There's an ongoing problem with copying in Design. Replicas abound, and knock- offs and tribute designs of furniture, light fittings and fabrics are all too frequent now that the internet has broken down geographical and informational boundaries, and provided easy access to the third world and its cheap manufacturing hubs. The secondary issue relating to this are Architects and Interior Designers and Decorators who claim their designs - their intellectual property - are pilfered by other designers or home owners. I've had a number of times people comment on the blog that I am very transparent with my sources - furniture, paint colours, carpet etc. I know a lot of other bloggers and Designers protect this information as they see it as their Intellectual property, something they make money from and which they will not give away for free.


I don't have a problem with revealing these things for a few reasons. Firstly there is virtually nothing new in this world. I have not made any of these things myself - I put the elements together, or curated them, to create my design. If you want to know the paint colour I've used, I have no problem with that - I didn't invent the colour, and if you use it in your home it may well not give the same effect. Paint changes with the light, and this means that geography, and the position of your windows will make it look different to the room I've used it in. People cherry pick information on design from blogs or magazines in just the same way that I do - I've found these things through reading magazines or trawling the web, so if you want to know where I've found something I have no problem with that. I don't repeat my designs - I use fabrics, paint colours and furniture that suit that particular and unique home and lifestyle of the person I'm designing for. If someone tries to wholesale copy my design, it won't look the same, or function the same for all those reasons I mention above.

Designers are endlessly inspired by each other. One thing will spark an idea that will create something new. But there are frequently cases where designs are just ripped off by others, usually large retailers taking the designs of small creatives. I recently noticed that a local designer, who has created a light fitting used extensively in Magazines, and featured on blogs both nationally and internationally has an eerily similar design to one produced in the new season range of Restoration Hardware (Big US furniture retailer). The original designer has had her light out for many years now.

 the original via

the design that is very similar

It's difficult for designers, who are small and on the other side of the world, to find restitution without engaging an expensive US lawyer, with no certainty of outcome. I think a lot of the large retailers are happy to play the game with this, finding that they are likely not to be prosecuted, and if they are they will settle it fairly quietly. Financially it doesn't really impact them. Ironically, these same large homewares retailers face their own problems with their designs or look being ripped off into cheaper mass produced ranges. If you google "Restoration Hardware copycat" there are a lot of blogs and websites with designs that are very similar to the much more expensive RH ones.

Then there are the replica furniture websites. Replica furniture is a slightly shady area. I personally don't have a problem with replica furniture if it is out of copyright (50 years from the time it was designed*). The "real" versions of the design are still made under license to the original specifications, and the copy versions are ok in my book as the estate of the designer does not get royalties anymore. The only thing that I would say is that the replica is never as good a quality as the real deal. Look at my Eames Replica dining chairs for a good example of that.




But the stuff that is being sold that is a replica of current designs are not OK in my book. The Designer doesn't see a cent of it, and usually the cheap knock off is not as well made or constructed as the original design and by association cheapens the original design. When I was looking at light fittings, one that I was very drawn to was the Kevin O'Reilly Altar light, pictured below. The retail price was quoted as being around $21,000, which horrified me just a little. I googled to see if I could find something similar, and Lo - there was a replica! The problem is, that it was still $3,500 (which was expensive for a replica light fitting in my book, when it could be of dubious quality), and the other problem is that Kevin O'Reilly designed his light fitting not that long ago, he is still alive and creating new lights, and finding a cheap version that was not the same, and that was made in China, instead of the USA means that the light fitting was not going to look anything like as nice as his real design was.

The real deal via

So the end result there was that I contacted the Jam Factory and commissioned my light fitting, which frankly I think is nicer than anything I had found (detailed in this post). Lindsey Adelman, whose light fittings I also admired has taken an interesting approach to the copycat versions of her designs. She has, on her website, put up DIY instructions using bits and pieces from the hardware store. Recognising that not everyone is going to be able to pay $24,000 for her light fittings, she has effectively cut off the rip off merchants by allowing those without the budget but a bit of creativity to do it themselves.

And then there are the copies of Designer branding, an enormous problem in fashion, but also in homewares. Recently on Instagram, I found a photo of candles being sold in a shop I used to go into in Melbourne a lot, and so follow their feed. The shop is full of interesting, tasteful things for the home, the owner is lovely and has a good eye. The candles they are now selling have large and rather crude logos on the side of them - Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada or Hermes. Aside from the fact that I dislike the overt branding (you know my thoughts on obvious branding from previous blog posts), it is illegal that they are being sold. The logos are trademarked, and protected by international law, these candles are not produced by the companies whose logos appear on the side of them. There is absolutely no difference in the eyes of the law with selling fake candles and fake handbags, and I would personally not want the Lawyers from those companies making contact with me. I wrote a comment on the photo questioning this in a reasonably polite, brief and non confrontational way, as I thought perhaps this had not been considered by the shop owner. I had thought that in all likely hood the shop in question would remove the photo from Instagram but perhaps keep selling them, or if not, reply to my query on this with an explanation of why they thought it was fine. But instead my comment was deleted, the photo is still up and the candles are still being sold. There are so many things that are just plain wrong about selling these candles. Not only from a legal point of view, but because it touches on all the other things I've written about here. These are luxury brands whose branding is infringed by cheap knockoffs. These candles are tacky. The logos are large and poorly executed. It is highly unlikely that any of those stores would produce items even remotely similar to these things because they do not reflect well on them. And not to mention what it says about you as a person if you buy and display a cheap, knock off candle with luxury logo on it in your home.


In the end, it's always better to have the real deal. Whether that be a candle, furniture (I have learnt my lesson from my cheap Eames replica chairs), a light…. if you can't afford the real thing, don't buy the approximation. If you want to see a designer logo on something, get the perfume or a lipstick. Frame the carrier bag it comes in if you really want to. If you can't cough up the designer price tag for a light fitting, search out something you can afford that has some integrity of design and craftsmanship instead. You get what you pay for in this world. So this is your responsibility as a consumer - don't knowingly buy something that is ripping off someone else in this world, whether they be a Big company or a small Designer. Design and Intellectual Property are a bit of a fuzzy area, and yes, all design inspires other design, but a blatant copy is just that.

*edit - I have been corrected by a Lawyer in the comments section that it is in fact 16 years that a furniture or lighting design is protected by Law

30 comments:

  1. So true Heidi, what an indictment on our society that people would actually fork out money for a candle with a counterfeit label emblazoned on it. How tacky. I agree with you that it's much better to shop within your budget and make conscientious choices made on origin, use of materials and uniqueness. Your light fitting ticks all of the boxes! Rx

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    1. Well, a lot of the comments on the photo were that it was "so fun". I just don't get it, but obviously I am missing something a lot of others are seeing in designer logo emblazoned fakery.
      Always better to search and find something unique - one reason why I love buying antiques and old bits and pieces from the auction houses. Most of the time its cheaper too...

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  2. Three cheers for a super intelligent and well thought out post on design, ethics and personal style and lifestyle codes. Agree with absolutely everything you say. Pammie xx

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    1. Thanks Pammie, it's a bit of a bug bear of mine! I'll get off my high horse with my next post and do something on outfits I've been wearing, or something similarly light! Hope the trip is going well xx

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    2. Yr fashion posts are fun but I do enjoy the serious pieces too. It's so good to read things that really make you think. Forgot to say, your light fitting is fabulous. Unfortunately it's probably already being copied somewhere.

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    3. Ha! You're probably right about that anon… but it won't be exactly the same, so… that's ok. As long as the Jam Factory don't start rolling them out on a production line (not going to happen). xx

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    4. Dear H - it was me strggling as usual with phone keypad and wifi emails. And yes trip still going well! Fabulous but now so missing family and home. Pammie xxx

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  3. I love this post but because a ferrari on a hill parked behind my car CRASHED/rolled into it outside kindy today, I can hardly think straight. Agree with your insights xxx

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    1. Oh no!! At least they should have insurance to cover the damage to your car??! Hope you and O weren't in the car…. Soothing lavender bags are trundling your way via a slow Australia Post vehicle. Hope they make you feel a little better xx

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    2. How dreadful! Hope you're both OK? And hope yr car isnt badly damaged. Was so thinking of you today when we were at Le Bon Marche and I wandered into the Chanel concessiom. Pammie xxx

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  4. You need a newspaper or magazine column. Stat!

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    1. Ahh - this is my own little unfiltered Opinion Column!! I promise normal posting will resume at some point….

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    2. I like how you are not afraid to express your own undiluted opinion. If somebody can argue in a cogent manner, regardless of whether I agree with them, I respect them.

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    3. Agree with cilosophy Heidi - you need to write in a newspaper.

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  5. So many great points! People who won't tell their sources are silly bc we have all seen enough shows where people create so many different permutations from the same ingredients. Design is a tough and neverending issue and probably going to keep lawyeres busy till the end of time. But I learned a thing about knock offs as a teenager bc I bought fake air jordans but they were made wonky and i had issues bc the shoes were made so badly that it caused issues with the spine. It is tempting but a false economy bc then I was at the osteopaths and chiropractor for months after. Having worked for two companies in the design industry, it is really tough and a huge investment in fighting these battles. The one company that does take these design pilfering seriously is van cleef and arpels. in fact even in the simple design of a quatrefoil they manage to protect the design funny enough. That is why Heidi Klum's jewellry business got sued and they stopped the whole line.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/project-runway-host-heidi-klum-discontinues-jewelry-line-due-lawsuit-clover-design-article-1.396021

    But great post Heidi as always! x

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    1. I think the thing with a fake luxury good is that you know yourself it is fake, so what's the point. Others might unwittingly compliment you on it/ be fooled by it, but it's a bit hollow because in the end it's a fake. And agree with you about these things coming back to bite you - they're never the same quality. Very interesting re Heidi Klum and the jewellery. I can remember her line, and frankly I'm shocked that a quatrefoil was able to be protected!! xx

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  6. I take a completely different viewpoint Heidi. I am absolutely happy to reveal sources of materials used in my own home, and I do on my blog; but for projects I have designed for clients, it is another matter entirely. It is a breach of their trust to do so.

    The rise of mass pinning and posting has also lead to the copying of design details, a concept which is just as frustrating, as they too are taken out of context. It is a large part of the reason why more and more architects & designers are not updating their websites with current projects.

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    1. I see your point about client projects - I haven't had to cross that bridge. Although I'd probably take an approach as they do in a magazine, where some things are listed and other things are not. I had thought a lot of the reluctance to have things pinned was that if something is seen too much on the web a lot of the big name magazines won't feature the house in their magazine. They all want something fresh, which if you're having your project images repinned time and again voids it for publication. I've noticed that a few pins I've had have been removed by Pinterest after complaints from the photographer/ architect (they were repins, I had not pinned them initially), but unfortunately with the internet it is a bit of a runaway train regarding copyright. x

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  7. oh - forgot to mention in my comment that don't miss the opportunity to enter the giveaway on my blog for a gorgeous comforter set - pure white luxury - especially now it's cosy winter. It's only open to Australian readers, so you may as well give it a shot.

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    1. will pop over for a look, although I never manage to win anything!!

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  8. Fascinating.......I follow the same store on instagram and when I saw that photo my first thought was' who would want one of those'!! So tacky.....owner of said store also know to be tricky. Anyway, great post. nothing is really new any more which is one of the reasons I have stopped blogging. So pinning, instagramming etc was doing my head in and nothing was new and exciting!!! Glad you are blogging though Heidi!

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    1. Well, there are so many likes and so many people falling over themselves to 'reserve' a candle I was starting to think I was the only one thinking they were awful!
      I know what you mean about blogging/ pinning etc. So many of my favourite blogs have stopped, but its definitely not what it used to be. You see all the same stuff all the time now… x

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  9. I think people who won't share their colours or whatever have the same sort of mentality as people who have secret recipes. Often, as you say, it's the execution which determines the result rather than the choice. Even if I had my aunt's secret recipe, I expect her dish would taste better because I am an indifferent cook...same with design.

    That article you link to irritated me - how precious to think that it's a breach of contract and an insult to a client to give someone paint information! How does giving someone - possibly on the other side of the world - information about paint colours impact on her livelihood?

    My views on design are influenced by working as an IP lawyer, both here and in HK. I think many people are influenced by brand name rather than design and there can be a big difference between the two, depending on which licensee is doing the work. Sloppy licensing can undermine the value of a trade mark more quickly than cheap and obvious fake goods. Case in point - Pierre Cardin.

    A couple of other points - don't want to hijack your post:

    there's no copyright in an idea or method;
    copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years;
    industrial designs (furniture, lights etc) are generally protected by design registration (from memory, for a maximum of 16 years from first manufacture);

    High end brands tend to be litigious - I don't know the facts of the Heidi Klum case but often, particularly, if you don't have the funds, it's better to discontinue whatever's been complained of rather than contest the claim. The company with the deeper purse may not necessarily have the better case but could prevail nonetheless!

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks for the proper legal advice! I'll go back and correct the 50 year thing… I have no idea who told me that, but it seems to be that most designers think it's 50 years, so not sure where that misinformation occurred. You're quite right about the licensing too - Gucci had a huge problem with that as well back in the 80's.
      The paint thing makes me laugh.But on the copycat design issue, the cost of litigation is just so high I know a lot of designers can't afford even a lawyers letter, let alone court costs and the risk of not winning. x

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  10. Funnily enough there was a NY TImes article about this - people not wanting to share paint colors and materials with friends. I've never been asked for anything about our re-model (!) says it all about me probably - people here don't really value modern, they like french country etc. My color person said not to share my colors - but I did. She said the truth is the color won't look the same in their house because of sun and shadows and what's in it. On the other hand my friend who is an interior designer puts the same colors in all our friends' houses and actually I do recognise them, one is a lovely terracota sand which tends to suit any room.

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    1. I love your home Jody, and it surprises me so much to hear that the very traditional look is still favoured so much, despite the casual lifestyle and climate you enjoy in your part of the US. Paint is a fashion thing too - even whites - where it will look perfect for 5 years, then won't quite look right. x

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  11. Oops this is my third comment on the same post...sorry being a bit stalker-ishy today Heidi. The truth is you put things together in such an unexpected and fresh way that no one could really copy you even if they get the sources of all the pieces you use. As for DIY stuff, I'm always so happy to read about it but I'm far too lazy to actually try it.

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    1. You're very kind Jody! I have a very eclectic look I think, and it would probably be hard for a complete imitation to be done. One reason why I like using antique and auction buys and mixing it up a bit, because it's hard for someone to do a wholesale copy of a room (although that's not my primary reason for it - I just like the look). x

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  12. Hi Heidi,
    Great post, I think there is a lot of this really taking off in part because of the internet and access to little known designers. There has also been a huge issue with etsy artists and bigger known manufacturers. The most prominent was anthropologie / urban outfitters dropping (and naming and shaming) a prominent supplier of theirs that had been systematically pirating her designs and other designers art for their own product. After a huge spotlight on her, the plot thickened further when she was challanged over source and inspiration for some of her own artwork baring a striking resemblence to copyrighted photography. It is such a tangled web! - Rebecca

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  13. Interesting debate. I think 'inspired by' is OK but blantant copy is not...having said that, i have bought replica to 'try' out the design, knowing the quality to be poor. The intention being to see if i love the design enough to pay for a licenced item. result? mixed! the same arguement though can be applied to all manner of things and i am strongly opposed to buying generics in pharmaceitcals. The r&d departments need to be supported beyond patents and copyrights to ensure ongoing development....

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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