Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Oh no! Belgian copyright law protects car spares

In the UK, copyright has been largely excluded from the field of design protection, but elsewhere it still plays an important part. The Benelux legal firm, Nauta Dutilh, reports that they recently acted in a copyright claim for two large French auto makers (I wonder who?) against the distributors of non-original car body parts. There's no special protection in Belgian copyright law for spare parts: like our copyright law used to do in the bad old days, it protects car parts only indirectly, by giving protection to the underlying artistic works.

The Court of Appeal in Mons, Belgium, confirmed that the parts in question (which were all visible parts) each have their own original character. The court reckoned that the parts’ functions could be achieved using designs very different from those which were actually used. The car makers 
had adopted at the end of a creative process, in the course of which choices were made based not only on technical constraints such as aerodynamics, interior space and visibility (....) but also for the purpose of contributing to the general aesthetics of the vehicle in which the parts are used. The choices that were made go beyond know-how. Individually, the parts, which make up one component of a complex whole, are the result of intellectual effort by their designer and represent a subjective, aesthetic choice from amongst numerous possibilities.
At this point, it's worth mentioning that the parts concerned were all visible ones, which is some relief.

Although the parts did not bear the car marker’s mark, because they are integrated into vehicles sold under these marks and they appear in the car makers' catalogues the law presumes that the rights belong to the car maker. That's an interesting proposition to an English lawyer, though it's presumably likely that unregistered design right here would belong to the car maker as commissioner of the design.

Although the UK has no copyright worth speaking of for spare parts designs, the Directive preserves the principle of cumulation. Article 17 says:
A design protected by a design right registered in or in respect of a Member State in accordance with this Directive shall also be eligible for protection under the law of copyright of that State as from the date on which the design was created or fixed in any form. The extent to which, and the conditions under which, such a protection is conferred, including the level of originality required, shall be determined by each Member State.
That doesn't require Member States to give copyright protection at all, let alone on even slightly harmonised terms, but leaves open the distinctly non-Communitaire possibility of giving whatever protection might seem appropriate.

No comments:


blogger templates | Make Money Online