The recent Freeman article Fashion Design and Copyright by Edward J. López is worth a read. Here’s a summary from The Lighthouse:
Fashion Design and Copyright
Should fashion designs be protected by copyright? Legislation introduced in Congress last August—the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act—would give designers three years of copyright protection against imitators, provided their designs meet defined standards of originality and novelty. Supporters may see the bill as a step toward fairness for designers, but they often overlook the contributions of design copyists in making fashion available to consumers, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Edward J. López, editor of the Institute’s path-breaking new book The Pursuit of Justice.
Designers who operate at the highest levels—those who create the haute couture modeled on the runways of New York, London, Milan, and Paris during Fashion Week—cater to elite connoisseurs who appreciate fashion at its most abstract. Beneath this echelon are the derivative designers and manufacturers who imitate the higher-level ideas and adapt them for clothing that people can relate to and wear. These design copyists also create something that the top-level designers do not create—short cuts in manufacturing and distribution that help reduce unit costs and thereby make fashion affordable to greater numbers of people, Lopez explains in the December 2010 issue of The Freeman.
The characterization of design copyists as parasites therefore ignores their productive contributions as adaptive-imitative entrepreneurs who make fashion relevant to all segments of society. Granting copyright protections to designers, López concludes, would undercut the useful institutions and practices the design industry has developed over many decades and thereby would harm the lower-level innovators and their customers in ways that most people do not fully appreciate.
“Fashion Design and Copyright,” by Edward J. López (The Freeman, 12/10)