A recent landmark decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has expanded the scope of copyright protection in the UK for 3D objects, such as furniture, and clothing.
The requirement of ‘artistic craftsmanship’
Generally, for a 3D object to be protected in the UK by copyright law, in addition to satisfying the ‘originality’ criteria (the authors own intellectual creation), the object will also need to be a work of ‘artistic craftsmanship’. The artistic craftsmanship requirement is problematic as the courts have failed to provide guidance as to what constitutes a work of artistic craftsmanship and have refused to grant copyright protection under this requirement to 3D objects from sofas and clothing to storm trooper helmets.
In Case C-683/17, Cofemel – Sociedade de Vestuário SA v. G-Star Raw CV (Cofemel), the CJEU was asked to consider whether any additional requirements to originality were required for copyright to subsist in 3D objects.
In a relatively short decision, the CJEU explained that for copyright protection to subsist in a 3D object, the object had to be original and identifiable with sufficient precision.
The Cofemel decision broadens the scope of copyright protection for 3D objects, as it removes the ‘artistic craftsmanship’ requirement. This means that in addition to being able to rely on registered and unregistered design rights, right holders will potentially also be able to rely on copyright protection, which has a significantly longer term of protection than both registered and unregistered designs.
Further, the requirement that the copyright work is identifiable with sufficient precision should not hinder copyright protection for 3D objects. This is because this requirement merely requires the copyright work to be fixed (and not even permanently) and 3D objects are by their very nature fixed.
Finally, whether this decision has a long-term impact will depend on Brexit. Whilst, the UK remains in the EU this decision will be binding on its courts. However, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019, the Supreme Court could potentially reverse the decision.
Written by Ramsay Monime, Solicitor