UK Copyright law has always had a somewhat awkward relationship with 3 dimensions. Graphical works, sculptures, collages and photographs are all protected "irrespective of artistic quality". Apart from sculptures, copyright also protects works of architecture (buildings and models for them) and works of "artistic craftsmanship". The latter category appears to be a fairly narrow one, though exactly how narrow is unclear.
Instead, UK law offers an alternative protection in the form of various design rights. There are actually 4 of these - design right, registered designs, and community unregistered and registered design rights. All of these are different to a greater or lesser extent, protecting different things, in different ways for different periods of time.
Inevitably there are overlaps between the two sets of rights. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 does a certain amount to keep the two spheres of art and design separate. For example section 51 prevents the making of a object to a design from being an infringement of the design document. But it is section 52 that interests us today.
Section 52 deals with the situation where an artistic work has been exploited in the making of articles by an industrial process and marketing them in the UK. At the end of 25 years after the articles are first marketed, it ceases to be an infringement of copyright to copy the work by making articles (of any kind) or doing any thing for the purpose of making those articles (for example by producing preliminary design drawings). The articles may also be sold to the public and otherwise dealt with without infringing copyright in the original artistic work.
Section 52 is supplemented by the Copyright (Industrial Process and Excluded Articles)(No. 2) Order 1989 which, amongst other things, excludes certain kinds of article from its operation. For example, exploiting an artistic work by making a sculpture would not engage section 52 and hence would not weaken copyright protection after 25 years, which is one of the reasons why the question of whether a storm-trooper's helmet was a "sculpture" was considered by our Supreme Court in Lucasfilm v Ainsworth (see from paragraph 29). Many more literary or artistic articles are excluded as well such as greetings cards, book jackets and stamps (you can read the whole list in regulation 3).
In other words, an artistic work is protected by copyright, but if its owner stoops to allow its industrial exploitation then, in that sphere, it is given a period of protection akin to that of a registered design.
What section 52 does not do is shorten the period of copyright protection, it merely weakens the protection copyright gives. A clear example of this appeared in Jules Rimet Cup v Football Association  EWHC 2376 (Ch) which was a dispute about the registration of a trademark in World Cup Willie. The court had to decide (amongst other things) what effect section 52 had on the Football Association's copyright in the image of World Cup Willie. It had been the subject of considerable exploitation, but the court decided that, while section 52 would allow the making of many kinds of World Cup Willie articles, it would not allow the making of excluded articles (such as the sculptures, stamps and greetings cards mentioned above). To do so would still be an infringement of copyright.
An example (stolen from Copinger) demonstrates how section 52 works. Suppose an artist drew a picture of an iconic vehicle - lets say a car- in a comic strip. After 25 years of marketing models of the car as merchandising, the artist could no longer use copyright protection from preventing others making rival versions of the car, but the artist could still stop the making of stamps, greeting cards and, most importantly, comic books based on the original drawings.
The proposed clause 55 will do away with all that. The artist would, if the clause passes, be able to sue any imitator of the car for copyright infringement. Clause 55 therefore represents a further extension of copyright, albeit in a rather subtle way.
The coverage of the proposal has been rather patch. The Design Council say:
We understand that the Bill will repeal section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which currently restricts copyright to 25 years (calculated from the date on which the work is first placed on the market) on artistic works which are exploited through an industrial process.Which, you will see, is garbled at best. The Design Council seems to think the clause only applies to "design classics". The government's own press release demonstrates the same confusion:
... extending copyright protection for mass-produced artistic works to life of the creator plus 70 years. These measures will promote innovation in the design industry and encourage investment in new products, while discouraging unauthorised copiesAs usual there is an unevidenced claim that there will be a promotion of innovation and of course no comment no the innovation in terms of competing designers seeking to give a new physical embodiment to already exploited artistic works.
All this coverage suggests that at least some of those thinking about the new law are thinking it applies to works of artistic craftsmanship alone, whereas it will apply much more widely than that, even to tins of paint.
Marks: 0/10 for failing to address what impact this will have on the now lawful re-exploitation of industrially produced art.