It’s seldom that my alter ego (as a lawyer) is called upon to wax lyrical about all things Shabby Vintage. This is an important blog post because it involves, what has become, an instantly recognisable and much loved British slogan. A slogan from ‘over here’, which is also doing rather well ‘over there’.

Before I explain further, I’m going to briefly outline something that landed me in legal hot water a few years ago. I was a partner in a small company that had a website. Some of the images on the website came with the website template, and one of those template thumbnail images almost landed us in court for breach of copyright. Although the breach of copyright was innocent (the template was purchased legitimately), upon scouring my law books, I was dismayed to discover that breach of copyright is strict – it makes little difference whether the breach is knowingly committed, or innocently committed. The company that owned the copyright to the little thumbnail image went for the jugular, and were it not for my (inadequate, but better than nowt) legal knowledge regarding copyright, the matter could have bankrupted the company.

What I’m trying to say is that, I know first hand that breach of copyright takes no prisoners and the penalties are often punitive.

I like the ‘freedom of expression’ that goes with (or rather did go with) all things vintage/retro/shabby/whatever you like to call it. Small businesses can flourish if they have flair and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Some of the work I see is nothing short of breathtaking; showing innovation and an eye for design. Colours and styles are mis-matched, creating stunning, innovative, bespoke results. It captures imagination and evokes something nostalgic, but also fashionable. Most importantly of all, the ‘shabby vintage’ market is one of those rare markets where a small business can have the upper hand over big businesses. Big businesses don’t like unique, one-off items; they take time and creativity, both of which cannot be mass manufactured on the conveyor belt of a factory floor. People are looking for something different and quirky these days – something that is unique to them. They may live in a house that looks exactly the same as a thousand others on the outside, so it’s important to make the inside of that house express something special about the personalities of the people that live there.

And this is where we come in isn’t it? The people who spot a sow’s ear at an auction and go all wobbly at the knees because we know that there’s a silk purse to be made out of it, with a little bit of thought, a lot of elbow grease and a dollop of creativity, plus an ounce or two of swearing. We take something old, with a bit of nostalgia, we clean it and nurture it and make it desirable and beautiful. With a bit of luck, we also earn a crust out of it too.

My goodness, this was going to be a short post, but my passions have been aroused. Bear with me, Keep Calm & Read On, I’ll get there in the end…

There’s been a proliferation of intellectual property registrations in recent times that are creeping into ‘our’ market. The term ‘shabby chic’ is a registered trademark and more recently Annie Sloan have registered the trademark ‘chalk paint’. I use and I like ASCP, but I’m bloody sick of seeing  ‘TM’ appearing after each and every time it’s mentioned – 4 times in a sentence is too much. It somehow goes against the spirit of what our line of business is all about. Those who innovate have a right to protect their designs and ideas, but those intellectual rights should be a shield, not a sword that is swung around each and every sentence, boasting a veiled threat to all who dare to innovate (and I mean ‘innovate’ not ‘imitate’).

We need to be very careful that the ‘big boys’ don’t destroy the very essence of what we’re about. Which brings me onto where I should have gone two paragraphs ago.

Keep Calm & Carry On. A British, wartime phrase that we have taken to our hearts, perhaps because we lead such busy lives these days, what with work and work and traffic jams and work and bills…  ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ also says something about the British persona; a sort of stiff upper lip, slightly eccentric, quiet but determined attitude. ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ can be seen on all sorts of merchandise from cushions to cups and everything in between. We love it and people overseas love it too… a a five word slogan that says a thousand words about what it’s like to be British. But that might all be about to change.

In 2001, the owners of Barter Books, Stuart and Mary Manley, came across an original, wartime poster, bearing the now famous slogan ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’. They checked with the Imperial War Museum that the poster was free from Crown Copyright (it was) and started to sell copies of the slogan on merchandise. The phrase caught on and the Manley’s merchandise was popular. I’ve read that they sold over 100,000 posters, but the Manley’s weren’t ‘precious’ over their rekindling of a wartime propaganda phrase and they allowed others to use the slogan too, provided that an acknowledgement was given as to provenance. The Manley’s thought that the slogan wasn’t ‘theirs’ as such, but a sort of national treasure, not to be exclusive to one person.

However, a former TV producer, Mark Coop (of Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd) has succeeded in registering a European trademark in 2011 for the slogan and has applications pending in the USA and Canada. Mr Coop’s prior application for a UK trademark for the slogan failed on the basis that the phrase was too widely used. The Manley’s are questioning the validity of the European trademark and are asking that it be cancelled on the grounds that the slogan is too widely used for copyright to exist. Mr Coop blames the Manley’s for being naive in failing to spot an opportunity by registering a trademark and domain name.

So, we have the owners of a second hand bookshop (run from a disused railway station in Alnwick), who did rather well from a little bit of nostalgia, mixed with a dollop of innovation, but who didn’t mind others sharing in the popularity of the wartime slogan. And then we have the businessman, who claims that he is only seeking to stop tat being sold on the internet.

I know that I get a lot of visitors to this blog daily and most of you are silent viewers, who care not to comment (and that’s an observation, not a criticism). But could I ask you a favour? Would you be so kind as to ‘like’ this post, or to leave a comment on here or Facebook.

There is also a video that you might like to watch, which has been made by the Manley’s – here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FrHkKXFRbCI

There’s also an e-petition which can be found here: http://keepcalmcampaign.co.uk/#share

Don’t let the imitators destroy the innovators; it’s just not cricket old boy.