Court victor beats retreat

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The Independent Online
Kate Byrne saw what the pottery factories of the Philippines could do at first hand when she worked there three years ago.

They can take a design and reproduce it with remarkable ease. Ms Byrne, 32, works on china clay, the Filipinos produce earthenware, so the quality differs dramatically. But the point is, so does the price.

"All the major outlets are getting things made out in Portugal and the Philippines. The market has been flooded," she said. "It's totally disheartening. They can retail cheaper than we can manufacture."

Not every shop in Britain selling similar designs will realise they are infringing copyright. But the impact on Ms Byrne's business - which includes the ceramic ornamental fish which seemed ubiquitous last year - has been dramatic.

What she sees as perpetual thieving has prompted her to move away from producing tableware to concentrating on her even more distinctive ceramic animals.

"The problem seems to have become more and more prominent in the last three years," she said from her studio in Camberwell, south London. "The only reason I've kept going is because I've had several irons in the fire."

When she was employed to produce designs for a business in the Philippines, she was amazed at the cheapness of labour. "Labourers got paid about pounds 1 a day. Big American companies buy something and go over and say 'copy this', and those factories are very good at copying things. I just can't compete," she said.

Those defending copyrightrun the risk of accumulating huge legal costs. However, this risk has been reduced following a change in the law in 1988, allowing such cases to go through the criminal courts, a much speedier process. The significance of this is more than just financial, she said, as offenders receive a criminal conviction and not just a fine that they can soon forget about.

Ms Byrne said: "A lot of heart has gone into my work. Theft of an idea is theft of a livelihood."