Last week the Today Show had a segment called “Oscar looks for less,” which featured dresses that look just like what celebrities wore to the Oscar awards last week, but which cost much less. For example, Sandra Bullock’s original Oscar dress cost $35,000, whereas the knock-off version costs only $400. In less than one week designers at companies like A.B.S. recreated designs that probably took months and months to develop for the celebrities and are selling them to the public for much less.
This segment is one example in a recent article in the Boston Globe called “If the shoe fits, they’ll copy it. Should the law protect fashion from knockoffs?” The article is about a Harvard Law School student, Jeannie Suk, who is pursuing copyright protection for American fashion designers against inexpensive knockoffs.
Like most rules, there are two sides. One side says we need fashion copyright laws to protect young independent designers from being copied by large fashion brands who have more money and mass-market distribution. And we need to protect large fashion houses, like Balenciaga, Trovota, and Alexander McQueen, who have been suing some of our favorite mass-market brands, like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and J. Crew, for copying their designs. With copyright laws in place, the fashion houses and independent designers would be protected better and their cases would be easier to defend.
The other side says the fashion copyright laws would make court cases more confusing. Since trends are usually started in high-fashion, it would get difficult for mass-market stores to sell trendy clothes without resembling what was on the runway. One local Boston designer even says having her designs copied is a flattering compliment and not something to be stopped by a law.
It’s an interesting dilemma. Music and art have copyright laws, so why not fashion copyright laws to protect designers? Would copyright laws be the end to trendy styles sold at Forever 21? Would copyright laws be effective in protecting independent designers and big fashion houses? What do you think?