Piracy of a Different Sort – Highjacking Fashion

The Design Piracy Prohibition Act stalled in Congress over the last few years. While it’s been around in various forms since 1957, it’s never really seen the light of day.

The whole point of this Act, should it get passed, is to extend intellectual property rights and concepts and related litigation to the world of fashion and design. The Act has been kicking around for some time, but because it evidently has some teeth, it’s been viewed as being controversial and thus put on the back burner, until now.

The latest attempt to stop knock-offs, the stalled Design Piracy Prohibition Act, aims to provide sui generis protection to fashion designers for a period of three years. Sui generis is a Latin expression, meaning of its own kind or unique in its characteristics. Design piracy legislation is already in place in Japan, India and Europe.

The Act would extend protection to “the appearance as a whole of an article of apparel, including its ornamentation,” with ‘apparel’ defined to include men’s, women’s, or children’s clothing, including undergarments, outerwear, gloves, footwear, and headgear; handbags, purses, and tote bags; belts, and eyeglass frames. To get the protection for three years, a designer would have to register with the US Copyright Office within three months of going public with a design.

“Fashion piracy and knock-offs are extremely unfair and economically hurtful for emerging designers. This is because many may see their designs knocked off before their own creations get to stores. While there needs to be a way to stop this, I worry that the legislative approach may have some unintended consequences,” said David Alden Erikson, a Los Angeles fashion law attorney.

With the advent of more and more knock-offs and rip-offs of aspiring designer’s creations, and the subsequent more frequent legal battles this has engendered, this issue has come to the forefront once again. While the general public doesn’t think much about it, other than what they are ultimately paying for an item, designers are quite fed up with being knocked off. It costs them money and prestige.

Currently, fashion only has the protection of copyright if its shape is non-functional enough to be classified as a creative sculpture; or that a design, pattern, or image on the clothes qualifies as pictorial/graphic. The law does offer some protection against counterfeiters, but this only if the trademark defense is used and not when a knock-off is copied under a different label. There is also patent protection of sorts available that only applies to an ornamental design that is new, original and not obvious. The definition for new, original and non-obvious is pretty tough to pin down.

The prevailing opinion is that the “new” law would have the right kind of impact and clout, plus have the potential to drive many small fabric and apparel companies out of business because they don’t have the money to hire a lawyer and fight the bigger firms knocking off their creations. As with many things when it comes to infringement and how to stop it, there are pros and cons, each with valid arguments, but no middle of the road compromise seemingly ready and waiting in the wings. Typically, that would then leave the courts as the referees.

“This is one of the things that worries me,” outlined Erikson, “as this new Act may do little more than create a cottage industry for fashion lawyers who would work on (patent) registrations and on the possible flood of litigation over what counts as original and who started a trend,” he added. This sounds a little like the sitcom, Desperate Housewives – lots of fighting and very little gets resolved, unless revenge counts.

In one corner is the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the face of big-name fashion, and they want the Act to pass. In the other corner is the American Apparel and Footwear Association who isn’t thrilled with the idea, as they feel it will lead to never ending lawsuits between legitimate companies. “Will it come to pass? No one is certain, but there is certainly a lot of lobbying going on to push the Act back into the limelight and make sure it does see the light of day this time,” Erikson commented.

To learn more about David Alden Erikson, Attorney at Law, visit “http://www.daviderikson.com” .

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