Blog: Leonie BarrieCopyright bill to stifle creativity?

Leonie Barrie | 1 May 2009

Everyone agrees that the practice of knocking off and marketing cheap copies of high-end designs is a major problem for the fashion industry. And it’s not just restricted to back-street fakers either; even international fashion stores “borrow” ideas from the catwalk as they try to temp consumers by tapping into the latest trends.

So it’s perhaps surprising that a well-intentioned piece of legislation reintroduced in the US yesterday to provide fashion designs with three years of copyright protection has also earned itself the unwelcome moniker the “fashion police” bill.

The Design Piracy Prohibition Act was kicking around last year, but never made it into law after being mired in controversy over the need to protect an already-thriving creative industry.

Closer to home, there were, and still are, concerns in the US fashion industry that the bill would be a logistical nightmare to implement – let alone police.

Here are just some of the debatable issues. At what point does one designer start a trend that inspires another? Or when does a copy become a homage? All designs are, to a large extent, simply an evolution of what’s gone before.

And what about the logistics and enforcement of the law? At what point does a garment become copyrightable – sketched on a design pad, at first sample, or in the retail store? And who is going to check the millions of garments designed each year for copyright?

The fallout from its passage is also likely to include higher clothing prices to cover the extra staff needed to register designs and possibly defend them in court. It could even keep up-and-coming designers out of the market. 

And most importantly for the fashion industry, the Design Piracy Prohibition Act would stifle creativity and make the process of designing and creating a garment something of a legal minefield. And it’s one that every producer and brand in the apparel and footwear industry would have to navigate.



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