From the desk of Gigi B. Sohn:
Henry Lanman of Slate reports that the Council Fashion Designers of America are coming to Washington today to ask members of Congress to give copyright protection, for the first time, to clothing designs. This of course, is completely contrary to the history and practice of fashion design – as Lanman writes: “[t]he open and accepted practice of fashion designers 'paying homage' to the designs of others, isn't seen as unpunished piracy, but rather as part of the normal creative flow upon which design itself thrives.” Lanman laments that [l]ately, there have been indications that the fashion industry wants to abandon its somewhat unique legal perch and dive into the same lawyer filled waters in which the rest of the creative world swims.” More like a swamp, I'd say.
Thankfully, the view that clothing design should be protected by copyright is not shared by some of the nation's top designers. In January of 2005, the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California held a terrific conference entitled “Ready to Share,” which featured such leading designers as Tom Ford and Kevan Hall. The conference showed how the fashion industry grew and continues to thrive because of the ability of fashion designers to copy freely. NY Times style reporter Guy Trebay did not mince words when asked by PK Board Chair Laurie Racine, “[H]ow do you think fashion would be different if it had to obey the copyright laws?” Trebay replied, “There'd be no fashion.” Tom Ford, the former Gucci designer who is perhaps the most popular US fashion designer today, emphatically concurred. The best presentation of the conference was about the history of a fashion icon – the Chanel jacket – and how Coco Chanel appropriated the design from other similar designs, and encouraged others to copy her designs. Chanel, like many in the fashion industry, understood that knock-offs only made the original more valuable.
There is a great Chanel quote that best describes the effort to protect fashion designs with copyright: “Fashion should slip out of your hands. The very idea of protecting the seasonal arts is childish.”
You can find videos of the Ready to Share Conference here.