Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Should Congress Extend Copyright Protection to Fashion Designs?

While this blog focuses primarily on writing and writers, I do take an occasional frolic and detour into the public policies underlying copyright and copyright's effect on creative artists in other fields.  In this regard, you may have read that Senator Schumer and others have introduced legislation that would provide a new three-year term of copyright protection to fashion designs.  The text of the bill, known as the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, is reproduced here.  The Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill earlier this month.

Clothing designs have never before been the subject of copyright protection in the United States (although fabric prints -- of sufficient originality -- can be).  A few years ago, Tyler Cowen, the always-interesting economics blogger, ran a fascinating post on how the fashion industry works without copyright and and wondered aloud "why the absence of IP protection has led to (apparently) acceptable results." Worth revisiting in light of the proposed new law.

And here is an informative article on the history of the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act (from Louis Ederer and Maxwell Preston).


  1. To answer Cowen's question, I'd recommend looking at "The Piracy Paradox," an article by Kal Raustiala (UCLA) and Chris Sprigman (UVA). They have some interesting economic explanations as to why the high right of piracy in the fashion industry actually helps designers by solidifying trends, and then by making old trends unpalatable to richie riches, which in turn makes them amenable to shelling out for the newest trends.

    "We argue that the fashion industry counterintuitively operates within a low-IP equilibrium in which copying actually promotes
    innovation. We call this the 'piracy paradox.'”

  2. You know, I am not too eager to embrace the argument that a lack of copyright in the fashion industry leads to greater innovation. The fashion industry is just like any other sector that relies on creativity- people build on the ideas of others. However, in the music industry and other creative areas, people are required to give credit to the originality creditors.

    This should be a requirement in fashion as well. What happens when a little known designer comes up with something different? Without this type of protection, more well known designers can just take their ideas and use them.