Design Fraud: A Global Problem

May 15, 1998

Illegal imitation in the UK textile industry, rare twenty years ago but now "rampant", is set to get worse as new technologies develop, according to Keith Dickson and colleagues in ESRC supported research into Design Protection Practices in the UK Textiles Industry. This has arisen because designers are simply not sufficiently aware of copyright law and what it can offer by way of protection to their business, asserts Dickson.

The reputations of design firms which are copied are at stake because copies tend to be of lower quality than the original, as the imitator seeks to increase profits by reducing production costs by, for example, using fewer colours.

Designers are often reluctant to take rivals to court, preferring instead to settle amicably. Of those cases which do go to court, many are unsuccessful owing to the complexity and scope for the interpretation of copyright law, especially overseas. One studio manager interviewed said, "It's quite easy for a designer to reproduce a popular "look" without breaking the law."

Dickson believes technologies such as computer-aided design (CAD), digital cameras and scanners will exacerbate the illegal copying problem. He says, " It's a global industry and infringement is a global problem. You already see designers going round trade fairs with their digital cameras. When linked to a computer they can send the design around the world in a mater of minutes."

For further information contact: Keith Dickson, tel: 01895 274000 ext 3503; fax: 01895 203149; email:, or Dr Anne-Marie Cole 01895 274000 ext 3657, or Kathy Ham, ESRC External Relations, tel: 01793 413032

Editor's Notes:

  1. The research was carried out in 132 telephone surveys of UK furnishing fabric design firms of all sizes followed by face to face interviews with representatives of design firms in the UK, US and Italy.

  2. Copies of the report Just Changed Enough? are available from Division of Management Studies, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH, 20 pp, price £10. Tel: 01895 274 0000 ext 2447.

  3. The research Design Protection Practices in the UK Textiles Industry is part of the Intellectual Property Initiative. This is a jointly funded research programme between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Intellectual Property Institute. For further information please contact Professor John Adams at The Intellectual Property Institute, 0171 404 8490.

  4. ACID (Anti-copying in design) is a recently formed association of independent design companies concerned about the legal protection of their designs and products. Please contact Dids Macdonald (Chairperson) on 0181 542 2422 or Simon Clark (Lawyer) on 0171 606 8855.

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