Silk pattern nets material loss

June 16, 1995

When Winchester School of Art student Jo Barrs went to Italy, in the autumn of 1990, for a work placement with the silk maker Mantero she knew nothing of intellectual property. She now feels she suffered for her ignorance.

For some of the designs that she created while she was there have since been described, in print, as the work of Mantero's research director Luisa Cevese. And when the designs - of rust patterns on silk - were about to be included in Barr's degree show, Cevese intervened to prevent them going on display. On her college's advice the rusted silk was removed: the show was "a total nightmare", says Barrs. She says she became so "disillusioned" that she abandoned her design ambitions and now works as prop buyer for a TV company.

Barrs, whose story was told last month as part of a BBC2 documentary on plagiarism and intellectual property in the series Taking Liberties, is hoping to take legal action against Mantero, probably in an Italian court. She feels that her college should have helped more. "In the fashion industry people always take advantage of young designers. It's just whether you're going to allow it."

Her solicitor, Alexander Carter-Silk, says this is a widespread problem. "I give guest lectures at a number of design schools, and most educational establishments are hopelessly ignorant on intellectual property rights."

At Winchester, department of design head Peter Pilgrim agrees that Barrs "has every right to challenge" Mantero's behaviour. "If they had acknowledged the rusted silk as work by student Jo Barrs under the guidance of Luisa Cevese, and perhaps mentioned Winchester as well, everyone would have been happy".

Since this incident, his students have been given lectures on intellectual property and commercial activity.

The college is finalising a standard contract on work placement; the contract says that intellectual property remains with the student, and it should be signed by all three parties - the college, the student and the company where the student is placed. "The only exception," adds Pilgrim, "would be if the student came to an agreement to sell the copyright of a design . . . But the more rules we put on, the less likely companies are to take someone on."

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