Left: Diane Von Furstenburg [Spring 20089], Right: Mercy [Spring 2008]. Photo Source
On August 5th, Senator Charles E. Schumer proposed the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act (IDPPPA) which aims to protect American fashion designers from uncanny knock-offs for three years. In an industry driven by trends, which quite often lead to countless copies of original designs, this plucky little bill is aimed to specifically protect innovative and original garments and is actually expected to pass this fall.
The IDPPPA places the onus on fashion designers to prove in a legal action that they created “a unique, distinguishable, non-trivial and non-utilitarian variation over prior designs,” worthy of being protected. This presumes of course that the designer becomes aware of the copied apparel, shoes, sunglasses etc. and pursues legal action, instead of relying on a sort of fashion police. The Bill has the support of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
My favourite case of this kind of alleged design theft in Canada was the affair of the bedroom jacket, originally designed by boutique Canadian label Mercy, and then substantively copied by the Diane Von Furtsenburg label [both pictured above]. Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post scooped this story last year after spotting the Mercy jacket in Lucky and the DvF in Teen Vogue. From the shredded silk sash bow, to the inner drawstring and pin tucks on the sleeve, DvF’s jacket was identical to Mercy’s. A bill like this might have made DvF pay up, jurisdiction issues considered.
The Canadian Copyright Act does not currently pack much punch when it comes to protecting designers against the ubiquitous na-na-na-boo-boo-ing copycat. Clothing, deemed “useful articles” can be copied without penalty if the original copyright holder produces 51 articles or more of the design. Trademark works are protected under section 64 (3), as well as textiles elegantly defined as “material that has a woven or knitted pattern that is suitable for piece goods or the making of wearing apparel.” The Industrial Design Act will protect a fashion designer’s work if she registers the non-practical, artistic elements of her clothing before it has circulated in public for a year.
Perhaps the most interesting take away from the IDPPPA is the effect of potentially forcing fashion designers to be more inventive. The caveat, however, is obvious – how could the fashion industry, full of Prado wallets, and regretful trends like the harem pant ever move forward? I guess it would just have to. No longer would horrible knock-offs of that vintage Valentino dress that Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars be acceptable (I saw this as a child and puked a bit in my precocious fashion palate. There were no monsters in the closet, just bad replicas). Very specific designs would be inaccessible, and thus maybe stores like Forever 21 (sued, ironically, by DvF), H&M and Zara would have a few more novel handbags.
Isn’t this what fashion is about, moving forward unrelentingly? Thank-you Mr. Schumer on behalf of the cool, new shoes that I haven’t even bought yet.
- Stephanie Herold
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