Copyright Infringement Injunctions Served at Heimtextil

January 26, 2000

Frankfurt, Germany — Two injunctions were served on exhibitors for copyright infringement at January's Heimtextil exhibition. Court actions are now pending in two further incidents and at least three other companies decided not to take action on alleged infringements at the German show, where copying is described as "rampant."

During Heimtextil, Polish exhibitor Dekora SA of Zary was served an injunction when it was found displaying copies of a product from a major Belgian textile manufacturer, Bekaert-Depla NV of Waragem.

On seeing the products in question, Bakaert-Depla, through its trade association Febeltex, immediately notified ACID, Anti Copying in Design, the London-based action group established to combat copyright infringement.

When challenged, Dekora refused to cooperate and would not remove the offending product from its stand for the remainder of the show.

ACID's German lawyer made an immediate application to the court for an injunction, which was granted and served. But when the bailiffs arrived to seize goods in lieu of costs, the only item of any value that could be found was the company car, which was impounded.

Bekaert-Depla's managing director Jan Arno confirmed that the Belgian firm currently has another infringement action in progress in Poland against Dekora, which was initiated last year.

An injunction was also served at Heimtextil on behalf of Spanish blanket manufacturer Manterol SA of Valencia against the Riyadh Carpet Company of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which also refused to cooperate during the show. Once again, an application was made for an injunction, which was granted and served the same day.

Manterol's export manager Guillermo Rausell said he hoped this court injunction would be used by Messe Frankfurt to exclude the Saudi company from exhibiting at Heimtextil next year. Two further copyright infringements were not reported until late in the fair. Court actions are now pending as both complainants expressed a wish to pursue the alleged copiers, said ACID. It added that three other companies decided not to take action on infringements at Heimtextil.

With each infringement problem reported, the ACID Exhibition Protocol was followed. The step-by-step procedure, also adopted by other show organizers, is said to provide a fast and efficient method of handling such problems.

ACID reported that 15 allegations of copyright infringement were dealt with at Heimtextil 1999 and nine cases of alleged infringement at last year's Decorative Interiors (now called Design Interiors), held in Birmingham, U.K.

The organization attends other major trade shows including Top Drawer, IntoHome, London Design Week, New Designers, NEC Spring and Autumn Fairs, Harrogate Home & Gift, Decorex International, 100% Design, Decosit and Index (Dubai). A presence at five international fairs is planned this year.

Talks are currently underway with the organizers of Surtex (May 21-23, New York, U.S.A.) to extend ACID services to American exhibitions. "We will definitely be at Surtex," said ACID Marketing Director Ruth Harrison-Wood.

ACID was set up in 1996 and now has more than 700 members worldwide. To date it claims 100 percent success in actions on behalf of its members.

"Taking immediate and decisive action will ultimately produce results," said chief executive Dids Macdonald. "Had the Belgian company, for example, not taken action at Heimtextil, the situation would have been much more difficult to resolve once the other party had returned to Poland.

"Companies need to be proactive in order to effect change. Our members are encouraged to fully utilize the ACID brand as a deterrent on their products, stationery, etc. and to take fast action where necessary.

"Copyright infringement is a serious commercial issue and will not be tolerated," said Macdonald.

However, the U.S.-based Textile Producer and Supplier Association (TPSA) is concerned that Messe Frankfurt seems unwilling to take aggressive steps such as banning copy culprits from future Heimtextil fairs. TPSA asserts that copying is rampant at the show and that companies known to have infringed are allowed to return year after year.

As reported by Fabrics & Furnishings International, Culp of Rossville, North Carolina, U.S.A., is considering further legal action through a German lawyer after it found copies of its designs on the stand of Ningbo Sunshine of Ningbo, China. Messe Frankfurt officials removed the offending items on the second day of Heimtextil.

Culp, together with TPSA, worked through ACID, which had supplied a German counsel to take further legal steps at the exhibition.

The German lawyer prepared an undertaking to be signed by Ningbo Sunshine, which indicated that punitive damages were to be applied if there were further copyright infringements. However, Ningbo did not sign this undertaking during the fair. Culp, a TPSA member, is considering further action including litigation.

TPSA's legal counsel Richard Taffet thought this undertaking, had it been signed, would have had the same effect as a judgment in a German court and that Messe Frankfurt could use this to exclude the Chinese company from future fairs. TPSA now believes that Messe Frankfurt will only accept a successful court action — as distinct from an undertaking — before taking any action to exclude an exhibitor.

"We are somewhat dismayed that if Culp wishes to proceed the expenses are far higher than originally quoted," said Taffet. "We are also not clear on why Messe Frankfurt's position is now that an undertaking would not be satisfactory and that a court judgment would be required." However, ACID's German lawyer, Christian Spintig, disagreed "In my opinion," aid Spintig, "[an undertaking] would be sufficient."

Taffet believes that Messe Frankfurt needs to toughen its stance against copiers. "While we appreciate the fact that Messe Frankfurt was able to have its security take away the infringing copies from the floor of the show, one of our main concerns is that this does not really address the situation in an effective manner.

"And while we also appreciate the activities of ACID in promoting anti-copying, if this is all that can be expected of Messe Frankfurt through them, I am not sure that this is a terribly effective approach.

"I hope ACID will stand up and insist, as TPSA has insisted, that a more rigorous effort be made by Messe Frankfurt."

Taffet said Messe Frankfurt must decide whether it is prepared to make a stand on this issue. "If they make a decision, based on a contract, that they are not going to permit a company to exhibit, they may be challenged. But that may be a cost of doing business and the price that has to be paid to let it be known to the world that they are truly behind this effort.

"And if there indeed is a waiting list to get into Heimtextil, Messe Frankfurt would surely benefit from supporting its traditional exhibitors and the protection of their designs, and still reap the financial rewards from working with legitimate companies.

"Year in, year out, copying at Heimtextil is rampant and systematic. It is the leading show for copiers. And yet we see the same companies coming back who have found copying the year before," he said.

Taffet noted that other shows, like Decosit, take a more aggressive approach to resolving copy problems. "Decosit, for example, is much more aggressive and more selective," he said. "It does not allow people into the show who have a history of copying."

Decosit Director Patrick Geysels, confirmed this, adding, "Increasingly, one of our tasks is to see that there is no copyright infringement at shows. Everyone, not only professional organizers of trade fairs, must do what they can to stop this. And while we can never remove copying 100 percent, we can do a lot to prevent it."

"We have had worldwide experience of this for some time," said Steven Graven, Culp's Vice President International Marketing. "It is getting to the point where something has to be done.

"These problems have to be resolved at a very high level. There must be an understanding that copyrights are recognized worldwide. And if you can show that designs or other intellectual property have been duplicated, then you have to have a court where these can be resolved."

Although Peter Vogl, Heimtextil Project Coordinator, was unwilling to discuss the case involving Culp and Ningbo, he said that Messe Frankfurt's power to ban copier-exhibitors is limited by German law, which is notoriously complex.

"We do have a free legal counseling service available to all exhibitors, but we can not control copying," he said. "Firstly, exhibitors should have their products under copyright, which most of them do not.

"In these cases, we are there as the impartial third party. All we can do is render a service and give exhibitors every assistance to solve the problem. But when it comes to fighting the war on copying, they have to do it themselves."

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