High Court of Justice of England and Wales Determines Fabrics Considered Works of Artistic Craftmanship

Earlier in April 2020, in Response Clothing Ltd v The Edinburgh Woollen Mill Ltd, [2020] EWHC 148, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales (the Court) determined that fabrics could be works of artistic craftsmanship in the UK for copyright purposes.

The claimant, Response Clothing, designs and markets various pieces of clothing. The defendant, Edinburgh Woollen, is a major clothing retailer with about 400 stores in the UK. Between December 2009 and 2012, Response Clothing provided Edinburgh Woollen with various women’s tops made of a jacquard fabric. This jacquard material consists of wave-like designs that are woven into the fabric. When Response Clothing increased the price of the tops sold to the defendant in 2012, Edinburgh Woollen decided to change suppliers. The defendant provided the new supplier a sample of Response Clothing’s top and has changed suppliers various times throughout the last five years while maintaining the same wave-like jacquard design. As a result, Response Clothing claims that copyright subsists in its fabric’s design, either as a graphic work or as a work of artistic craftsmanship as per section 4 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the CPDA). Given the nature of Response Clothing’s relationship with Edinburgh Woollen between 2009 to 2012, Response Clothing further claims that it is the owner of that copyright and that all other supplier designs of the wave-like jacquard design are both primary and secondary acts of infringement.   

Though the Court concluded that the definition of a graphic work could not be extended to include a fabric design, it was established that the creation of the wave-like jacquard design qualified as a work of artistic craftsmanship. The Court concluded that the wave-like design required skillful workmanship and produced aesthetic appeal. Additionally, at paragraph 64 of the decision, the Court provided the following guidance with respect to the definition of artistic craftsmanship in the UK:

[…] (i) it is possible for an author to make a work of artistic craftsmanship using a machine, (ii) aesthetic appeal can be of a nature which causes the work to appeal to potential customers and (iii) a work is not precluded from being a work of artistic craftmanship solely because multiple copies of it are subsequently made and marketed.

Having concluded that copyright existed in the wave-like fabric design, the Court determined that the garments sold by Edinburgh after 2012 copied a substantial part of Response Clothing’s design, amounting to secondary infringement contrary to section 23 of the CPDA.

Written by Alessia Monastero, IPilogue editor and articling student at Deeth Williams Wall LLP.

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