New fashion copyright bill will let big companies own public domain designs and bury young, indie designers in legal costs

Miss Jess sez, "The Design Piracy Prohibition Act is very, very scary to all of us in the apparel industry. There are millions of jobs at stake if this legislation passes, and this act is simply being pushed by a handful of wealthy celebrity designers who continually pirate the 'little guys' designs anyway. Basically, this act will kill my business along with thousands upon THOUSANDS of other small, medium and large design and manufacturing businesses around the US and the world if it is passed. It's a big deal!
Under this legislation, however, designers will need to consult with a lawyer throughout the design process to ensure that every new design created could not subjectively be found at a later date to be "closely and substantially similar" to one protected in the Copyright registry...

Further, young, up-and-coming designers would be susceptible to legal intimidation from designing anything new at all, as they would likely not have the resources to fight a legal challenge in court...

While the bill purports to keep all fashion designs that have existed in the past free and open for all to use, the legislation would allow the ability to copyright non-original design elements in the public domain if arranged in an original way.

Moreover, since there is no test for originality, the registry will begin to be populated with designs that from the public domain. Thus, a designer who draws upon inspiration from the public domain, can easily find himself/herself stuck in costly litigation.

Fashion-Incubator: a good idea while it lasted (Thanks, Miss Jess!)


  1. Yes, everyone knows that what fashion needs is protection from interpretation for the life of the author…

  2. WTF is up with this? Aren’t almost all short-sleeve shirts substantially similar? This copyright garbage is a runaway train. If we’re going to have it at all, it should be extremely narrowly defined, ie. several pages of a book or 30 seconds of a song that is *identical*. Obviously some judges might still be a smidge more in favour of the plaintiff, but at least you won’t get the next lawsuit I predict — Coke suing every small cola manufacturer (not Pepsi, though, as they could afford to fight back)

  3. Functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothing appeared first in Germany in the 13th century. – wiki

    Pay up!$!

    My great, great, great uncle was the first! Suckers, ca-ching!

  4. This kind of copyright abuse totally flies in the face of the original intent of copyright… encouraging innovation!

    I hope, eventually, the greedy will be out numbered and things will HAVE to change. Perhaps I’m dreaming. Either that, or we’ll all be shot on site for wearing, listening to or watching something without a clearly displayed LEGAL sticker.

  5. I can’t see how its going to work, are they going to copyright the cut? What if you have the same cut but you use a selection of textures and colours that make an item look totally different.
    This makes me want to zap some fashionista with force lightning.

  6. I’ve got a solution.

    Let’s just all dress like it’s the 1920s again. Don’t design new clothes with ’20s elements. Let’s just make exact copies of those public domain designs, so there is no question as to the legality. It would be so awesome to work in NYC where it looks like a classic movie. Also, it would be the return of cool hats!

    Maybe I should just dress like that.

  7. @WARN #5

    “This kind of copyright abuse totally flies in the face of the original intent of copyright… encouraging innovation!”

    That was never the original intent of copyright. Originally it was simply a monopoly granted by the king to those he favoured. The US constitution tried to en-noble it for the betterment of all, but for the last, what? quarter, half a century? it has slowly, but surely been returning to its true nature: monopolies craved for and granted to the powerful and favoured.

    Shit like this is just another turn of the screw.

  8. suits me, Big Fashion is like commercialized professional sports: we’d be better off without them. Go back to making your own for yourself.
    It’s all just the ultimate expression of envy anyway.

  9. This might work.

    The monopoly created will kill off little players.

    However the few big fish left will have to shell out money when the lawsuits about child labor, unionization, environmental damage, are directed at the people with the monopoly.

    Eventually the companies will fail, be bought out with gov’t money, standardizing the clothing to Mao suits, and the sci-fi future of spandex evil clad villains will be upon us, finally!

    Government sanctioned monopolies are the last desperate attempt to stay off the transformation of a country. They never work, creativity just goes elsewhere (China, S. America, Africa, Russia).

    What you are left with is a depression (expectations of how life could be, with the reality of how it is).

  10. @10 “If you feel strongly enough, contact your representatives in Congress:”

    Oh, yeah…that’ll work. Let’s see…Your donation to the campaign was $50 and (insert fashion house here_____) gave $10,000 and hosted an assfull of celebrity events.

    You’re better off grabbing your rifle and heading to the rooftops.

    As for me, I have little use for the vanity of fashion.

  11. #9 That was never the original intent of copyright. Originally it was simply a monopoly granted by the king to those he favoured.

    Wrong – Copyright was granted by city states looking to break the bake of guilds and free up technology for people to use. Corporate charters were the tools of kings to form monopolies.

  12. This is what passes for business innovation these days. As i’ve said before, the death of creativity in any endeavor is directly correlated to a high ratio of suits, lawyers and management to actual creatives.

  13. Just buy a bolt of cloth, wrap it around you, trim the excess with a pair of scissors and apply broaches where necessary. Relive the toga days of Rome. Less work involved, less labor to create, and less impact on the environment. Given automation and mechanization, no humans need even be involved in production, therefore no child labor laws, no underpaid sweatshop labor, no human rights issues. No designers, public domain since before Christ. Utopia!!!

  14. Actually, togas involved substantial tailoring- they weren’t simply a bolt of cloth. They had to be cut in a particular way so that they would drape properly, and so that they could be folded over the shoulder correctly. Then of course there were the various contributions of embroiderers and dyers, whose work was necessary to convey the status of the wearer (quality of cloth and ornament could be used to distinguish between plebeian and patrician classes, as well as represent subtler distinctions within each group).

    I like the idea of reverting to 1920s dress. Finally, an excuse to wear a straw boater while cycling.

  15. Thank you for bringing attention to this. Hope everyone also links to to keep up-to-date.

    Marguerite Swope

  16. “Go back to making your own for yourself.”

    Takuan, trust me, it wasn’t a pretty sight. If I get the wool, will you knit for me?

  17. I think that people like the comfort of burying their heads in the sand until the storm is over, rather than facing the reality of the situation. It seems to me that most designers don’t understand the consequences, or they feel the law won’t pass since it slept for several years. There are many designers who are all for the law. I guess they think that it won’t affect them.

    Once this becomes law, even the Toga will be copyrighted- and then what will you wear? Forget making your own clothes- the cost of patterns and fabrics will be prohibitive. Once again, only those who can afford to keep the gigantic DC wheel rolling will be able to afford to produce anything.

    Thank you for posting this information. The covert passing of the CPSIA showed me exactly how little DC listens to the real people anyway. It’s not an issue of Right or Left- it’s an issue of Right and Wrong, and how far this country has fallen from its “We, The People” roots. Now it’s more like “We, The People, Against Them”. What we need is more “People” and louder voices.

    Write your congresspeople, call them, have tea parties- do whatever it takes to get your voices heard. This is not a joke- it’s time to do something, take a stand. Help keep the USA alive and working.

  18. will this affect fashion design only or other areas of design as well? there are a lot of similarities between fashion design and industrial design, for example.

  19. My uncle, Henry Rosenfeld, owned one of the largest dress manufacturing companies in the US (498 7-th Avenue in New York’s Garment District) in the 1950s to 1970s. He had on staff, designers, pattern makers, showroom models, salesmen, …

    His dresses were every-day wear sold in stores from Macys to local dress stores. They cost in the $15-$40 range. His designs for these low cost dresses were one of his most valuable assets, and helped greatly in marketing.

    I don’t think he could have been competitive with legislation like this due to the cost of meeting its requirements, and the cost of litigation if the designs’ originality was challenged.

  20. It’s strange how the world seems to be leaning towards a habit of quashing creativity. One wonders how this will affect cultural development in the far future.

  21. Let’s see if I can explain this in a way non fashion people will understand. All clothing production is now open source. You can do anything you want with any configuration you want.

    The multimillionaires of the fashion industry want to copyright all design. This means if Levis gets the copyright for blue jeans any one who wants to make jeans will have to pay them a royalty. Most small jeans makers will just go out of business. The ones that remain will be forced to charge more for their products. This will combine to raise the cost of all jeans.

    All fashion, all clothing is copying. There really is nothing new in fashion, designers just keep rehashing the same ideas. The colors change, the details change, but it is all basically the same piece of clothing. Human bodies haven’t changed much for thousands of years.

    This law will put all the small makers out of business. All the home sewing pattern companies will go out of business. They are just copies of what the designers are showing, and that will not be legal anymore. Home sewing will be piracy, can’t have that. So there go the most of the sewing machine sales and local sewing stores. Might as well close the design schools, no need for new designers when everything is copyrighted.

    Who does this effect? Anyone who buys clothing. Expect your choices in clothing to get very small, and the price of those clothes to get very dear indeed. This is not just about fashion, it will effect t-shirts and tube socks, everything you wear will go up in price significantly.

    Keep clothing open source, oppose this law!!!

  22. One of the best things so far to come out of this is that it’s being vocally supported by one Diane Von Furstenburg, herself a copycat. Her latest foray into ripping someone off was to copy a jacket by a Canadian designer, which interestingly would fall outside of the jurisdiction of this law, should it be passed. That alone should put this sad bill to death, but then again she got a fat checkbook from what I hear.

  23. @28: Uh, this law doesn’t do those things at all. It needs to be reworked, but as seen recently in the case of Travota’s battle against Forever 21, some kind of protection on fashion design is definitely necessary.

  24. Please fight agaist this law. Ironically enough, the companies supporting this are the ones most likely to knock people off. You really think that a company producing 11 collections a year has that many origianl ideas? DVF herself was recently caught knocking off an independent Canadian designer.

    There is a big movement right now to buy local and support small businesses, this is the large corporations way to squash us, their competition.

    And after we small designers get put out of business so will our suppliers, sewers, patternmakers, and the boutiques that we sell to. Yeah, seems like a great thing to do in the middle of a recession!

  25. If I could (which I can’t, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t) find the money and time for legal aid to research every design’s registration that I might make a prototype for, would it be fair to say that I was the original designer for an adult bib product that ties behind the neck?

    Unlike Ms. Dione Van Furstenburg, I know this will be unfair to my customers and will result in the death of my industry.

  26. @ #30

    I think you are talking about trademark infringement where I, for example, knock off a Louis Vuitton bag, LV symbology and everything. That’s already illegal, no new laws needed, they just need to enforce the existing law.

    What this law will do is pave the way for large design houses like Diane von Furstorsecondwhosreallycountingenburgh, her attorneys, and patent trolls to kill what is left of the US fashion industry.

  27. history has shown that the big guys can not afford to fight the many… it brings down the big guys but does not put the little guys out of business.. the little guys do not have money LOL…
    The Wright brothers tried this as well as many others…
    they can’t fight a flood… too many knock offs… LOL

  28. This is ludicrous and unenforceable. You can already protect your pattern with copyright, and many do. Not even being able to enforce against containers full of blatant counterfeit trademarked goods, how can you possibly begin to even document “the appearance as a whole of an article of apparel, including its ornamentation,” ( Creators need vigorous copyright protections, not more misinformed confusion.

  29. I disagree with the alarmist argument that pattern companies and all small designers will be forced out of business. What the law will prevent is wholesale 100% carbon copying of an entire garment. From a design standpoint, this bill will hurt only the most supremely lazy apparel/accessories manufacturers, the ones who knock off a garment/handbag down to its last detail.

    I’m going to have to disagree with those that oppose this bill. The only thing that will result is that all clothing designers are going to have to be a little bit more clever and work a little bit harder regarding their “inspirations”. (OMG, how I hate that word.) After being in the apparel industry for over 10 years and witnessing my fair share of divas/Christian Soriano-clones, the only long term effect of this bill is the eventual eradication of the severely clueless, unimaginative, and just plain stupid designer. That’s not exactly a bad thing, IMHO.

    Should this bill pass, small independent designers should make sure to continue to copyright their designs. I think the fee is around $15 per application. Should DVF knock off your piece, and it’s that blatant and obvious, just take your case to a lawyer who can take a case on contingency. Sure the big ones are going to try to take the little guys to court, but that doesn’t mean a small designer can’t be thorn in the side of a Juicy Couture or Tommy Hilfiger in return. Consider the profit margins at these large corporate entities are pretty slim and lawsuits of these nature are a guaranteed generator for negative publicity. As it will cost them more to go after a little designer than vice versa, I see a regular flow of out of court settlements as long as the small designer has FILED A COPYRIGHT APPLICATION THAT WAS APPROVED and is on file with the Copyright office.

  30. To “none of your business”– you are simply wrong.

    And recall, the people who are fighting for this are idiots like that Narisco guy who THINKS he’s the first person ever to make a freaking slip dress.

    There is already copyright litigation involving clothing designs with respect to decorative elements– which are already copyrightable. That litigation is *extremely* expensive because unlike most other copyrighted things, the copyrightable elements consist of tiny variations from designs already in the public domain.

    And how do you identify functional elements? With respect to ready-to-wear, things like garment length are affected in part by the wearer. Even color has a function, in that certain colors or patterns look better on one wearer than another. And sure, patterns are expensive to develop, but what are you going to do, copyright the shape of the armhole? I kind of doubt there is room for much innovation there. And if a garment is completely identical, well, either you have a copyright claim for the decorative elements, or you are talking about something that should be in the public domain anyway.

    The bottom line is that the ability to copy in part is what drives fashion. Anyone in the fashion industry who doesn’t know this is an idiot.

  31. I thinkI can summarize this as, “software patents spreads to the design world”. Like an evil disease.

  32. News release from Reuters says exclusive designer Isabel Toledo (Michelle Obama wears her stuff) has come out against the DPPA. She says the bill is elitist and will devastate the truly independent designers starting out who don’t have any money. I am so gratified to know there are elite socialite designers who have compassion for their lesser known kindred who would be devastated by this law. Toledo also says this law would hurt consumers.

Comments are closed.