Sunday, March 7, 2010

“If the shoe fits, they’ll copy it” - Christopher Muther

Copyright protection for fashion and the role of copyright in modern society

When shopping in Steve Madden, one can find copies of expensive Balenciaga shoes for only $60 (Muther, 2010). Making copies of designer items is prevalent throughout American fashion, such as some clothing found in stores like Forever 21 that is similar to clothing seen on runways; yet, certain designers and legislators are looking to change that and offer copy-right protection to designers. Senator Charles Schumer of New York is writing legislation that would give American fashion designers copy right protection, something European designers have had for 25 years. The belief behind the legislation is that other creations, such as art, books, film, and music, are copyrighted, so designs should be as well. Furthermore, copyright protection is purported to help up-and-coming designers as they lack the funds to sue those who make knock-off of their work. However, not all designers agree with the legislation (Muther).

Designer Daniela Corte believes that the legislation is unnecessary. She said, “Even if they copy and knock it off, it’s not going to have the same texture, it’s not going to have the same finished look, and it’s not going to have the same attention to detail. That’s what sets us apart. When people try on a well-made garment it feels different from something that’s been made in huge numbers” (Muther).

Furthermore, some question the concept of copyright in fashion, wondering if anyone can truly own a design. Fashion is something that relies on trends (Muther). For example, the wedge shoe is the big trend for spring 2010 and will be found in the collections of many designers, including Proenza Schouler, Christian Louboutin, Jessica Simpson, and Nine West (Allure, 2010). Copying trends has existed for hundreds of years. For example, in the 18th century, lower class women wore shorter heeled versions of the shoes upper class women wore (Payne, 2007). Stores worry that if the legislation gets passed, they could be sued for copyright infringement for following a trend (Muther). Moreover, much of fashion relies on the past. According to Kurt Courtney, manager of government relations for the American Association of Footwear and Apparel, “A lot of fashion involves taking elements of past things, putting something together, and then making something new out of it” (Muther). Thus, although wedge shoes this year may be slightly different from previous years, this is not the first year they are popular.

An issue behind the idea of copyrighting fashion is how copyright functions in modern society. With the Internet, people have access to information when they want it. For example, through Google Books, one can get 15 million books from any computer with Internet access (Cole, 2010). In a world with such access, it becomes increasing difficult to protect creators, as making replications is easy. Moreover, in such as world, people can now be inspired by ideas they never had access to, creating convergent, but separate creations, which makes the concept of ownership difficult.

Overall, fashion is an area where designers legally have few protections against knock-offs. Yet, in our modern technological world, the concepts of copyright and ownership are becoming more difficult to regulate. It is difficult for someone, especially in fashion, to create something unique. If a designer can build upon the work of previous designers, other should be allowed to build upon their work.

For update, see here


Allure. (2010). Stand Tall. March, 64.

Cole, T. (2010). Decimal Points: The impact of Google Books. News &Record .Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Muther, C. (2010). If the shoe fits, they’ll copy it. The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Payne, J. W. (2007) On Your Feet. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from

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