“Girl, that faux-Balenciaga purse is against the law!” And it actually could be, if the fashion industry gets its way. The Council of Fashion Designers of America is petitioning Congress to get copyright protection for the physical appearance of their designs, something they have not had since the 1930s because until now clothes have been considered “utilitarian,” and thus exempt from intellectual property laws.
The CFDA wants that to change so they can have legal recourse if a copycat design is not “original” or is “substantially similar in appearance to a protected design.”
These are very murky waters, because as we all know, probably 50% of the collections shown during any given fashion week look strangely similar. We call it “trend,” but maybe, just maybe, it is the result of decades of indiscreet borrowing of ideas.
But the target of the proposed statute would most likely not be designers’ high-end colleagues, but rather discount stores like H&M and Zara, which follow the trends so closely that only those in the know can tell that the trend didn’t start right there for $19.95. Not only are high fashion designs showing up in those stores through mimickry, but designers are now taking their business directly to the cheaper chains with exclusive partnerships (hello Karl, Stella, and Isaac).
Slate ponders whether creativity in the fashion industry would thrive or stagnate if the CFDA succeeds in its effort. It’d be nice if designers on the high and low end paid more attention to originality of ideas, and were more comfortable setting trends than following them. And aside from that, a good courtroom drama is fun. It comes as a surprise to us that all the bitchy queens in the fashion industry haven’t been suing each other right along.
Copycat fight [Slate]