Single Lamp and Exhibition Booth: no to individual protection

The Supreme Court of Cassation, with order no. 11413, has recently expressed itself in connection with the case of an alleged plagiarism of an artistic work consisting of a lamp, made for the fitting of an exhibition booth presented during the X Triennale in Milan, an international show dedicated to industrial design which took place in Milan in 1954.

In particular, the issue concerned the possibility to protect through copyright even the lamp by itself, included in the broader context of the exhibition set-up, for which there had already been ascertained authorial protection as a work of industrial design as a whole.

The decision of first instance

The lamp under exam was created by two brothers, famous Italian designers, while the son of one of them designed the 1954 lamp, which in the opinion of the heir of the other brother and the Court of First instance of Milan, plagiarized the original lamp. The Court, then, prohibited any other manufacturing and sale activity as well as imposed the withdraw from the market of the lamps already made. The decision, as a matter of fact, stated that:

“the creative contribution and the artistic value can be found even in the lamp, extracted thus from the context of the broader set-up of which it was part, as a stand-out element of the same and in any case undoubtedly having of full autonomy, beyond its contingent functional purpose in the specific context of the exhibition booth.”

The overturning of the decision from the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Cassation

The Court of Appeal completely overturned the decision of the Court of first instance. It was its opinion that the lamp did not present a protectable artistic value, as the creative character of an authorial work could be found exclusively in the whole set-up created by the designer brothers during the Triennale, and not, on the contrary, in the individual lighting unit, which represented only one of the components of the set-up of the overall booth. The artistic value of an industrial design can be derived from a set of objective parameters, including the recognition of aesthetic and artistic qualities by cultural circles and institutions, the awarding of prizes, exposure in exhibitions and museums, publication in specialized magazines. In the case under exam, the awards given to the two brothers had always referred to the whole set-up, not to the individual lamp.

The Supreme Court, to which an appeal had been made, also confirmed the Court of Appeals’ arguments.

The creative character of a work must be recognized to the exhibition set-up as a whole, and not to the single lighting unit at issue, which represents, instead, a component with “scenic function”, which did not receive subsequent specific recognition. This was accompanied by the Supreme Court’s further observation that the lamp could not be considered a work of design protectable by copyright, since the purpose of the work had never been mass production, but only its use as a scenic backdrop for display.

Moreover, the Supreme Court highlighted the substantial differences between the original setup and the lamp designed afterwards, stating that the two lighting units show different light diffusive modes, such as to exclude any form of plagiarism, even partial.

Tania Giampieri