Possessing Inspiration: Fashion Copyright Protection


Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act. The bill aims to extend a three-year copyright protection to keep fashion designers from having their original designs stolen and copied.

Replacing last year’s Design Piracy Prohibition Act – which failed its third attempt at passage – the new bill is once again funded and supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which represents many big-name fashion design houses who continue to push for legislation that provides intellectual property protection rights to a fashion design.

What’s different this time around is that it has the support of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the largest industry group. Managing to reassure the concerns of its members that include many small apparel and fabric firms, the bill no longer requires registration of every design from smaller independents who can’t afford costly lawyer’s fees just to be able to sell something.

Large established designers stand to gain the most, but they’ll be limited to protecting designs not already in the public domain and will face the formidable task of establishing that the design in question had not existed before.

New York Times fashion critic, Cathy Horyn elaborates, “A designer who claims that his work has been copied must show that his design provides “a unique, distinguishable, non-trivial and non-utilitarian variation over prior designs.” And it must be proven by the designer that the copy is “substantially identical” to the original so as to be mistaken for it. The bill would cover all fashion designs, including products like handbags, belts and sunglasses, for a three-year period from the time the item is seen in public – on a runway, say.”

Which begs the question, in this age of overwhelming access to information, is this kind of protection really necessary? Can anyone really possess inspiration?

And how does extending copyright protection to fashion benefit anyone other than those who can afford the legal fees to sue? While it might provide protection for some big designers against blatant plagiarism of their most innovative designs, to me it seems like more fiddling while Rome burns.

We can all appreciate that cheating is wrong. Rather than pointing the finger, as an industry let’s try to develop the consumer instead. With the advent of catwalks streaming live on style.com and fashion blogs that share up to the minute insider info, fashion knowledge has become more accessible than ever before. Rather than attempting to limit access for fear of plagiarism, it’s important to build on that platform and educate the consumer about the cause and effect of their choices.

There’s simply too much at risk to jeopardize it with difficult to identify laws that are costly and may impede an emerging eco-fashion designer’s creativity and resources. This is not an industry that needs to rest on its laurels by seeking timely credit recognition, but one that needs to be constantly innovating forward to keep the world and its inhabitants beautiful.

Image: Aidan Wojtas

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.