April 26, 2007

Anti-piracy laws...

Today's WWD reports that there is a group of designers and editors currently trying to put anti-piracy laws before congress:
That is why fashion designer Nicole Miller and others came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers, many of whom sit on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which have jurisdiction over intellectual property laws, on a bill they hope will change the law. "Design piracy denigrates the integrity of the style," said Miller. "This year, we have been copied more than we have in past years. With this legislation, people will be deterred from making everything too literal. It's the line-for-line copies that bother me."
What is the current situation?
The specter of fashion design piracy sends shivers down the backbone of the fashion industry, but defining "piracy," "knockoffs" and "original" designs under intellectual property laws has proven elusive. Trademark laws protect designer logos and patent law periodically applies to "innovative or ornamental" design elements. Prints and artwork are protected by intellectual property laws, but fashion designs have no protection under copyright laws.
While I agree that knock-offs in particular have gotten completely out of hand recently, especially with the rise of internet/wireless communications technologies and the ability of fast-fashion retailers to copy a design within weeks and have it in the store before the original has even hit the wholesale showroom...I think this is a murky issue. This is what I'm writing in my thesis paper about it:
When modern fashion was “born symbolically with [designer Charles] Worth in the mid-1800s,” issues of authenticity were irrelevant because everyone who could afford to wear the latest fashions had them made custom by local dressmakers (Reinach 47). Although ideas could be “borrowed,” each garment was necessarily unique in cut, fit, and materials. But when clothes started to be mass-produced, garments became models that could be “exactly reproduced at will” rather than unique articles of clothing (Vinken 20).
Of course, the construction, design and marketing of an authentic Louis Vuitton bag is much costlier and more desirable than that of its counterfeit. Aside from being illegal, counterfeit fashion items are socially stigmatized in our culture, and “a tag of authenticity is a powerful force in selling goods”. However, what about the fact that the presence of fakes make the real items even more socially desirable? And would there be any difference between an “authentic” Marc Jacobs elastic band and a “counterfeit” one? In fact, theorists such as Michel Pastoureau have argued that “the concepts of falsity and authenticity are cultural constructs.” And what does it mean to be a fake when “several of the most prestigious ‘made in Italy’ brands are in reality, entirely manufactured in China” and made in the same factories as the counterfeit but with different materials?

Finally, the biggest issue with anti-piracy laws in fashion is this - they assume that the high-end designers are the originals from which others copy. However, we've seen Balenciaga knock off Kaisik Wong and I personally know many great designers who quite literally "borrow" inspiration from vintage clothing or their own archives or wardrobes without penalty. Do we expect them to be original also? Or is it only when someone else is infringed upon that it matters?

How original is DVF's design that she can sue Forever 21? Not to say they're faultless....

Do you expect originality in design?

Photo source (Marc by Marc on the left and Forever 21 on the right)

1 comment:

Sarah said...

In case you didn't know, Nancy J. Troy's book Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion has a section on Poiret and the copying of his dresses in the US. It's also a great book in general for any fashion theorist.