Coco Chanel once said, “Being copied is the ransom of success.” So when it comes to the hot button issue of design piracy, how is one to define what constitutes ‘copying’, and where do you draw the line?
Some intellectual property scholars believe that growth and creativity of the fashion industry actually depend on copying. When a new design is widely copied, fashion’s most powerful marketing force kicks in: the trend. Copying leads to trends, trends sell fashion – then it spreads down to the market. When consumers tire of a certain trend, fashion labels are pushed to reinvent – from which the fast cycle starts all over again.
The success of a fashion designer depends on how their creations command attention. However, when designs are quickly copied and show up first in the market, the power is lost. LAISON’s own original textile prints take months to develop, from inspiration to planning to production. It is an expensive and grueling creative process intrinsic to our brand. However, in this Digital Age where Instagram has replaced the catwalk as the place to look for fashion, keeping ahead of the game is almost impossible. The Internet has downgraded the moral responsibility we should really be attaching to creative expression by the sheer ease of copying someone else’s work.
In 2007, Diane Von Furstenberg sued Forever 21 five times for knocking off five different dresses. In spring of 2013, Alexander Wang’s collection was accused of copying Tufi Duek’s Spring 2011 collection. During the same year, Gucci also lost a four-year legal battle against Guess for allegedly duplicating its logo on a line of shoes.
Fashion copyright lawsuits are few and far between as it is quite difficult to enforce. How would courts decide if something as standard as a neckline or a hem is truly ‘original’? As a result, many ‘fast fashion’ retailers are able to run their business legally as precisely articulating what constitutes as copyright infringement is a big grey area.
At the end of the day, the issue of where you draw the line with copied content is a tricky space. True, we are always inspired by our surroundings. However, there is a difference between being inspired and straight-up copying. With social media increasingly democratizing the world of fashion, designers today must very carefully tread the thin fine line between inspiration, referencing and taking ownership of another person’s work.