A Classroom © Example To Go Away? [8:24 am]
For the past several years, as the music and movie industries have gradually consolidated ever more authoritarian control over their copyrights, the fashion industry has been held up as an implicit rebuke to their autocratic ways. Fashion, the story goes, is a similarly creative industry, yet it operates with essentially no prohibition against design copying. To many observers, this magical kingdom without laws does much more than simply survive without a blizzard of “cease and desist” letters; it actually seems to work rather well. The open and accepted practice of fashion designers “paying homage” to the designs of others isn’t seen as unpunished piracy, but rather as part of the normal creative flow upon which design itself thrives. And, although it is less exalted, the practice of mass retailers such as H&M and Zara selling knockoffs of high-style designs is seen as an accepted and important part of the fashion business.
This laissez-faire idyll may soon be a thing of the past, though. Lately there have been indications that the fashion industry wants to abandon its somewhat unique legal perch and dive into the same lawyer-filled waters in which the rest of the creative world swims.
[...] This is not the fashion industry’s first try at protecting design. As long ago as 1932, the industry organized a cartel called the Fashion Originators’ Guild, whose explicit purpose was to curb design copying. The guild’s coercive mechanism was a “declaration of cooperation” that retailers and manufacturers were required to sign, affirming that they would handle only original creations. Members risked fines and other penalties if they didn’t comply. By all accounts the system worked well enough and indeed curbed design piracy, right up until the day in 1941 that the Supreme Court decided it violated the antitrust laws. That ruling sent the design world down the permissive, copy-mad path that it has followed more or less to this day.
To say that clothing design currently has no protection against copying, though, is not to say that designers have no intellectual-property rights at all. [...]
[...] It is not hard to muster some sympathy for the changes the CFDA seeks. No longer would designers have to send models down the runway with their latest creations only to find that, through the wonders of digital cameras, the Internet, and mass-production facilities in faraway lands, knockoffs had arrived in discount stores seemingly before the model had finished her last sashay. It is also fair to ask, though, whether fashion’s current freewheeling system helps even those it sometimes hurts–that is, whether those designers who are occasionally copied are also themselves frequently copiers–and whether this open system ends up producing a more robust creative market than could exist in a regime with stringent design protection.