What Is An Original? What Is A Certified Copy?

In this guest piece, Josef Ohlsson Collentine elaborates on his experiences with originals, innovations, and imitations in the furniture industry. He argues that a well-made copy is functionally indistinguishable from an original, and therefore, questions the role of a so-called original.

An “original” is not as straightforward as it seems to be at first thought. In the past around the times of Shakespeare, it was normal to appreciate similarities of admired pieces rather than completely original content. This caused Shakespeare to avoid unnecessary invention in his work: “while we applaud difference, Shakespeare’s first audiences favoured likeness: a work was good not because it was original, but because it resembled an admired classical exemplar, which in the case of comedy meant a play by Terence or Plautus”.

An original is often perceived as unique, the first piece that was produced looking a certain way. Originals are often stored in museums when it comes to more famous works. The originality of ideas are often culturally bound, and became an ideal to strive for in western culture at the beginning of the 18th century.

An original is something that can serve as a model for copies or imitations. A copy tries to imitate the original in as many aspects as possible (technique, look, feel, material etc). Preferably to an extent where it is impossible to tell which is the original and which is the copy of the work. There is a large range of copies going from the ‘almost not recognizable’ to the ‘indistinguishable from the original’.

When there is only one original of a work, you either need to buy that unique piece at an auction for a large amount of money, or you can buy a copy of the work you like. When it comes to the furniture industry, there are suddenly a large amount of “originals” being sold from the retailers. These “originals” are nothing more than normal copies imitating the form and function of the original piece to become indistinguishable from it. These “originals” are promised to keep such high standards of imitation that you will not be able to make out the difference between them and the original furniture. A better term for them would be ‘certified copies’.

If a furniture “original” is just a copy with certification of very high quality, then there is no difference to a well made replica of the piece by someone else. The certified manufacturers have their reputation to risk if one of their certified copies is not a perfect imitation. The same goes for someone creating a copy of the piece and who is well-known for their high quality of their copies. Finding a high-quality replica is the same as buying an “original” if their assurance of quality holds true.


  1. Hvm

    This is exactly the way I think!
    If you remove the creator from the equation and contemplate both, “copy” and “original”, there is no reason for one of those to cost more than the other! They’re exactly the same! Indistinguishable!
    Exclusivity, uniqueness only exists if you can guarantee(!!) that it’s impossible to reproduce it again!
    Original only means: the one that was first created.
    The perceived value of things is created by people’s mind. That’s why some people are able to pay alot of money from somethings and others don’t see any value in it.

    1. mc

      An original has an intellectual cost, on top of manufacturing cost; the copy has only the second – if intellectual cost isn’t worth reward, you’ll end up promoting idiocy, by simple profit/cost ratio.

  2. Anonymous

    Indeed, most products called original are just cerfitied copies or official copies or something of that kind.
    They are not original at all.
    It’s good to start making such critical distinctions now because with 3D printing hitting the mainstream soon it will become an important topic much like the concept of copying vs stealing has become an important topic for file sharing.

  3. Joe

    “Finding a high-quality replica is the same as buying an “original” if their assurance of quality holds true.” Can’t argue with that, but in reality high-quality replicas are always in one or more ways of inferior quality relative to the original. Everybody who makes them, sells them or buys them knows that. Even if you can’t possibly see the difference, you’ll notice it when using the piece of furniture. For example it will show signs of aging earlier than the original. The higher price of the original is never purely made up of snob-appeal.

    1. @collentine

      It’s a myth that a replica *must* be inferior to the original. Having higher quality than the original is extremely unusual though.

      The second part of this is choices made to deviate from the original design. Most of the times made by replica firms to cut costs or because they don’t know better but some firms try to stay as true as possible. Designers Revolt always aims for imitating the original as far as possible but sometimes strays from it because of ergonomic reasons (e.g. increased length in population causes a need for taller chairs).

      “Originals” are not always true to the original intention either. Some changes for practical reasons, such as ergonomic ones, others to cut cost and yet others because of opinions.

      One example of a modified “original”:
      “Fritz Hansen who from 1982 have implemented a series of modifications on the PK 22. For example, 1997 the canvas version was discontinued in the standard selection. In 1999 the crossbar from the leather version was introduced also on the cane version. Also in 1999 the chrome plated spring steel structures were replaced with stainless steel which were brushed matt. From 2005 and onwards the PK 22 comes with the larger curvature frame which originally was designed for cane version.”

      Disclaimer: I work with Designers Revolt and I’m also a Pirate who thinks IP protection is way too long so obviously I’m biased in this question

  4. TG

    Speaking of furniture, in the UK the period of copyright on furniture design was increased from 25 years to the designer’s life plus 70 years (i.e. as much as a century and a half for a young designer), denying manufacturers the right to make furniture using their own property and labour, and putting at risk thousands of businesses that employ 100,000 people in a competitive furniture market.

    The reason for this staggering increase was to “harmonise” furniture design copyright with written works, paintings, photographs, etc. Of course, it would have been just as easy to “harmonise” these other works down to 25 years, but we all know that “harmonisation” is a one-way street.

    “Harmonisation” with Mexico (life plus 100), anybody?

    1. @collentine

      I’ve been reading some of those “investigations” about expanding the protection. They are very badly done and often with pro-protection people doing the investigation.

      These “investigations” are mostly praise text about how good protection is without any facts behind their statements…

    2. collentine

      Been reading some of these “investigations” on if they should extend protection. Most of them are done in a very biased way with pro-IP people behind them arguing without facts or even looking at other side. Basically they praise protection and claim they must increase it without much rationale behind their conclusions

  5. Idee

    Besides: In museum there are not always orignials but indistinguishable copies for visitors. Sometimes you better let steal/damage the copy rather than the original. Sometimes copies are more functionable (everybody can afford them) than originals. But they must not be better they are just “unequal” in some kind. Sometimes you don’t want to use original furniture (especially when they are old/antique, too good for “usage”) cof e.g. financial investment or decoration…and sometimes you want to use them to make them expensive (see “fart” below)

    Did you ever think about the case, when you and other people near you look at/live through the same situation and shout out (sync) at same time the same words. This happens to twins more often than to other people. And when you like the person who has the same thoughts spoken out simultaneously with you there is a ritual like hook little finger with another and make a calm wish to the stars cause this happens normally not too often with people near you. But you can’t hook little fingers with people far away with same ideas at same time and you even don’t know about that synch happening. So who is original and who is the copy?

    What happens when orignial and copy are developed asynchron?
    This is an old issue. It is called Fax-Run. The one who sends first his faximile (Fax) to the patent office gets the brand, patent or whatsoever. You can see that whenever someone popular dies. With his or her name like “Lady Di” (Diana, Princess of Wales) you fill out your formular right next to your fax-device press the “send” button and cross your fingers.
    And now the wish to the stars being first at this office just depends on the intel services: when you are watched or when your internet is low speed cof ISP and “net neutrality”. This gets more extreme, when you aren’t connected to the internet, fax, phones. Or when you are that poor you can’t afford the levy of patent offices or other blockades human beeings are confronted with (blindness, handycaps…) This makes you less likely to be first.
    And the first is the original and the second is then the copy. Even when the second has higher quality it is just a copy happened by chance or intel spionage

    Let’s take a look at the case in which there is the original already known in the world and someone thinks: Hey this is a really good idea, i can do that, too. Let’s do that with furniture example, topic like.
    Is the one lamp original and the other a copy? You would say, sure, yes, of cause it is but not only whilst there are the words “original” and “copy” on the picture. No, they look like as they have same design. And another one would say, hey the one is red and the other one is white, they aren’t equal. OK, let’s assume the red and white color are just like the words only at the picture. Then you would say, yes, sure, of cause they are equal.
    Well, ok it is only 2D picture, so you guess the furniture is 3D also the same. And you would say, sure, yes, of cause they are equal.
    Will you say you can distinguish original or copy just by looking at it? Sometimes there is a lotus effect or anti-bacteria nanosilver on copies and makes the copies as unshiny as the original but better functional.

    Today: When you have to determine which is original and which is the copy you have to rely on a judge on a person provided with detailed information about the original and the copy with which usually the originator pretends they are and the copymist.pretends they aren’t equal. Almost all judges rely on experts and their experises pretending their neutrality. In most cases their neutrality belongs to the person with more money or sozial connections. So it doesn’t matter which design which material, which attributes the original or the copy have when there is some who judge. This is all days practical experience.
    You mentioned “auctions” in this article. Even an auctioneer wants to have experts to expertise furniture about the origin. The more “origin” it is the more money it gets. So it is not only a copy which gets certified but also originals. And sometimes even copies get more money than the original. That depends on the person who does the copy. When there is someone who builts a furniture/design and do a patent on it. It is a noname but patented furniture. If someone gets a lizenze to reproduce the patented furniture and sign it with “Falkvinge did it!”…or even funnier: If someone popular fart in a chair documented on camera and you auction it you will get more money cause of the new added design. Well the designer of the origin doesn’t lizenz you to “redesign” his furniture but that happens with items of popstars and kind. Worn underware are almost more worthy than new one…that depends on the one who wear them.

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