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Sometimes only the entire exhibition context is copyrightable, but not the individual elements that make it up.

The recent Order of the Italian Court of Cassation no. 11413 of 29 April 2024 set new limits on the eligibility of a work for protection under Italian copyright law. The “1954” lamp, produced and marketed by an Italian design company, is not plagiarism of the work created by the two Italian designers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni and exhibited at the tenth edition of the 1954 Milan Triennale.

Work exhibited at the 1954 Milan Triennale by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

Lamp “1954”

The rulings of the first instance Court of Milan and the Court of Appeal of Milan

Although the company that sells the 1954 lamp, similar in shape to the one exhibited at the Milan Triennale, had claimed that the product of the two Italian designers could be protected only within the entire exhibition context, and not also as an individual product, the first instance Court (Tribunale) of Milan held that the creative contribution and artistic value required for copyright protection could also be found in the lamp alone, taken out of the context of the broader exhibition where it was located, since it was to be considered a standing out element of the same and, in any case, fully independent.

The circumstance that the 1954 lamp in question was much smaller than the one exhibited at the Triennale and that it had a light bulb inside the cone and not outside – like the one in the exhibition – was considered irrelevant and not sufficient to exclude plagiarism.

However, the decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal of Milan, which had ruled that the creative nature of the work could and should be recognised in the overall installation created for the Triennale event, and not also in the individual lamp, which was only one component of that installation. In fact – the court held – the recognitions mentioned also in the first instance judgement, that demonstrated the eligibility of the work for protection under Italian copyright law, had always referred to the installation as a whole but not to the individual light fixture.

The principles outlined by the Supreme Court on the protectability of a work by copyright

Pursuant to Article 2 (10) of Italian copyright law, works of industrial design that have creative character and artistic value are protectable as intellectual works.

The Supreme Court reminds that the work of industrial design may be protectable only if it contains a quid pluris, consisting of artistic value – which must be proved by the party invoking its protection – based on objective parameters.

The artistic value – according to the constant Italian interpretation – must be derived from objective indicators, not necessarily simultaneous, such as the recognition, by cultural and institutional circles, of the existence of aesthetic and artistic qualities, the exposure of the work in exhibitions or museums, its publication in specialised magazines, the awarding of prizes or the acquisition of a market value so high as to exceed that linked only to its functionality, or the creation by a well-known artist.

Dismissing the appellant’s arguments, the court also points out that the artistic value required by the law cannot even be excluded by the seriality of the production of the designed items, which is an inherent feature of all works of that nature.

Ultimately, so that a work can be protected by copyright, it is necessary and sufficient that it reflects the personality of its author, manifesting his free and creative choices.

The limits to the enforceability of the lamp exhibited at the 1954 Triennale

The Supreme Court thus adhered to the arguments of the Court of Appeal that had excluded the protectability of the lamp in itself. In fact, the perception of the work of design had been consolidated in the public, and in particular in cultural circles in the broadest sense, in its scenographic function, and its iconic relevance was not to be attributed to the illuminating body in and of itself, but to its use as “an instrument of the exhibition space reduced to a dark space, of which only the horizontal dimension remains, broken up by the articulated sequences of large platforms.”.

Secondly, the Supreme Court confirmed the absence of plagiarism due to the substantial differences between the two Italian designers’ original set-up – made with the use of twenty-two four-metre diameter cones and with an illuminating element, the spotlight, placed outside the cone – and the 1954 lamp sold by the company subject of the case, which instead has the size of a normal chandelier, where the illuminating component is rather placed inside the transparent cone.

This newsletter is for the sole purpose of providing updates and general information and is not intended as legal advice on any particular or specific issue.

For clarifications or information, please contact the authors or your reference professional in the Intellectual Property area at our Firm.

Niccolò Ferretti, Partner
T.: +39 026575181

Daniele Caponetto, Associate
T.: +39 026575181

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