The New York Times reports today that a bill may be introduced in Congress as soon as today giving copyright protection to fashion design. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is said to be the principal sponsor – I'm not sure what fashion industry resides in rural Virginia. Designers like Diane Von Furstenberg and Zac Posen have been to Washington to push for this bill.
The fashion designers seeking copyright protection are modeling their legislation after legislation passed in 1998 to protect boat hulls. I know nothing about the boat hull industry, but I do know that the fashion design industry has thrived under a system where rich people continue to pay top dollar for original designs, and the rest of us can only afford the knockoffs. If anything, the knockoffs tend to make the originals more valuable, not less. Indeed, no one seems to be claiming that they are losing revenue or sales from the lack of copyright protection – even if there were no knockoffs, I would never buy a $2000 pocketbook or a $1000 dress, and those who can afford to pay those prices would never buy the H&M version, which will undoubtedly be of far lesser quality. So what is the harm that needs to be addressed? And isn't there a bit of classism going on here? Only those who can afford style can obtain it, while the rest of us have to wait 3 years?
A great article on the history of attempts to give fashion design copyright protection, by Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, can be found here. The conclusion? That despite fashion design copy protection in the EU, almost nobody registers. It is trademark protection that fashion designers seem to really care about, and they already have that here in the US.