An Example from Code [7:17 pm]
Joseph Gioconda is an attorney with Kirkland and Ellis, a firm that represents the French design house Hermes. He’s charged with keeping knockoffs of the company’s bags, scarves and accessories off the street — and the Internet, where a crude copy of a $5,000 Hermes “Birkin” bag might be had for less than $30.
As Karr reports, the risk of confusion is the key legal test of whether a knockoff has crossed the line to forgery. Under U.S. law, a company can’t copyright a design, but it can register elements of that design as trademarks. If the shape of the bag’s flap or the strap across the closure lead a likely Hermes consumer to think the knockoff is genuine, then it’s pretty easy to convince a court that the fake violates Hermes trademarks.
That was the case recently when Hermes sued a retailer who was aggressively pushing a transparent rubber version of the Birkin bag.
But for most of the fashion industry, copying is a way of life. Francesca Sterlacci is head of the fashion design department at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She says it’s expensive and risky to actually create new designs. It’s cheaper and easier to simply knock off successful ones. Typically, Sterlacci says, designers just let the copies go. After all, new designs will come out in a couple of months, and lawsuits are time-consuming, expensive “and you’re never really sure whether or not you’re going to win,” she says.