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Monday, 16 May 2011

Copyright protection for car parts in Belgium

Benelux legal firm Nauta Dutilh has successfully represented two large French carmakers (I wonder who they could be?) in claims before the Court of Appeal, Mons, concerning infringement of copyright in spare parts. The firm's report of the matter is available here.

There's a short report of the case in the latest edition of Motor Law, so I will confine myself firstly to giving some additional information here, for which I am grateful to the lawyer who acted for the car makers, Philippe P├ęters. The case involved underlying artistic copyright works, not some sort of copyright in the design itself, and the designs were for visible car parts - body panels, mirrors, lights, bumpers and the like.

Secondly, the point about the presumption of ownership mentioned in the Motor Law report is also interesting. No such presumption would arise in English law, and the copyright would remain with the parts makers - except that there would be no copyright in the parts to begin with. However, our unregistered design right would probably give protection (if the designs qualified and were sufficiently original, which appears to be the case from what the court said) and if the designs had been commissioned the rights would belong to the commissioner - a very different situation from that pertaining under copyright law.

It's also worth observing that the designs directive says that designs can also be eligible for copyright protection to designs, but doesn't do anything to harmonise that copyright protection. The extent of copyright protection, and the conditions on which such protection is available, are for each of the Member States to decide for themselves. So a design can have extensive copyright protection in Belgium and no copyright protection worth speaking of here (although it will enjoy, of that's the right word, the brief protection of that fair weather umbrella, unregistered design).

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