I have been asked to replicate a fabric pattern for a caravan restorer (for their personal caravan).
They have searched for the original fabric, which I believe is out of print for a long time. They have done what seems like a reasonable search, and via a forum they have found someone with a set of the original curtains, photographed these and have requested I use these to create the pattern for digital printing, so they can make a set of curtains for their caravan.
I do not know what to suggest, and would like to take the job, but don't want to find myself in trouble down the line. Nor do I want to suggest something costly to my potential client.
Can I take the job and put the onus on them to find out more about the copyright, or would I be liable as the designer replicating the work?
I have suggested they look into the Orphan Work license, but not sure if this is applicable to printed fabric.
Could really do with a steer - it's a small job, but every little helps.
It sounds as if the fabric pattern is original enough to be covered by copyright. If it was a simple gingham then that would probably be too commonplace to be eligible for copyright protection. So you are right to be cautious.
And yes I would agree that putting the onus on the client to get permission to reproduce the design is the sensible way forward as you don't then have the extra expense and hassle of doing the research. Once the client can assure you that they have the necessary permission, you should no longer be liable for infringement, although clearly you need to see some evidence to support their assurance.
Tracking down the designer probably won't be easy, but I note there appears to be a thriving community of Thompson enthusiasts, and so I imagine someone among them may have more information on the subject. Although Thompson's are long gone, when the caravan part of their business was closed down, there were reports that the company had sold off assets (for £802,000) and so it is possible that if Thompson's owned the rights in the fabric design of their curtains, this right might have been sold on. However I think it more realistic to assume that they just bought in the fabric from an outside supplier and made up the cutrtains in-house. If that is the case, the fabric manufacturer may still be in business and so getting permission may be somewhat simpler.
Once your client has done a reasonably diligent search for the rights owner, then I think an orphan works licence would be a good way to go forward. Orphan works licences can apply to all kinds of artistic works, and that includes fabric designs. As far as I am aware there have not previously been any such licences issued for fabric designs, so it will be something of a novelty for the IPO staff.
Having said, leave to you client, it did occur to me that as there appears to be thriving community of enthusiasts who restore these caravans, is it possible there could be a wider market for new curtain fabric made to the original designs? If this is the case, then that might make it a worthwhile business opportunity for your printing business, since the owner of an orphan works licence would, in effect, have the monopoly to supply the fabric.