Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sign of the Times

Via (which put the meow back in IP), here is an article about claimed rights in street signs in London:

Prominent designer Sir Misha Black's 1960s street signs for London's Westminster are to be protected against counterfeiters and copyright cheats for the first time in their 40-year history.Westminster City Council is now the sole owner of the iconic red-and-black lettered enamel steel signs, as well as of the copyright to their original drawings and design briefs from Black's estate. Anyone wishing to reproduce the signs, many of which mark London's best-known locations, such as Carnaby Street, Abbey Road and Downing Street, needs permission from the council.Councillor Danny Chalkley, cabinet member for transport and economic development, says, 'We bought the copyright as we felt we needed to retain an element of control over the signs to maintain Westminster's image as a world class tourist information.' Created by Black in 1967, the enamel steel signs are said to have become synonymous with Westminster.The council bought the copyright from Black's estate, which is represented by his son Oliver Black. Anyone wishing to copy the signs should contact Westminster City Council to discuss their particular requirements. According to the council, any copyright fees levied by the council will be ploughed back into frontline services for Westminster's residents.

I put one of the signs as my picture profile today. I doubt that the signs would be protected under U.S. copyright law; perhaps my friends to the east of the Great Pond could explain the elements of originality under UK copyright law that would lead to protection.


Crosbie Fitch said...

Who needs the protection of the courts?

One only needs possession of the magic ward known as copyright, and justice belongs to the litigious.

Copyright has long ceased actually being effective against copying.

Anyone can take a photo of such a sign, photoshop the result, and create a nice digital master for anyone to knock up copies to their heart's content.

Westminster council don't really have more control than they started with. They just think they do, and this confidence trick they've bought into helps keep the legal profession ticking over.

Signs may become art, but as you know, the court isn't interested in protecting art, but its own peculiar definition of originality. I'm referring to the art that someone like Warhol may create that a court may yet judge as lacking in originality.

When councils regard their signage through Warhol eyes, they see art to be commercially exploited by monopoly, not originality to be protected from copying.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that the arrangement of symbols is meaningless-- its protectability as a work of graphic design becomes more obvious.

William Patry said...

John, but what if the sign is intended to provide a utilitarian marker for where a street is. And that the words used are unprotectible facts.

Dan said...

It seems to me that trademark law would be possibly more applicable than copyright law... if there's a distinct appearance to a group of signs that causes the public to associate it with a particular municipality, then perhaps they can get trademark rights to it. Copyright law is much more questionable... does a choice of font and color in an otherwise utilitarian thing really count as an act of authorship that is protected?

Anonymous said...

I do not have a law background... What exactly is Westminister Council protecting here? Is it the Westminister street names using the specific Misha Black red/black style? If the same style was used but with unreal names used would that be under the protection of the Westminster Council copyright?