A Look At How The Fashion Industry Thrives Without Copyright

from the oh-look... dept

We’ve discussed how the fashion industry is an excellent example of how a creative industry can thrive and be highly competitive and innovative without copyright many times before. In fact, way back in 2003, we noted that there was much that the entertainment industry could learn from the fashion industry. Since then, we’ve seen academic research highlighting how much of the success in the industry was due to the lack of copyright, because it helped spur continuous innovation, rather than letting someone rest on their laurels. On top of that, it also helped segment the market, speed diffusion, build out trends and actually increase the reputation of top designers.

Given all that, we could never understand why some top designers (though, certainly certainly not all) are so desperate to get a special copyright on fashion, despite the suggestions it would actually stifle the market quite a bit. They’ve been relying on highly questionable research from a lawyer, which doesn’t stand up to the most basic economic analysis.

However, there are folks who are pointing out how important the lack of copyright protection is in the fashion industry. Peter Tanham points us to a recently posted TED talk by Johanna Blakely about how the fashion industry thrives without copyright:

It’s definitely a good introduction to the topic, and also has a good response to the claims that copyrights on designs work in other parts of the world (Blakely shows that’s not really true, and that problems with the way the laws are implemented elsewhere shows that they’re almost never used).

The thing that disappointed me about the presentation, frankly, is that while it’s titled: “Lessons from fashion’s free culture” Blakely never really gets that deeply into the lessons. She does talk about a few other areas of creative endeavors where copyright is not allowed for the most part (recipes, cars, furniture, etc.) and has an amusing slide that compares the revenue generated in industries with copyright and those not protected by copyright (the “not protected by copyright” part vastly outweighs the “protected by copyright” side). I’d like to see that slide in a bit more detail, because, while amusing, it threatens to fall into the same trap as the recent Chamber of Commerce report that tries to claim the exact opposite. It says that copyright protected industries contribute a lot more to the economy than non-covered industries. In both cases, though, I fear that there’s some cherry-picking of data and questionable classifications.

I do think that there’s a ton to learn from industries like the fashion industry — including suggestions on ways those lessons can be applied to industries like music and movies. Hopefully we’ll start seeing a deeper analysis on that soon.

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Comments on “A Look At How The Fashion Industry Thrives Without Copyright”

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40 Comments
JimmieCA (profile) says:

Learning = Copying

Copyright laws only give the originator a delayed lead over others.

Just like how Apple is suing HTC, one could argue that HTC is copying them but why isn’t Apple going after other manufacturers? It’s only because Apple has officially recognized as Android OS being equal or better and HTC also being equal or better. In fact because of HTC, Apple is now copying them. Which means that Apple Iphone is officially now not much different from any other touch screen mobile device.

Anonymous Coward says:

fashion is a little different from writing a book or a song. first and foremost, fashion has an incredibly short shelf life. a full season (3 months) is typical. after that, its good bye old crap,off to tj maxx with you. second, there is no actual counterfeiting of the product at the retail level (only in flea markets). companies are not using each others logos and such, which is all jealously protected by trademark and such. third, the lead time required to copy someone else product exactly is long for most manufactures, which means they arent actually copying, but rather trying to mimic style points from fashion shows and such. lengths of skirts, size of labels, necklines, cut, etc.

most importantly: there is very little new in clothes that hasnt already been done 1000 times before. there are copyrights for certain types of materials used, logos, and the like, but since clothes are just complete recycles, nobody can claim anything that doesnt already have prior art.

it is a nice attempt to show copyright as useless, but only if you are willing to ignore reality.

Richard Corsale (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hmm, you seem to be an industry insider, so I have a question. I always wondered how the fifth or sixth iteration of a given remake would be licensed. I mean, every time it’s remade the producers add something of their own, and thats creative content. Dose the fourth re-telling of the story have to seek licensing from all three of the re-tellings before it? Presuming that it wants to use the elements introduced in those progressive iterations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

>fashion is a little different from writing a book or a song. first and foremost, fashion has an incredibly short shelf life. a full season (3 months) is typical. after that, its good bye old crap

When have movies or music stayed in the spotlight for longer?

>it is a nice attempt to show copyright as useless, but only if you are willing to ignore reality.

It’s a nice attempt to show anyone showing copyright as useless, but then, we already know you ignore cited studies, and blanket claim everyone as freeloaders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“When have movies or music stayed in the spotlight for longer?” – i would suggest you real the long tail book for more info. heck, just turn on your tv and enjoy the reruns that take up a fair bit of the broadcast day. most people wouldnt be caught dead walking around in an early 70s suit or outfit, but they will watch re-runs of m*a*s*h.

“It’s a nice attempt to show anyone showing copyright as useless, but then, we already know you ignore cited studies, and blanket claim everyone as freeloaders.” – the cited study is someone ted presentation, not exactly a deep document to work from. as for freeloaders, what else do you call someone who always wants something for nothing?

Hulser (profile) says:

Comment bait

Given all that, we could never understand why some top designers (though, certainly certainly not all) are so desperate to get a special copyright on fashion, despite the suggestions it would actually stifle the market quite a bit.

OK, I’ll bite. Because the current top designers don’t give a shit about stifling the market as long as they get a disproportionate share.

Anonymous Coward says:

OK, I’ll bite. Because the current top designers don’t give a shit about stifling the market as long as they get a disproportionate share.

Explain how it would be “disproportionate” for the ones actually INNOVATING to be making the most money?

I would be ashamed to work at a knock-off clothing company. Participating in a trend or style is different than outright copying a specific piece of clothing as closely as fiscally possible. That’s just tacky. And I would consider any income derived from such an endeavor to be “disproportionate” to what they should have earned, which is nothing.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Explain how it would be “disproportionate” for the ones actually INNOVATING to be making the most money?

I think you’ve misunderstood my answer. Mike professed to not understand why the top designers would want to implement a fashion copyright in spite of the fact that it would stifle the overall fashion market. Expanding on my reply, the top designers would want to implement a fashion copyright so that they would have an anticompetative advantage so they could rest on their laurels i.e. stop innovating as much, which would grant them a disporportionate share of the total market’s profits. In short, a top designer doesn’t care if the pie gets smaller as long as they get a larger slice.

Bruce Ediger (profile) says:

Re: Working in a knock-off clothing company

Someone anonymously said: I would be ashamed to work at a knock-off clothing company. Participating in a trend or style is different than outright copying a specific piece of clothing as closely as fiscally possible.

I’m just a computer nerd, and before that, I worked in aerospace engineering, and I found myself scratching my head about your statement. I’m not at all sure how to differentiate between “participating in a trend or style” and “outright copying”, at least on street level. Perhaps this is the Legendary Engineering Sense of Style speaking, but I thought that “participating in a style” was exactly “copying as closely as fiscally possible”. If you’re wealthy, you get the brand label clothing to participate in the style. If you’re less wealthy, you get a knock off. If you’re a rebellious teen, you make or acquire something that’s as close as you can get, and then modify it with patches, markers, safetypins, etc, to show how rebellious you are.

Honestly, how can I, an ex-engineer with no style sense whatsoever, tell what’s an “outright copy” and what’s “participating in a style or trend”. This looks like one of those dopey things that “Business People” want me to program, but requires a reference to some Grand High Arbiter (or “oracle” as we say in programming) for each decision. I’m not trying to be a wiseacre here, I’m honestly confused on this issue.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Real Market.

Slashdot had a link to a collection of papers, written by academic lawyers for the most part:

http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/05/25/2222207/The-Fashion-Industry-As-a-Model-For-IP-Reform
http://www.learcenter.org/html/projects/?cm=ccc/fashion

The various authors on the Lear Center website noted that the important property in fashion is trademark, and specifically, the kind of robust trademark which is carefully designed to avoid any possible confusion. They didn’t take the next step however. Some years ago, the fashion journalist Kennedy Fraser pointed out that fashion designers actually make their money by the merchandising of their labels for products which are not their distinctive designs in any shape or form, and which are often not even clothing, meaning stuff like toiletries. Twenty-five cents worth of chemical goop in a bottle, with the appropriate designer label on it, might be worth five or ten dollars. Meanwhile, the sartorial reality is that an increasing proportion of women dress substantially like boys, ie. jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers. They compensate by purchasing the bottled goop. Fashion has been pushed to the level of fantasy life.

The reality is that we live in a world of self-service gas stations. More importantly, it has been demonstrated that anyone who cannot learn to do at least rudimentary repairs on whatever machines they work with will take a drastic hit in pay. Some years ago, a social worker consulted me about a handicapped young man, who wanted to work with computers. He’d had a bad accident, and was confined to a wheelchair. So I was asking the social worker questions like, did she think he could use a screwdriver. Probably not. Anyway, back then, computers were still in horizontal boxes, with the monitors sitting on top, not the tower cases we use now. So you had to pick the monitor, the glass CRT monitor, up just to get at the computer box. There weren’t a whole lot of good answers, I’m afraid. This guy had no choice about his position. Women do have choices, and that affects the sales of fashion clothing. Obviously, it is much easier to pick up a forty-pound box and put it down somewhere else if you are not wobbling on high heels.

Darryl says:

they use Trademark instead, there are huge problems

Yes, we know you believe all is well, and that we all live in the Garden of eden. But infact allthough copyright is not used for the fashion industry, trademark is.

And Copyright, Trademarks and Patents are all different forms of the same Interlectual Property (IP) laws.

There is a massive and thriving black market in counterfeit designer Apparel and Accessories, there allways has been.

It’s the same thing, someone seems a person or company doing well, and decides to take their idea and use it to make some money for themselves, without having to think for yourself.

Thats what it amounts too, and you think innovation comes from that, copying someone elses copyright, or tradement is not innovating, it taking their idea and using it yourself, it’s a ‘no brainer’.

why should a company like Rolex have to be damaged after creating very high quality product and service structure, and a product that is highly desirable, for someone else to come along and take that name and use it’s good reputation (which they did not pay to create), for their own gain.

It’s a crime, it’s a huge problem for everyone, (suppliers and consumers).

Some figures, (i know you like statistics), for you.

“in a detailed breakdown of the counterfeit goods industry, the total losses faces by countries around the world totals $600 Billion dollars, with the United states facing the most economic impact. [4]
When calculating counterfeit products, current estimates place the global losses at $400 Billion.

[4] Havocscope Counterfeit and Piracy Markets by countries.

luciyahelan says:

Fashion News

fashion is a little different from writing a book or a song. first and foremost, fashion has an incredibly short shelf life. a full season (3 months) is typical. after that, its good bye old crap,off to tj maxx with you. second, there is no actual counterfeiting of the product at the retail level (only in flea markets). companies are not using each others logos and such, which is all jealously protected by trademark and such. third, the lead time required to copy someone else product exactly is long for most manufactures, which means they arent actually copying, but rather trying to mimic style points from fashion shows and such. lengths of skirts, size of labels, necklines, cut, etc.
==================================================
Fashion News

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