Real Living also recently featured the Authentic Design website on their Twitter, so I've been thinking about this issue quite a bit. As someone who works in the arts (and in the area of artists' copyright, for that matter), am I a hypocrite for having some replicas in my home? As it turns out, the answer is no, and for the following reasons which I explained in the Fun & VJs discussion:
I have a number of replica pieces in my home, a well as original pieces. I buy the replicas because I can't afford the real thing in most cases! I also actually work in the area of copyright (predominantly art work copyright), so can see the other side of the coin as well.
It differs from country to country, and I must admit I am not 100 per cent familiar with the laws for different kinds of copyright, but as I understand it design patents (including for furniture) expire after 20 years or so. This means that after 20 years of the original patent being submitted for a furniture design, it is legally up for grabs for reproduction (regardless of whether an artist is living or dead). On the other hand, copyright in things such as art works and literary works does not expire until the creator has been dead for 70 years. Even so, for both copyrighted material or patented material, I believe that the moral rights of the creator must still be upheld.
I think in many cases the areas of patents and copyright is becoming confused/blurred, which is why there is this 'backlash' occurring. But, at the end of the day, so long as the furniture patent has expired replicas are perfectly legitimate.
One particular design vigilante page I saw recently (I can't remember the exact site off the top of my head) lumped furniture replicas in with graphic design and other art work ripoffs - this is quite misleading, as both are covered by different parts of the law.
Further to my above 'essay', I just did a little more digging to try and explain the difference between copyright and patents in terms of what they protect. Copyright protects non-functional items (such as art works, text, music etc.), whilst patents protect physical, functional items (such as furniture, medications etc.). It's the same arrangement that is used in the health sector - we're often offered 'generic' medications, which are made available once the 20-year patent on the original medication has expired.
Therefore, the intellectual property of a poster design, for example, can not be compared to a piece of furniture, as they are not considered by intellectual property law worldwide as the same thing. So, unless a replica is made of a piece of furniture where the artist still holds an existing patent because it was created less than 20 years ago, it is considered to be perfectly ethical, at least in a legal sense.
Of course, the above does not mean that I condone copyright infringement in any way, shape or form. I don't even download music without paying for it - that's how much of a purist I am. But the fact is that furniture replicas, provided that the 20-year patent has expired, are perfectly legitimate. There is no 'theft' taking place because there is no intellectual property to steal. You'll notice that most retailers of replica furniture acknowledge the original designer of a product, thus ensuring that their moral rights have been upheld.
When we bought the replica pieces in our home, my husband and I were simply looking for a dining set that looked retro. We really didn't know much about furniture designers, we just knew what kind of thing we liked to look at and sit on. Consequently, we ended up with a replica Saarinen Tulip table and Panton chairs.
Since then, I've learnt an awful lot about furniture design from other bloggers and interior decorators, and now have a much higher appreciation and understanding than I had before. Like it or not, but this was a direct result of my purchase of replica furniture. (For the record, we also have a replica Barcelona chair in the bedroom - a design originating in the 1930s for which the patent has well and truly expired.) I've also now acquired some small 'licensed' designs for our home as well, so I most certainly would not only ever purchase replicas. It's all a matter of what individuals can afford for their own spaces, and their own personal preferences.
I (and Anita) would love to hear what you think - but please be nice and constructive!