For nearly a decade, we’ve been quite critical of the claim by some in the fashion industry (and a few law professors) that we somehow need a special “fashion copyright.” We’ve covered in great detail why this is false. The whole point of copyright is to encourage greater innovation and output of creative works, and the fashion industry has that. It’s highly competitive, with many players and new creative works coming out all the time. In fact, studies have shown it’s this very lack of fashion copyright that makes the industry so innovative. That’s because of two key factors. First, without copyright, the copycat companies help make the real designers’ more valuable. By copying key designs and making cheap knockoffs, these copycats create the fashion trend, which creates an aspirational situation where more people want to buy the real version. Second, because of the lack of copyright, designers have to keep innovating and keep pushing out new designs, to stay ahead of the pack. It’s a perfect example of where the lack of copyright leads to greater output and greater creativity.
The only real argument for a fashion copyright, then, is because designers would like to be lazier. They don’t want competition and they don’t want to have to innovate at the same pace. But the point of copyright is not to make the lives of designers easier. It’s to benefit the public.
Yet, every year or so, a small group of law professors and designers, with the help of a few politicians (mainly Chuck Schumer, trying to help out some New York fashion designers) push forward with another attempt to pass the law. Lately, they’ve been focusing on the “evils” of “fast fashion” companies like Forever 21, who quickly push out knockoff fashions of famous designers at a much cheaper price. They talk about how this is making those famous designers “suffer.”
It turns out, that’s simply not true. In fact, the luxury sector, including high end fashion is experiencing a massive boom, with revenues up 13 to 23%. But you know who’s not doing so well? Low end retailers, who are having trouble in the recession. Supporters of the bill keep assuming that people buying the knockoffs are substituting them for the high end stuff, but there’s little evidence to support that at all. In fact, these numbers suggest the exact opposite. People who can afford the high end are happy to pay for it. People buying the knockoffs these days are having trouble affording even that, let alone the original designs.
So again, we’re wondering if anyone can explain what the reason is for any form of fashion copyright? It seems to make absolutely no sense at all.