcelona chair. It's beautiful. But given the proliferation of fakes in corporate lobbies, and bogan homes, it's now untouchable for anyone serious about architecture, art or design. Which is a travesty.
Our market is flooded with product – like Eames by Aldi – that breaks and scratches and falls apart and, basically, looks like shit. Thus in the mind of the next generation of consumers, what was once a classic feat of creativity and craftsmanship is now a piece of shit.
I thought he went a bit too far with the "rape" analogy—you can tell the man is angry—but I can't argue with his point about the Barcelona chair. When you see it, or LC2 knockoffs, everywhere, the design seems less special, does it not? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
What do you think of his points, and should good design be for the masses? If so, at what cost? Also: Do you think van der Rohe and Le Corbusier would be elated, or disgusted, to see their designs so widely "distributed?"