The Schumer Bill: Fashion Friend or Foe?

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

Further Reading
Counterfeit Chic Blog
Does Fashion Need Copyright Protection? By Amanda Branch

Stealing Beauty

5 thoughts on “The Schumer Bill: Fashion Friend or Foe?

  1. I am sympathetic to independent/struggling designers who have had their work copied by bigger businesses. For that reason, I can see this law being a positive thing in maintaining integrity of businesses.
    However, I am more indifferent about knockoffs, particularly since a good number of them are already illegal (since I do believe you can copyright logos). Which isn’t to say that I think knock offs are “justified”, rather that (as stated in the stealing beauty video, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen it), the person who buys a knockoff on canal street is probably not the same person who would be willing to spend a grand on the real deal should they come across it.
    I am on the same page as you in that I’m intrigued to see how this law will manifest itself in designers who might need to restructure their work.

  2. I bet the designers at companies like H and M will be really happy to have so much freedom in their design, though I would be skeptical about wether or not it will actually promote more creativity in such places. It seems like your design would have to be super original or unique to patent it, in which case it might be too complex and expensive to create a decent knock off anyways.

  3. I’m still on board with the opposing view (see Max’s video link) that the freedom to steal (or rather, be inspired to copy, heh) fashion is what keeps it a leading and creative industry.

    What constitutes an “uncanny knockoff” – who’s to say it’s not the collective consciousness at work? Let’s face it, when fashion experiences a resurgence of, say, 1940s structure, suddenly everyone is coming up with the same idea at once and you’d be pretty hard pressed to decide who’s stealing from who. (Other problems like what really constitutes “new” and how do you define “original” is evident in the few laws that already exist in this area in Europe and Japan.)

    I really believe the lack of restriction in this area forces designers to be more creative because the competition is so fierce. I also think the ability of the Not Insanely Wealthy to access current trends is a social equalizer. I can’t stand the idea of an aesthetic meritocracy.

    And finally, I have to take issue with the description of Harem pants as “regretful” – since I own five (yes, five) pair.

  4. This is completely ridiculous & a total waste of time & money ….it’s really funny you mention DVF copying a canadian indie company.. DVF was one of the labels pushing for this change in law – she was to copyright the wrap dress….hilarious!!!

    There is no way to police this & indie designers dont have the money to use it anyway, so it really is only for big labels & their profits.

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