Bring on the Fashion Police

With intellectual property running rampant, the fashion industry is calling for copyright protection for clothing and other designs. Once again, we are treated to the spectacle of a state professing deep affection for libertarianism creating a rash of rules and regulations for people, while deregulating corporate behavior.

Ben and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. 2006. “Can Fashion Be Copyrighted? Designers Want to Halt Knockoffs But Some Say They Spur Sales.” Wall Street Journal (11 September): p. B 1.

“Hoping to change that by following Europe’s lead, prominent fashion designers in the U.S. are pushing for federal legislation that would offer three years of copyright-like protection for designs ranging from dresses and shoes to belts and eyeglass frames. Though the odds of passage in the current Congress appear slim, the bill has ignited a fierce debate over how the creative process works in the women’s fashion industry, which rang up retail sales of $101 billion in 2005.”

“Another key question: whether knockoffs, somewhat counterintuitively, actually benefit the industry as a whole. Copying, some argue, propels the fashion cycle forward by creating popular trends that spur designers to move on to the next big idea. In what they dub the “piracy paradox,” law professors Kal Raustiala of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Christopher Sprigman of the University of Virginia argue that copying makes trends saturate the market quickly, driving the fashion cognoscenti to search out newer looks. “If copying were illegal, the fashion cycle would occur very slowly, if at all,” they write in an article to be published in the Virginia Law Review. While they concede copying can harm individual designers, they say Congress should protect industries only when piracy stymies — rather than encourages — innovation.”

“Joel Paris, who offers some 2,000 handbag styles resembling designer models on his Web site and clearly benefits from others’ design inspirations, maintains that knockoffs can boost a design house’s profile. “Let’s say Versace does a pair of parachute pants. Then three months later, some other designers do versions of parachute pants, and a year later you go to Costco or Target and you see parachute pants there,” he says. “Everybody’s going to know that it was Versace that kicked off the trend. It’s great for the high-end fashion designer”.”


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