Counterfeit Fashion Design

Counterfeit Fashion Design

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Everyday I wake up and go through my morning routine: get up, brush my teeth, and get dressed. The last of which usually includes standing in front of my closet for fifteen minutes staring at my clothes, trying to figure out what to wear. I spend a lot of time thinking about what clothes will match with each other, or what clothes are most comfortable, but I hardly ever think about where they come from and the process by which they come to be. For something that is so commonly used, people hardly think about where their clothes actually come from.
Tracing back to the beginning of clothing design, clothes first begin their origination in the hands of the designer. Designers use trends to help them manufacture new garments each season, and their high fashion clothing is displayed on runway shows. Because of high prices, clothing piracy has become a rising problem for designers, and with the advancement of technology, pirating clothing has become that much easier. With a simple snap of a photo, a person can easily mimic the garment. Mass production and sale of that garment occurs before the original even hits stores because designers debut their clothing one season in advance (Fanelli 285-286). This makes the designer’s work much more difficult because by the time their apparel has made it to stores, consumers are not interested or fazed; they have already seen this type of clothing and have been wearing it for some time.
Walking on the streets of New York City, it is not uncommon to see dozens of tables selling pirated goods. Piracy has become so normal to us that we forget that it is illegal, and we do not realize that we are negatively affecting designers. The designers do not gain the support that they should when people buy pirated goods. People who like the attire of specific creators should support them and buy the clothing from them. Without that support, designers will not make enough revenue to continue in working, and both the designers and supporters will suffer. It is especially difficult for new designers because they have not yet made a name for themselves, and are often tight on money; when people buy pirated goods, the designer does not receive those payments, and may not be able to continue designing after some time. These creators should have laws that protect them from piracy, so that they can be sure that they gain compensation for their original work.

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Piracy has been a continuing problem for some time now, but strides have been made in theUnited Statesin attempt to give protection to designers. The Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act (IDPPPA) is a bill that is being considered by Congress to give designers copyright for their work (286-287). Currently, theUnited Statesis the only major fashion country that does not have laws protecting original designs. For example, Europe has the European Union, which makes sure that there are laws that give designers a copyright for their clothes for three to five years, depending on if they register them or not, and they can ask for a longer copyright as well (287). TheUnited Statescurrently only gives copyrights and trademarks to textile designs that have a certain pattern or print, fine art, such as paintings, and creative works, such as literature. The main reason why clothing is not included is because clothing is utilitarian, whereas the previously mentioned objects are pieces of art and are not easily replaced (Tu 425).
This continuing debate of whether or not fashion designs are pieces of art is a large part of the reason why there has not been a conclusion in the IDPPPA. One side argues that clothing is art because the designers are using creativity and innovation to create unique garments, and the opposite side argues that clothing is not art because people do not wear it as art; they wear it to cover up and to stay warm. Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, adds that trends come, go, and come back, so piracy is not really a problem because all designers have done the same thing (Jackson). Designers that deal with pirates that mimic their clothing exactly and sell it as a product of the designer, would disagree with Metchek’s argument. When their clothing is being copied exactly, it does not matter whether or not the trend is popular or was previously popular, and for designers who deal with pirates who make similar clothing, they are just trying to uphold the uniqueness and originality of their garments. Whether or not clothing is considered art, the addition of the IDPPPA would be a great benefit to designers. They would gain monetary support for their work and gain copyrights to keep their work unique.
Lawsuits are ways in which firms try to keep their designs as unique as possible and exclusive to their company. However, lawsuits become very difficult to prove because of the complexity and details of the garment. For example, Louis Vuitton tried to sue Dooney & Bourke for its use of the repetition of initials on their purses, which looked similar to those of Vuitton. In the end, Vuitton was unable to prove anything because the purses looked different when the initials were removed (Tu 436). Even though the purses are different, the letters are what most people notice first, not the design of the purse. Vuitton suffers from the decision of the case, even though he has a substantial argument about the similarities of the two purses. In this case, and many other cases, proving that a company copied a similar idea is extremely difficult because of the technicalities involved. Also, if a company alters a design or print only slightly, it cannot be proven that the company copied that design from elsewhere. This is what allows “fast-fashion chains like H&M and Zara” to create clothing that mimics high fashion designs while avoiding large lawsuits at the same time (Barker).
Fashion design is a creative process, and should be considered an art, as each design is original and unique. In theUnited States, clothing designers do not have the high amount of respect as artists do in other countries (Jackson). Their work is creative and innovative, and should be treated as original work and with respect. One difficulty that designers face is gaining a copyright or trademark on a design. Even if designers could get copyrights for their clothing, it would be much more complicated than obtaining one for songs, paintings, and books because of the short lifespan of a design. A song or painting lasts for a long time; people can listen to a song or look at a painting for years and years, whereas a piece of clothing will go out of style as trends are constantly coming and going. Currently, trends are coming and going faster than ever, and they tend to reappear after a number of years. Trends used to take a year or two to spread across countries, but now it only takes one season for a trend to pop up and a year or less for that trend to disappear (Barker). Because trends are passing by so quickly, it seems unreasonable for designers to try to get a copyright because of how long it takes to get one. An average collection contains about forty pieces and most design houses produce two collections a year, so copyrighting each one requires a lot of time and effort.
Although the setbacks to preventing design piracy are quite large, one should not discount the necessity for it. Designers deserve to be credited for their work and keep the originality of their work. As laws have been made to prevent the piracy of art, film, and music, clothing design should be able to follow suit, as it is part a creative industry, not just utilitarian. However, we cannot just leave it up to the government to fix this issue; everyone can make simple lifestyle changes in order to help designers. We can stop buying pirated clothing to support the designers we like, and encourage our friends to think about where their clothing comes from and the effects of buying pirated goods. Clothing is an everyday essential, and as the clothing industry moves forward, it is important that we support and protect those who started it all: the designers.
Works Cited
Barker, Olivia. “Runway trends are fleet of foot.” USA Today 2 May 2007. Academic Search Premier. Web.29 October 2011.

Fanelli, Laura. “A Fashion Forward Approach to Design Protection.” St. John’s Law Review 85.1 (2011): 285-312. Academic Search Premier. Web.6 November 2011.

Jackson, L. J. “Some Designers Say Their Work Deserves Copyright Protection; Others Say It Would Harm the Industry.” ABA Journal 97.7 (2011):  3. Academic Search Premier.   Web.6 November 2011.

Tu, Kevin V. “Counterfeit Fashion: The Interplay Between Copyright and Trademark Law in Original Fashion Designs and Designer Knockoffs.” Texas Intellectual Property Law   Journal 18.3 (2010): 419-449. Academic Search Premier. Web.29 October 2011.
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