M2L Furniture - Stamping Out Design Piracy

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Harvey Probber deep in thoughtThe last word… on stamping out design piracy

By Harvey Probber 

WHAT I have to say affects all of us – distributors and manufacturers – and in other industries as well. It goes under the curiously romantic heading of "design piracy."

But before I antagonize a lot of nice people, let's make a clear-cut distinction between design "piracy" and de­sign "influence." Influence being the healthy cleansing process that has turned many a maker of blinding, water­ fall suites into a sudden champion of well-planned, clean­ lined storage units: the movement that is making good modern – in all its many facets – available to more and more people of varied incomes, every day. More power to the well-influenced.

But now-enter the culprit! That unscrupled, lame-brained parasite who blandly burglarizes other men with less conscience than a second story man crawling up a fire escape. The war of course, called a halt to this nasty business. Nothing moral or patriotic about it, though. It just wasn't necessary. But now that our old friends. supply and demand, have met and made up – and a firm must again depend on its ingenuity and organization in an increasingly style-conscious market – the unwholesome few are back. Yes, the little men with the long pencils and short imaginations are scurrying around once more, greedily digesting the fruits of another man's mind with their "ruler" eyes.

They're back, eagerly thumbing the periodicals and relentlessly tramping the retail floors, peering under sofa cushions and fingering the undersides of drawers – making their furtive little sketches on the backs of match books and old envelopes.

To make matters worse – for the consumer, that is­ – our pseudo-designer most always manages to make a few little changes. Improvements he calls them. Somehow, under his sensitive hands, a sharply tailored arm develops acute elephantiasis and a delicate turned leg can end up looking like the center turret of the Taj Ma hal. To him, an appreciation of line, form and color is still indicated by a low whistle in the general direction of a pretty girl. He is not only morally dishonest but an aesthetic fraud as well. He is the pitiful proof that designs – like rumors – are distorted when they change hands. By what curious morality this sickly species is allowed to flourish and grow fat in a society that supports courts of law and a penal system – only God and Philip Wylie know.

We are all well aware that dozens of schemes have been hatched from time to time that purport to discourage piracy. They range from boycott to banishment – not to mention that ever-impending legislation to protect the designer and, consequently the manufacturer.

But it seems that you can't legislate honesty. For every man who has his idea stolen there are a dozen others to swear they didn't do it and back up their indignation with an army of bright young lawyers who'll inevitably prove that the idea was really borrowed from a scrawl on the wall of a paleolithic cave in the Portugese lowlands.

Whether or not this is all as hopeless as it seems, I can't say, but there is one way of discouraging – even stopping – the outright theft of designs. That way lies squarely in the hands of the retailer who has access to the one vulnerable spot in the pirate's thick hide – his pocket book. Let's face facts! It's the retailer's dollar that either encourages. nurtures and sustains piracy or stamps it out with an outright refusal to buy copied merchandise.

This is not to suggest that you discard your role as practical business man for that of noble crusader. It is, however, to suggest that it's good business to keep your floor clear of these deformed copies that look like, and are, nothing but basement versions. And it's good business to curb the chain of price slashinges that inevitably follow the footballing of a good design. Supporting piracy, you not only weaken your inventory investment, but shorten the life of a selling item by inadvertently putting an even less expensive, aborted edition in the hands of your competition. Until the millennium occurs – and our government comes across with copyright laws to protect us all from this "legal theft", the least we can do is to try helping ourselves.

Or is it really as hopeless as it seems"?

Originally published in Home Furnishings Merchandising, in October 1949.