Senate weighs copyrights for fashion

By Reuters
Posted Sep. 13, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.

U.S. lawmakers are considering legislation intended to protect fashion designs from knockoffs, but some experts say the proposed rules could do more harm than good to the industry and consumers.

The proposed law, which has bipartisan support, would protect unique designs for three years. For a knockoff to be considered a copyright infringement, it must be so similar that it is likely to be mistaken for a protected design.
The legislation was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month after a 2007 bill to amend the Copyright Act for fashion designs was deemed too broad. Schumer’s bill came after talks with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

“It is not needed,” Kal Raustiala, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said of the legislation. “It will probably cause more harm than good.”

“The industry is actually working very well today, and there is no compelling reason to change,” he said. “The point of copyright laws is to ensure that copying doesn’t kill creativity. In fashion, we have long seen copying coexist with creativity. Indeed, copying often fosters creativity.”

But Schumer said the legislation was needed because the U.S. fashion industry was being hurt by knockoffs and at a disadvantage compared with Europe, where laws protect registered designs for up to 25 years.

Fashion is the second-largest industry behind finance in New York, home to more than 800 fashion companies. The industry employs 175,000 people and generates some $10 billion in wages and $1.5 billion tax revenue, authorities say.

There is no copyright law in America that protects fashion. Anti-sweatshop laws affect labor, while this would cover style and design.

More than 90 designers are showing this week at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, while others show in venues elsewhere in the city. The New York fashion shows are followed by shows in London, Milan and Paris.

Steven Kolb, executive director of the CFDA, said the bill would “force former copyists to actually design clothing or at least sign licensing agreements — meaning more jobs for designers and more affordable choices for consumers.”

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