This past August, Congress drafted new legislation that would create fashion copyright protections for the first time in over 50 years. The “Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act” or IDPPPA, is a new legislation devised to allow designers to maintain free reign and control over their designs for 3 years. In other words, knock-off designers would not be permitted to replicate expensive Vera Wang dress or any other notable fashion designer for 3 years.
As a result, shoppers would have to pay top dollar for high priced fashions or go without for 3 years. While it is understandable that fashion designers would want to prevent others from profiting off of their hard work, the greater issue is how law can justify copyright protections in an industry that is based off of thousands of years of copying other people’s fashion designs.
Not one single fashion design is actually new. Embroidered collars with beads resemble the Egyptian styles of many moons ago. Grecian style dresses with ruched fabrics along the hip bones and low reaching v-necks along with the breast area have clearly been derived from ancient Greek fashions. Corsets and bustiers date back to the Victorian era.
In actuality, the real issue of fashion copyright is money. High priced fashion designers still derive huge net profits, in spite of the existence of knock-offs in the marketplace. However, with the new legislation, high-end fashion designers would have complete domination over everyone’s access to certain fashion designs, because they would hold Congress’s permission to prevent potential competitors from introducing nearly identical designs.
The proposed fashion copyright legislation allows designers to prevent others from using design patterns that are “substantially identical” to their own, unless other are using the patterns for personal use or for an immediate family member in accordance with the “Home Sewing Exemption.”
Thus, fashion designers would create a barrier to entry in the fashion marketplace. Similar to Microsoft’s and Apple’s domination as the primary operating systems for computers, fashion copyright could promote a similar landscape that impose fashion monopolies, which reduce diversity and access to creativity at least in the US, since fashion copyright has not been fully accepted in Europe.
The bill also fails to clearly state how the new copyright provisions would affect educational fashion institutes, as it currently lacks a fair use provision, like traditional copyright laws. Many fashion students may begin to learn about fashion design through first imitation of previously created fashions and later deriving their own creative fashion designs.
If the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act passes, high-end fashion designers would hurt themselves more than protecting their profits or controlling consumers’ ability to purchase knock-off fashion designs. Not only do the presence of fashion knock-offs bolster the prestige, demand for authenticity, and luxury associated with high-end brands, but also the counterfeit market gives high-end designers the inspiration to provide consumers with better fashion designs with each fashion season.
Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that the fashion copyright bill would be enforceable based on the amount of knock-off sources available to consumers. From Los Angeles to New York, every fashion shopper knows a little alley or street lined with vendors selling counterfeit fashions.
The amount of money required to prosecute every person who violates fashion copyrights would detrimentally impact high-end designers’ profits. Further, it is highly unlikely that high-end designers would be able to actualy collect the monetary penalties of between $5,000 and $10,000 provided by the IDPPPA.
Competition is the spice of fashion. Without it, high-end designers would get to play monopoly with our access to trendy clothing.
111th Congress, ” S.378 – Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.” Library of Congress.
Jennifer Saranow Schultz “The Legality of Copying Your Favorite Clothes.” NY Times.
Mike Masnick, ” Marketplace’s Misleading Report on Fashion Copyright.” Techdirt.
Susan Scafidi, ” IDPPPA: Introducing Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, a.k.a. Fashion Copyright” Counterfeit Chic.
United States Copyright Office, “Protection for Fashion Design.” Copyright Office.