More Research Shows How The Fashion Industry Is Helped By The Lack Of Intellectual Property Rights

from the keep-it-coming dept

Back in 2003, we mentioned an article that compared the entertainment industry to the fashion industry, noting that even though there was no intellectual property protections over clothing design and copying was rampant, the fashion industry was thriving. This shouldn't come as a surprise, really. After all, without the artificial protectionism, the fashion designers are forced to continually compete by continually innovating and always trying to come out with the latest and greatest design. Even though others copy, there's tremendous value in being the first, or being the "big name" in the industry. The article included this fantastic quote: "Ideas arise, evolve through collaboration, gain currency through exposure, mutate in new directions, and diffuse through imitation. The constant borrowing, repurposing, and transformation of prior work are as integral to creativity in music and film as they are to fashion." In 2005, the NY Times wrote a similar article, but warned that the fashion industry was moving in the wrong direction, as lazy designers who didn't want to compete and wanted to rest on their laurels had started pushing for new intellectual property over their designs. Late last year, the calls for such protectionism grew even stronger -- though, the reasoning doesn't make any sense. The entire point of intellectual property protections is to create incentives for a market. If that market is already thriving, why do you need to add new incentives? The real reason is that it's not to provide incentives. It's a way for successful players to keep making money without continuing to innovate -- which is simply bad for society.

The NY Times is taking another look at this issue, this time in a piece written by well-known economist Hal Varian, who points to a recent study that doesn't just note that the fashion industry has thrived without intellectual property protection, but notes that a big part of the reason it has thrived is because of the lack of IP. In other words, if those pushing for those new IP rights get them, the end result will likely be harmful to the overall fashion industry. Again, this shouldn't be surprising, as removing protectionist policies tends to increase competition and the size of the addressable market, but it's certainly a good example to point to when people insist that things like the music industry wouldn't exist without copyright protection.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 11 Apr 2007 @ 2:38am

    Re: Bad analogy

    The musical equivalent, if one exists, of "fashion knock-offs" would be "tribute/cover bands."

    That's not quite accurate. It is accurate for the big name designers, but go back and read some of the earlier posts, and it's the small time designers that are most likely to complain -- and in that case the "knockoffs" are basically identical.

    And even then the analogy is flawed because it's not the customers making exact copies of a Donna Karan dress for free with no effort...

    Ah, but don't get confused by what's happening in the entertainment industry. Even though there it appears that the customers are making the "copies" it's really the competition. That's because the industry is really in the distribution business, and all unauthorized file sharing does is create a competitive distribution system. So it's actually a lot more similar than you make it out to be.

    However, the key point remains, squik's non-sequitors notwithstanding: the claims of those who support IP regimes always fall back on the idea that without such IP regimes you couldn't have innovation because no one would invest. In fact, Squik himself has made effectively that argument by claiming the prudent company won't invest in new works if they can be easily copied.

    Yet here's a perfect example of why that's not the case at all. What happens is that, rather than relying on IP protection, the producers in that field adapt and come up with a new (and some would say, better) business model of continuous innovation.

    That applies equally to the entertainment industry or industries that rely on patents.

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