Why Copyrights Would Kill The Fashion Industry

from the how-it-all-works dept

Earlier this month, we wrote about Senator Chuck Schumer’s misguided plan to extend copyright protection to the fashion industry. As we’ve noted in the past, this makes absolutely no sense. The purpose of copyright is to create incentives for new creative content — but the fashion industry already has those incentives. It’s already quite competitive with designers constantly coming up with new designs. In other words, there’s no reason to add artificial incentives for creativity. In fact, recent research suggested that the entire reason that the fashion industry is as successful as it has been is because of the lack of copyright for fashion designs. David Levine now points us to another analysis, suggesting how adding copyrights to fashion designs could kill the fashion industry, by killing the biggest thing that helps the industry thrive: trends.

“People don’t buy new clothes because they need them–they buy them to keep up with the latest style. The fashion industry responds to our desires by churning out new designs at a rapid clip. But fashion designers don’t maroon themselves on a desert island to create their work. Designers pay close attention to the work of their peers, and they love to mine the past for ideas. When they see something that they like, they copy it–or, in the argot of the industry, they “reference” it…. The result is the fashion industry’s most sacred concept: the trend. Copying makes trends, and trends are what sell fashion…. And the trend-driven copying of attractive designs ensures that those designs diffuse rapidly in the marketplace. This, in turn, makes the early adopters want a new style, because nothing is less attractive than seeing your carefully chosen clothes on the backs of the hoi polloi. In short, copying is the engine that drives the fashion cycle.”

The article goes on to discuss exactly how Schumer’s bill would kill this process. The article also, strangely, insists that the reasons why copyright would hurt the fashion industry don’t apply to other industries, despite little proof of that fact. The fashion industry shows how little artificial monopolies are needed when you have plenty of other market incentives for compensating creators. That can apply just as well to many different industries.

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Comments on “Why Copyrights Would Kill The Fashion Industry”

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Rick Gutleber (profile) says:

Congress can't stop meddling

I wish those fat, bloated corrupt whores would stick to picking up anonymous sex in the bathroom instead of meddling in everything that goes on in this country. There’s is nothing so screwed up that Congress can’t go in and make it worse.

I literally couldn’t care less about the fashion industry either, but I has seen time and time again that everything Congress touches gets broken. That body of crooks couldn’t find ugly on an outhouse rat without spending 20 billion dollars and putting a million people out of work.

Wilbur says:

Re: That would be great

Yeah, like bullets. The World doesn’t have enough of them. By the way, who would get the copyright on the Army’s kick ass pixelated desert camo pattern. That’s the only reason I’d join the army is to pick up some of those fatigues. They are to die for. I just have to have them. eBay, here I come.

Willton says:

It's never going to happen

The nature of a fashion pattern would lend itself to a design patent, not copyright protection. Copyrights are designed to be issued to authors for their written works. Fashion patterns cannot be written; they can only be written about, as in comments on a design. A fashion designer is not an author; if anything a fashion designer is an inventor, and a fashion pattern is an invention or a design.

Apparently these legislators never read Cheney Bros. v. Doris Silk Corp in law school (35 F.2d 279 (2d. Cir. 1929)). That should be required reading for any politician that wants to legislate intellectual property.

Anonymous Coward says:

these things make sense actually.

however, it does not apply well to technological industries for a few reasons. first, copying something electronically costs essentially zero. disk space, wow. second, there are a lot more technological developers than “fashion developers”.
it will always cost something to produce a shirt, and so few people can make a shirt, so you can’t just go and copy a design as easily as with digital media.

for anyone who thinks this is a good thing. whatever. i like wearing good looking things.

Corinna says:

I think if this bill were put into practice it would adopt some of the problems other industries have with copyrights. Like with old books or music with no author alive to collect royalties, at what point would a “trend” or idea in fashion become public domain anyway? And who decides what does or does not constitute copying? Do you simply steal a look or does using a small piece as inspiration count? It’s harder to pinpoint copying in fashion, I think, because so many parts of a particular piece can have things in common with already existing pieces, and not necessarily by choice, but simply because the design called for a sleeve to look like this or a hem to have a particular shape. I guess my point is that this bill would get really messy, since one item of clothing can have so much in common with another, even if they are completely different designs or concepts, and at some point people will always “steal” from the past (because who’s going to enforce copywriting on an idea you got from a design in 1850 or an obscure painting from the middle east?).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ummm…Have you heard most pop music.. it all has the same 3 chords, and that is not copyright infringement, because it is so common. It is specific shapes, or very specific styles. It is not going to be like someone can copyright the t-shirt.
People “steal” old music all the time, and the only writer credit they get is being the song’s arranger. Also if someone has a specific sleeve copyrighted then it will be like sampling that sleeve.
I mean I think that it could being more competition to fashion or could totally screw everything up.

hmmm. says:

Re: Re:

what prompted this proposal is probably the high-fashion market becoming so big in recent years. & now there’s so many copies of those brands. that affects the industry a lot. probably more than any other industries because without brand value a high-fashion product is almost next to nothing. for both consumers and the designers. this is not about negative effect on their sales but more like a survival strategy.
but it would be dangerous if they don’t keep it “thin” so it doesn’t harm creativity so much.

And its not necessarily “harder” to pinpoint copying in fashion. fashion designers may know how to pinpoint those things in their own standards as much as musicians and playwrights do in theirs. it wouldn’t be accurate to say so unless you were an expert in the field.

Mark Harvey says:


All the comments here seem to just be along the lines of “I hate fashion, so I’d be happy if it’s gone.” Even if you are here and don’t feel that you enjoy wearing fashionable clothing this would affect you. What if you could only buy one brand of video game based shirt?! What if you could only buy one brand of over-sized cargo pants?! What would you do then? Also clothing would have to get more expensive to cover all the lawsuits that would arise out of this. All in all this law would probably not destroy fashion but it would certainly do serious harm to it here in the US.

Fashion Worker says:

T-shirts and jeans

T-shirts and jeans are very much the trend now for everyone. In the 20’s and 30’s only Hobos , Cowboys and Factory workers wore jeans.
Don’t think that because you think it’s not fashion that it isn’t. You buy shirts that have been designed. Patterns are constantly being revised fabrics tested and screen printing techniques refined to create what you are deeming to be just a t-shirt. In denim the same thing is always happening. Dying techniques are modified to give your “just jeans” that worn in look as well as washing techniques to make them feel more worn in. If such things were copy-written then you might start seeing less innovative refinements in the basics that we all enjoy today.

Francisco (user link) says:

trademark fashion

Does this mean no more designer knock-offs?

Trademark laws as pertaining to fashion sounds strange since design has always been left up to interpretation good example is the little black dress, how many times have we seen the re-birth of that design?

Where will the line be drawn since it is after all competition that drives creativity in the fashion industry.

Guess we will have to see who this law will benefit…
the designers or the consumers.

Francisco (user link) says:

trademark fashion

Does this mean no more designer knock-offs?

Trademark laws as pertaining to fashion sounds strange since design has always been left up to interpretation good example is the little black dress, how many times have we seen the re-birth of that design?

Where will the line be drawn since it is after all competition that drives creativity in the fashion industry.

Guess we will have to wait and see who this law will benefit…
the designers or the consumers.

aice says:

sketching in a store

Today I went to a G-star store and started sketching and actually redesigning something i saw, i was not going to copy it i was merely sketching and the manager very rudly told me to stop sketching because their stuff is copyrighted, I off course stopped but, livid with rage that I could not sketch something i was not going to steal,
how come I can take notes in a library book to help me with my paper or lecture to remember or contradict later, I can sketch in a meuseum, I can sketch buildings and interiors of places which actually do have a drawing saying that design belongs to an architect. not only was the guy rude, and patronizing the
whole civil rights issue on sketching in a public place being violated has really made me convinced about the degradation of our society as a money hungry monster, with no regard what so ever for creativity. i was basicaly treated like a criminal and I am not.
I feel i should take action but any sugestion?

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe Women can Save Money!

If Copyright slows down the copying that kills trends and force people to wastefully buy clothing, then go for it. Fashion is wastefulness. When someone buys a designer (fill in) the Chinese workers get the dime an hour while some fashion designer laughs all the way to the bank in his Lambo. It’s time to take these parisite designers and give them a slap upside the head.

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