If The Fashion Industry Doesn't Get Special Copyrights, The Terrorists Will Win

from the who-else-can-we-help? dept

Having seen the Senate create a special patent exemption for banks, it should come as no surprise that plenty of other industries are looking for special intellectual property treatment as well. Take, for example, the fashion industry. Years back, we noted that the fashion industry was a near perfect example of a creative industry that thrived despite no copyright protection on clothing designs. It showed what a myth it was that creation and innovation would stop in the absence of copyright law. In fact, studies began to show that it was that exact lack of copyright that drove the industry to be so innovative. That was for two reasons. First, designers had to constantly be innovating. An old design is an old design and they couldn't rest on their laurels, but had to keep creating newer and better designs. Second, by allowing knockoffs to hit the market, it actually helped promote the designer versions, and make those legitimate versions even more valuable.

Given all that, it's pretty difficult to understand why Congress decided to introduce new legislation specifically extending copyright to the fashion industry. Research suggested that such a copyright would effectively kill the fashion industry. It's about as backwards a law as you can get. The purpose of copyright is to create an incentive for new and innovative content -- and here's an industry where a ton of new and innovative content is created all the time without it. To any right thinking person, it should be clear that no copyright is needed. And, yet, Congress moves forward with the effort.

As the bill is being discussed, Congress has apparently held a hearing entitled: "Are Special Provisions Needed to Protect Unique Industries?" The answer should be a pretty clear "no," but instead, people were treated to an explanation of how a lack of copyright in the fashion industry would mean that the terrorists, organized criminals and child pornographers would win:
"Most people think that buying an imitation handbag or wallet is harmless, a victimless crime. But the counterfeiting rackets are run by crime syndicates that also deal in narcotics, weapons, child prostitution, human trafficking and terrorism. Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, told the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations that profits from the sale of counterfeit goods have gone to groups associated with Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group, paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland and FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia."
Note, of course, that where the proceeds of such sales go has no bearing, whatsoever, on the the issue of copyright. But don't think that won't stop the fashion industry from setting this up as an emotional issue. And, of course, it's not just the fashion industry. The report also notes that the automobile makers showed up at the hearing as well, claiming that they need special copyright protections on car part designs. Who else wants to step up and ask for special protections?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Feb 15th, 2008 @ 5:52pm

    inevitable

    Once copyright became a moral right, this was inevitable.

    Turns out that those tweeners complaining that other girls were 'copying' the way they dress were in the right all along. Congress confirms it.

     

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  2.  
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    Rekrul, Feb 15th, 2008 @ 10:51pm

    A government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations...

     

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  3.  
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    Marx, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 12:50am

    Re:

    Go go capitalism...?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    mike allen, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 1:09am

    maybe i wont have the wife want new outfits every season as they sit back and wait for the money on last seasons designs.

    Who cares.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 3:51am

    Is copyrighting a fashion design even going to stop imitation stuff anyway?
    Are these "crime syndicates that also deal in narcotics, weapons, child prostitution, human trafficking and terrorism", going to suddenly say "Oh no, they've got a copyright, we'd better stop making this stuff." Of course not.

    It's not like it's even enforceable. Imitation stuff is usually sold through open air markets, where the seller can simply hide their stuff as soon as they see anyone coming. This entire thing is a waste of time.

     

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  6.  
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    Lance, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 6:27am

    The way I see it there are several false premises at work here:

    1st it isn't terrorists and drug runners making these knockoffs, it is the very factories in China, etc. who manufacture the originals. Friends who have been to Hong Kong come back with 10 Calvin Klein suits bought for a small fraction of the price.

    2nd the fashion industry falsely believes that if they can eliminate $25 Kate Spade handbag knockoffs more consumers will purchase the authentic $250 Kate Spade handbag. The market is probably in equilibrium for luxury handbags and eliminating the knockoffs isn't going to have much of an impact on sales.

    3rd comment #5 is spot on. The bad guys Congress speaks of aren't going to be dissuaded by stronger Copyright laws. After all, they already have disregarded U.S. Trademark law, U.S. Customs rules, provisions laid out by the WTO and likely a free trade agreement or two.

     

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  7.  
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    Todd, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 9:23am

    Isn't it already illegal to sell knock-offs? By knock-offs, I mean a fake Rolex, not a timex that looks like a Rolex.

     

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  8.  
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    Rashmi Rangnath, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 9:31am

    The fashion hearing

    You make a great point about how the fashion industry has thrived in the absence of protection. I was at the hearing and have posted some thoughts on it here: http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1399

     

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  9.  
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    Bob, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re:

    nothing says capitalism like government granted monopolies

     

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  10.  
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    Shirley Willett, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 2:54pm

    Validation that fashion design copyrights are redi

    I can validate how silly this all is, with facts from my 60 years in the fashion industry. I learned by working in the garment factories in Boston in the 1940s, where the apparel industry started at the turn of the 20th century by Jewish tailors who created “production pattern engineering” – and there is no copyright or patent protection on patterns to this day. In the first half of the 20th century, every manufacturer in America copied Paris, just as the dressmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries did before them. In fact, Europeans copied us on production pattern engineering, which I validated when teaching in Italy for a few months in the 1960s. Creativity came out of the fashion schools about mid-century, and with pathetically poor pattern engineering and production knowledge – and we have now come to losing this technology to the world.

    In New York in the 1950s, there was always an advertisement for “designer/copyists” every day. Creative designers were worthless, only those that could engineer a decent pattern are valuable – to this day. I was extremely creative, being named Boston’s number one designer in the 1960s by Women’s Wear Daily, but am also a master pattern engineer. In my high fashion design and manufacturing business for 20 years, Shirley Willett, Inc. I would sometimes be given a style to copy by a top store like Bloomingdales – from the respect for my technical knowledge.

    Today, since all this “brand label” stuff, creativity has become important, and most brand label designers actually have teams of designers doing the creating. America has created the great technologies for the world, and this is what is important. Fashion has been a continued copying from its fashion history, over and over again, and the very few really great fashion designers were those who created new 3D shapes, like Balenciaga – which everyone was allowed to copy. Norman Norell, a famous American designer in the 1960s, actually offered his pattern to copyists, so that they would copy it right. Diane von Furstenburg, (the head of CFDA) and the big name designer behind this copyright stuff, is famous for her “wrap dress’ in the 1970s. I did some in the 1960s! – which goes to show you the repetitions of styles.

    Regarding Rashmi Rangnath’s excellent blog: In my mfg. business, many tried to copy me for less money but could not, because they could not copy my production system! As example I was the first to do an evening gown in suede, and designed a very creative production system, which is far more thrilling to me than the gown - very creative and sold fabulously. My stitchers could make the shell of the gown in 15 minutes, and I could not sell it so cheap! You can see more on this on my web site. http://www.shirleywillett.com You will also see more on my engineering design grants from the National Science Foundation and my recent workshop at MIT, representing the American Fashion Industry in comparing design practices between industries.

    All the commentators were right on. I have not gone further with writing to Congress because I never thought it would get this far.

    Thanks “Techdirt” for a great blog.

     

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  11.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 4:26pm

    Wow...

    I didn't know that Forever 21 was a terrorist outfit. I thought it was run by a Christian couple who just happen to sell fashion knock-offs for cheap...

     

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  12.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Feb 16th, 2008 @ 6:08pm

    Well, you know the saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of terrorism."

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 6:15pm

    Corporate Greed out of control

    This is just another case of corporate greed gone wild. I guess the already obscenely wealthy still aren't content.

    Copyright and IP laws were essentially a good idea until corporations came along and perverted the entire concept for their own greedy ends.

    This crap is just an extension of the life plus 70 mentality...which, for all you conservative Americans, originated in France...the same place that thought they could keep the Germans out by building a big wall, and that it would never dawn on them to go around it.

     

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  14.  
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    Will Sizemore, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 6:55pm

    The Evil of Copyright

    Copyrights, no matter what the original intent was touted to be, were never really meant to encourage designers, for example, to come up with more innovative designs.

    Copyrights do not make me, as science fiction, more creative. My own desire to be different from what has been published in the past is what drives me to be more creative. If I were to publish a rip-off of another author's work, anyone who would truly READ my work would know it immediately.

    I have a word I use to describe one who uses a roundabout means to serve a personal or political agenda that in and of itself is not strong enough to stand. I call them Politicians. Unfortunately, this is a negative connotation that does a great deal of injustice to the few good politicians in the world, and to the insitition of all legislative offices.

    And copyright law, and the legislators trying to capitalize on the buzzword "terrorism" themselves are dubious in that nations like the US will spend COUNTLESS taxpayer dollars investigating these cases all under the guise of patriotism and in their own small way contributing to the War on Terrorism.

    I have recently begun to pay a great deal of attention to copyright and tradmark lawsuits, specifically with regard to software and operating systems. I beleive that although copyright and trademark is the way that a capitalist can toss out an incomplete product and eternally secure revenue while preventing all 'competition' from following that same path.

    I hate copyright, by the way. I hate it because it is viewed as necessary to secure a fair income for people whose innovations should be rewarded. I also hate it because lawyers and justices use it as a means for securing their own income, by defending large corporations who really do not suffer a great loss of income, if any.

    I truly wonder if in this particular case of the Fashion Industry vs. Terrorists, whether the lawyers or the justices, committees, etc, have any stock in fashion.

    Seriously, has anyone ever looked at the portfolios of the judges who pass these rulings in favor of the corporation?

    Ms. Willett, although I am not a fan of fashion in any way, I was so pleased to read your comments. I would love for you to be called as a witness in this case. I think that your perspective is one of invaluable importance.

    I am increasingly motivated now, to change my major from Computer and Information Sciences with minor in Creative Writing, and I may simply make my own path. I am thinking of law and specifically copyright law; with the intent to reform US Copyright Law.

    For now, I will simply appeal to the opinions of my readers with my creative writings and posts on blogs like this one.

     

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  15.  
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    Sal, Feb 16th, 2008 @ 10:01pm

    Now lets see how this plays out. Clothing designers get copyrights on thier stuff. Suddenly, everyone that has bought a fake purse is liable to be sued. Since there is no real way to sue the "terrorists," the only other option is sueing the consumer. Sounds good to me.

    The way I see it playing out is the fear game the **AA is playing. As soon as you hear people saying "ew you might be a criminal" instead of "ew you're poor," we have a problem.

    It also doesn't make sense for a copyright on a physical object. It still is a dress or a handbag to me. Trademarks only make sense here. If I make a copycat designer dress and label it as my own, who can tell me I can't sell that fabric sewn into that shape?

     

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  16.  
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    dualboot, Feb 17th, 2008 @ 10:26am

    a long leap

    My concern is that some people somewhere must actually believe that terrorists are behind fashion copying. I would think that they would want to blend in with the clothing that everyone else is already wearing, rather than to have the newest, trendiest, soon-to-be-released outfits. Also, if they're terrorists, why would they draw attention to themselves by committing such petty crimes? Wouldn't they want to keep their reputations clean in order to avoid suspicion? Seems to me that if someone's really a terrorist, and has the resources and intellect to carry out a grand terrorism scheme under the noses of the government, that they wouldn't be stupid enough to be the ones copying designs.

    ALSO... I sew some of my own clothing. I have purchased shirts that I like, but that don't come in my exact size, cut them apart at the seams, retraced it on pattern paper and made the appropriate adjustments, and then made my own shirt from it. Now, would the copyright apply to this, since it doesn't come in my size? (I'm a relatively big girl, but am not willing to wear the boxy crap they sell for plus-size women). AND, would the copyright apply just to the original design (e.g. size 0 or size 2), or would it apply to all scaled versions of the design? I mean, someone can copyright a movie, but they don't then own the copyright on the spoof of the movie, last I checked... so wouldn't the real-person sizes be the equivalent of the spoof?

    Anyway, go ahead and trace my ip address or whatever you want. I'm not a terrorist, but I'm NOT going to stop making clothing in my own size just because someone thinks we need to protect the people who sell the originals in sizes that don't fit me. If they make them in affordable prices and in more sizes, I might just buy all of my clothing (it's alot of labor to make them myself anyways), but until that happens (aka: never), I will continue to do my thing.

    Also... wouldn't making this a copyright infringement issue just cause the people who do it to better conceal the fact that they're making reproductions and selling them? Perhaps even driving up the price of the reproductions for those of us who can't afford a $250 purse... we'll just stick to the local thrift store for our purses, and will still NEVER spend any real money on a purse.

    Okay, my rant is done. My point is, it won't stop people from copying, and it's a real stretch to think that the terrorists are the ones selling the knock-off Donna Karon purses in Tijuana for $10, or the fake Rolex watches in China Town for $35. Sheesh!

     

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  17.  
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    Jase, Feb 17th, 2008 @ 5:38pm

    Marx - "Go go capitalism"

    Classic

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2008 @ 8:29pm

    But...
    They...
    What...
    (head explodes)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 17th, 2008 @ 10:55pm

    I'm copyrighting the act of being human. I'll make a fortune.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Junkyard, Feb 18th, 2008 @ 2:41am

    Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol

    Would now be a bad time to point out that Ronald's boss, Jackie Selebi the head of interpol, is currently waiting trial on charges of massive corruption including turning a blind eye to narcotics smugglers?

    One of the drug smugglers Glen Agliotti is alleged to have given Selebi huge amounts of cash to throw big parties to get his job as the boss at interpol.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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