Schumer Bill Protects Fashion Designers

Susan Scafidi in Crain's New York Business, August 06, 2010

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The piracy prevention act will make copycat clothes illegal.

By Adrianne Pasquarelli


Attention copycats! Sen. Charles Schumer has introduced a new bill—the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act—to protect original fashion designs.

While prints, jewelry and special, unique elements in fashion had already held copyright protection, this new bill extends much farther. The bill was also negotiated with the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association. It will provide a three-year protection term to new and unique fashion designs. Copies that are identical to such protected work will be prohibited, though consumers will not be held legally responsible for accidental purchases. Additionally, a copy has to be very close before infringing, which allows more room for creativity amongst designers. The bill also protects the “do-it-yourself” crowd, who create clothing for their own use or for the use of a family member, from copyright infringement.

“Unregulated, high-end knock offs are hurting the integrity of this industry,” said Mr. Schumer in a statement, noting that overseas governments provide greater protections to their local designers. “My legislation will level the playing field with European designers and protect an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and pumps billions of dollars into the local economy.”

In New York City, there are more than 800 fashion companies employing 200,000 people. The industry generates $9.6 billion in total wages and tax revenues of $811 million, according to city estimates.

“America is the world fashion leader, and yet it is basically the only industrialized country that does not provide protection for fashion design,” said Steven Kolb, CFDA executive director, in a statement.

While the bill was in negotiation stages for a year, it has been in the works for much longer. Susan Scafidi, an intellectual property and fashion law professor at Fordham University School of Law, has devoted the last five years to putting the IDPPA together.

“The active ingredient in this bill is the deterrence factor,” said Ms. Scafidi. “Until now, copying has been standard operating procedure for certain apparel companies, who simply stalk fashion and trade shows looking for new designs.”

She noted that some companies have entire standard operating procedures of plagiarism. For example, the fashion industry is already abuzz about copycat designers planning to copy Chelsea Clinton's Vera Wang bridal gown from last weekend.

At recent Fashion Week shows, designers such as Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera have introduced greater elements of embellishment, such as adding appliqués, to make the clothing more unique and deter copycats. Meanwhile, Anna Sui, Diane von Furstenberg and Anthropologie have all levied copyright infringement lawsuits against fast fashion chain Forever 21, which is notorious for copycat practices.