Why We Don't Need Fashion Police

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Over at The New Republic, Kal Raustiala explains why Manolo and Giorgio aren't fussed about knockoffs:

In short, copying drives the fashion cycle…The hunger for design distinctiveness drives fashion lovers back into Barneys, Bergdorfs, and the boutiques on a regular (and ever-quickening) basis…Fashion's paradoxical relationship to piracy could be written off as a minor aberration (though the apparel industry in the U.S. alone is a $100 billion enterprise). Yet it illustrates a larger point about intellectual property: that intellectual property protection is not necessarily a precondition for innovation.

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  1. Yet it illustrates a larger point about intellectual property: that intellectual property protection is not necessarily a precondition for innovation.

    That pretty much sums up how I feel about music sampling/remixing.

    Personally, I think designer knockoffs are a great thing, IF done correctly. (And that is a neccessary precondition). Because I’m cheap.

  2. …that intellectual property protection is not necessarily a precondition for innovation.

    If it were, most of the innovations in the 18th and 19th centuries wouldn’t have been made.

  3. huh. how bout that.

  4. Totally aside from haute couture bought as much (or more) for the label than the actual design, one might look at other areas of the clothing market where companies like Nike seem rather more concerned about knock-offs.

    Of course, you might wonder why The New Republic restricts this article to subscribers? Do you think they’d mind if Reason.com or anyone else mirrored it?

    I find it fascinating how most of the people who consider IP protection an outmoded concept mean it for every medium but their own.

  5. “…intellectual property protection is not necessarily a precondition for innovation.”

    Au contraire, I contend that IP is necessarily a hindrance to innovation. The compare/contrast between fashion and music serves as the unassailable proof of my thesis.

  6. –Totally aside from haute couture bought as much (or more) for the label than the actual design…

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. Sometimes if you need something with a particular style or fit you have to go to a higher end label. Suits are a good example. Most mass-market labels design suits for the average guy, i.e. someone 5’10” or taller and not particularly slim. If you happen to be a short, skinny guy like me and you don’t feel like wearing something boxy, your options tend to be limited unless you can fork over the money for a higher-end designer like Paul Smith.

  7. Since Eric mentioned it… I’ve substituted a passthrough link in the post above, so non-subscribers can read the piece now.

  8. BTW, sometimes the knockoffs can be more valuable than the originals. Especially, if the forgers have a horrible sense of spelling. Anybody can get a Playboy jacket but how many people have a Palyboy?

  9. That’s pretty interesting, but the music/fashion analogy is flawed. As smacky noted, sampling/remixing is as close as you can really come to a “knockoff” in the music industry, and I would completely agree that this serves largely the same function as in the fashion industry. After all, how many people bought that Dido CD after Eminem sampled it.

    Get back to me when Armani can spend a fortune conceiving, producing, marketing and distributing a shirt that can be obtained freely by everyone. Hell, all we need are replicators, right?

  10. Stretch
    My point is, that in the music (unlike the fashion) industry, IP is rigorously enforced. In this day of file sharing to an extreme, nay absurd degree. The result is that we have totally different business models that produce similarly crappy products. One the result of freedom and market forces, the other the result of regulation and collusion.

  11. Warren, I’m not really disagreeing with you. It’s as foolish to go after a guy who’s downloaded a file as it is to go after a guy who’s smoked a joint.

    It’s obvious that the major music industry will have to come up with a drastically new business model or perish. That said, even with DIY outfits, there has to be some protection. Using a local studio, I can create an album at a reasonable price, and through the internet I can market it cheaply and distribute it cheaply. But I’ll never be able to make a living off of it as long as it can be copied freely and without restriction. Even people who are willing and able to pay for a product won’t pay for it if they can get it for free.

    The bottom line is you’re not legally allowed to share certain files. If the free market works, then a company will use the new technology to get the product to consumers at a reduced price without necessarily sacrificing quality. But no matter how cheaply you do it, you can’t do it for free.

    Heck, maybe music in 50 years will be made only by those who do it in their spare time, and maybe they’ll make a little money from live events. I doubt that will produce more good music, and if it does, I doubt it will be heard on large.

    The world is changing, but intellectual property does have value. The law is very tricky in this area, and I hope that we come up with a good solution. Some may wish to give away their music freely, and some may wish to sell it. But for those who want to sell it, shouldn’t they be able to do that?

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