A Copyright Law for Fashionistas

Friday, October 08, 2010


The fashion industry in the United States operates without copyright protection. Which means that although designers own trademarks on their logos, there’s no law that prohibits copying the cut of a garment. Fashion law expert Susan Scafidi talks about a new bill, the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, that could change that.

Comments [8]


@Stephen Moffit: It's faster to copy then to bring new designs to market because the new designs are *new*. That's like asking whether it's easier to become a major rockstar on your own or to cover songs by major rockstars. If you choose to take fashion as an art form in its' own right, then creating new designs season to season is a very labor intensive process, and requires significant creative energy. (And yes, I know that this is going to vary. I would never try to claim that the designs created by Polo Ralph Lauren are in the same class as, say, Comme des Garcons or Hussein Chalayan.)

Nov. 08 2010 07:32 PM
gregory bergman

OTM coverage of Susan Scafaldi's advocacy for fashion copyright left me waiting to hear the counter-argument--and then the story ended. What's with that?

There's strong resistance to allowing raiment into the copyright club. Many moons ago, a judge ruled that fashion should not have such protection as it could inhibit the development of food's equally important cousin: clothing.

You might have asked whether fashion is a creative powerhouse because, not in spite of having no copyright protections. Designers are able to borrow at will, mash up and sell there work without having to negotiate a legal morass.

Does the industry really need a royalty wealth transfer system in place to better function?

Oct. 23 2010 10:03 AM
Stephen Moffitt

The issue at the heart of the call for copyright for designs is the same one as the extensions of copyright in other fields: a legal paradigm that emerged in one set of economic, philosophical and social circumstances is confronted with a completely different set of circumstances. In the end, reproducing the legal model of copyright in fashion, extending protection and even criminalizing infringement will merely slow the tide brought on the new technologies and business models the report referred to. Instead of attempting to use copyright to protect an old business model, it would be interesting to see how designers can use these new circumstances. For example, why is necessary that designers' fashion takes so long to come to market, while the so-called knock-off manufacturers can do it so quickly. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned. It seems that this would be a much better use of time and effort than fighting for the extension of copyright just at the point that it has reached a crisis in its traditional domains of film, music and books.

Oct. 13 2010 04:22 PM

Depending on the precise wording of the law, and how it is applied, I'm completely in favor of it. Bluntly, I'm a designer. I don't have deep pockets, so I have to do all my patterning by hand; large companies use CAD systems. (A CAD solution for a fashion company will cost somewhere around $50K, maybe more, plus the cost of training.) Likewise, I need to make my own samples and do my own pattern alterations rather than sending it to a factory because I can't afford to pay for that service. To make, say, a pair of jeans with a design/aesthetic I like takes me about 25-30 hours of patterning, and that assumes that the block that I'm working from fits the model perfectly. If I'm draping rather than flat patterning, that time is doubled or tripled. Once I have a functional pattern, it takes me another 10-15 hours to make a perfect sample to send along with the pattern, line sheet, and cutter's must to a factory. So, for a single pair of jeans, I'm looking at between 35 and 45 hours, and around $50 [wholesale cost] in fabric, buttons, thread, zippers, et cetera. (In other words, if I made a single pair of custom jeans to fit one person perfectly, the cost to the customer would be somewhere around $750-$1000.)

Compare this with a company that specializes in knocking off designs. If they do everything in CAD, they can have a pattern in around 3-4 hours, and a factory with large-scale cutting rooms and factory sewers can knock them out in around 2-3 hours labor (total) per pair.

Seeing the problem? Small, individual designers can't compete with large rip-off companies.

Oct. 13 2010 02:00 PM
Yves Parent from San Francisco

That OTM let let this sweet-voiced and cunning attorney advocate for this bill felt very unsettling to me.
She must have charmed some key people at WNYC and OTM. Or is it the power of the interests behind this?
I'm always worried when big box interests represent hardship to the average individuals or to small businesses to advance their interests, often to the detriment of the same individuals and small businesses.

Oct. 11 2010 11:55 AM
Zeb from NYC

There's a great voice for the other side of this argument, and it's Johanna Blakley's TED Talk "Lessons from fashion's free culture." It's cogent and persuasive, and it's a side of the argument that makes more sense to me. If you're interested in the counterpoint, where copyright is shown to inhibit otherwise healthy markets, I encourage you to watch her talk http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html.
Her slide presentation and more info are also available from her site http://readytoshare.org.

Oct. 10 2010 03:59 PM

Enjoy your 3 year copying and "substantial similarity" while you have them. Copyright on books and music was once limited too, and now nothing produced after Mickey Mouse will come out of copyright as long as Disney is still in business.

Oct. 09 2010 11:58 PM
Ernesto Aguilar from ernestoaguilar.org

Why was Susan Scafidi referred to solely as a fashion law expert instead of an advocate for this particular law? This reference would have been more accurate, since she gave not a single concession to opponents' criticisms of the legislation. Instead she was permitted to make straight-faced declarations that high prices really protected consumers. Who is she kidding?

What I've always loved about On The Media is Bob Garfield's gutsy journalism -- a fearlessness when it comes to actively questioning an interviewee with tough questions. How come a paisley tie joke and a sing-song voice got Bob to fold so fast? More of the NPR-torture-debate-reporting Bob, and a lot less of this. Ugly.

Oct. 09 2010 06:32 PM

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