Select, copy and paste—a few taps on the smartphone is all it takes to make a duplicate today. Digital technology has made copying effortless and available to all. Lovely opinion! Copy a quote. Beautiful illustration! Save a copy. Awesome tune and film… make copies for sharing? Despite protests from the creative industries—from publishing to music, film to fashion—that rampant copying would destroy creativity, this prediction has not come to pass. Instead, one could argue that preventing copying has encouraged creators to milk existing works over creating new innovations.
Before its recent aspirations to become a design city, Singapore’s intellectual property system was relatively undeveloped like many developing nations, allowing piracy to thrive. Don’t be Silly! is a 4-page insert examining a 1982 legal case between two manufacturers of polypropylene chairs — the British Hille International and the local Tiong Hin Engineering — and the role of language in piracy.
This was specially created for the Singapore Art Book Fair 2016, and it builds upon the Design Piracy Institute project I launched at D-Crit as part of my MFA thesis. Risograph printers Push—Press were commissioned to print a special edition of my thesis with this insert. Limited copies are still available for sale and shipping is free worldwide.
Knockoffs, fakes, and counterfeits are the bane of modern industrial design. They are unauthorized copies of designers’ intellectual property. They are the stolen profits of manufacturers. They are the products of piracy: a phenomenon wrecking an industry’s will to innovate and create “original” and “authentic” design. But to consumers, piracy offers affordable goods, diversity of options, and sometimes, even better design. Piracy isn’t black-and-white like a pirate flag, but a nebulous concept whose edges ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. What’s a copy to some is homage to another, what is original today is tomorrow’s evolution, what is piracy to the industry is competition to society.
How will we recognize piracy and intellectual property in industrial design with the rise of digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing? By democratizing access to the means of production, it will become easier for users to copy, remix, and self-repair objects in ways that traditionally infringe upon a designer’s intellectual property. This calls for a need to redefine what piracy means. In response to the digital revolution, some designers and manufacturers have strengthened protection over their designs via the law and technology, while others are opening up access to them, believing that design is a collaborative process that benefits from a community working on it together. Will the rise of open design see an end to piracy?
This thesis examines more closely the relationships between piracy, intellectual property, and industrial design by studying a variety of case studies and interviews with practitioners. Beyond just a legal and economic issue, piracy is a reflection of society’s assumptions about the design process, who a designer is, and what design is for. Piracy is a ghost that will always haunt the world of design.
A Thesis Submitted to the School of Visual Arts in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in Design Criticism.
To find out more, visit the Design Piracy Institute.