Design Piracy Debate Continues

The debate over whether a fashion design can be copyright protected continues with groups on both sides trying to secure additional provisions to bolster their positions. Earlier this month, a group of representatives from the fashion industry recently met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to discuss some of those provisions.

In a July 13 meeting with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), several members of the apparel industry from around the country met to voice their opinions about proposed Senate Bill 3728, known as the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.

The West Coast contingent included Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association; Lonnie Kane, president of Karen Kane Inc.; Steve Maiman, co-owner of Stony Apparel Corp.; Vera Campbell, president of KWDZ Manufacturing LLC; and Richard Reinis, an attorney with Steptoe Johnson LLP.

Also present were representatives of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, retailer JC Penney Inc. and the Footwear Distributors & Retailers Association.

Introduced by Schumer last year, SB 2728 (IDPPPA) seeks to extend copyright protection to fashion designs (An earlier version of the fashion copyright law, the Design Piracy Protection Act, was never enacted).

The proposed IDPPA has drawn a sharp divide between opponents, including the CFA, and proponents, including the CFDA and the AAFA.

During the July 13 meetings, several changes to the bill were proposed, including a requirement that designers who believe their work has been copied submit an explanation for the work’s originality and the date when he or she first created it. It was also suggested that only high-end and limited-quantity designs be protected. Protected design would need to be retail priced at $3,000 or higher and produced in quantities of 50 pieces or less. A third suggestion was to add a cap on the damages that could be awarded.

In the comments submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet by Kal Raustiala, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Christopher Sprigman, a law professor at the University of Virginia, the two argued that the fashion industry’s longstanding tradition of copying helps spread creativity and speeds the trend cycle.

“Copying of popular designs spreads those designs more quickly in the market and diffuses them to new customers who, often, could not afford to buy the original design,” the professors’ submitted testimony reads. “As new trends diffuse in this manner, they whet the appetite of consumers for the next round of new styles.”

Raustiala and Sprigman further argue that copying eventually “kills the trend by over-exposing it,” opening an opportunity for another trend to develop.

The discussion continued on July 15, when Lazarro Hernandez, co-designer of Proenzo Schoeler, testified in support of the proposed bill testified in support of it and Sprigman testified against it.

The AAFA was not a supporter of the IDPPA’s predecessor, the Design Piracy Protection Act, but the organization worked with lawmakers on several key issues and supports the new measure.

The AAFA and CFDA issued a joint statement following the hearings: quot;AAFA and CFDA continue to work with congressional stakeholders on the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act. The compromise we reached last year led by Sen. Schumer represents a well-balanced approach to the narrow issue of design piracy. Whether or not there are changes to the bill is subject to discussions between Sen. Schumer, Sen. Feinstein and other congressional stakeholders. AAFA and CFDA will continue to provide industry input as the legislative process continues.quot;

The CFA continues to oppose the IDPPA, arguing that “the concept of this piece of legislation would open the door for further restrictive regulation and expensive—and unnecessary—lawsuits.”