Intellectual Property Academy Awards Alert! Why You Might Be a Fashion Criminal


Say you don't have the dough to add the fashions you see at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony to your closet. If you buy knockoffs instead, are you shopping smart or stealing?

Today it's perfectly legal to copy whatever you see on the red carpet and sell it yourself. To some, such as  Diane Von Furstenberg, this sounds a lot like theft. The former German princess is one of the world's most successful fashion designers and she's teaming up with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to push a bill that would give designers a three-year monopoly on new creations.

The whole point of intellectual property is to spur innovation, and that, according to supporters, is exactly why the fashion industry needs such a bill. Without tougher protections, they say designers will have less incentive to create new looks.

But is the fashion industry really hurting for innovation? And are top-tier designers like Von Furstenberg really getting ripped off by bargain hunters? And even if they were, who's to say whose look is truly original?

Johanna Blakely of USC's Norman Lear Center worries that the relentless push for more intellectual property protection could lead to a situation where big design houses lawyer up and sue young designers. Designer Galina Sobolov, head designer and owner of Single by Galina Sobolov, agrees.

"If this bill was in effect as we grew our company, we would have faced probably millions of lawsuits," says Sobolov, whose designs have been worn by celebs such as Katy Perry and Rachel Hunter. "And we would have never actually had a company."

Approximately 6.30 minutes.

Written and Produced by Ted Balaker. Field Producer: Paul Detrick; Camera: Hawk Jensen, Alex Manning, Zach Weissmueller; Additional Photography: Dan Hayes.

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  1. teaming up with Senator Chuck Schumer

    Nothing good ever follows this phrase.

    1. I can make something good out of it!

      double teaming up with Senator Chuck Schumer

    2. You know who else teamed up with German aristocracy?

      1. Turkish aristocracy?

      2. Catherine the Great?

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  2. “Creations”? Like, uh, shirts and dresses? Spandex tights? I don’t compute.

  3. “The whole point of intellectual property is to spur innovation”

    That is the CLAIMED point of IP.

    Take a look at the stuff put out by those who question the value of IP for a different view.

    1. Eg:

      Linux, Apache, Firefox, Wikipedia…

  4. It seems to me you can draw a lot of parallels between fashion (of which I know relatively little) and music (of which I’m fairly knowledgeable). There’s a fine line between finding inspiration from another artist and ripping them off. Whenever anybody takes credit for a new look or sound, the odds are somebody can dig up another artist doing the same thing ten years earlier. It makes sense to me that you draw a bright line between things that are clearly identifiable (trademarks and words) and accept that more nebulous concepts (melodies and whatever their fashion analogs would be–broader ideas like jeggings?) can’t be claimed by any one artist.

    1. trademarks make sense because there is the potential for confusion – if I started a restaurant called McDonald’s that would potentially confuse the consumer; the space of names is a space that benefits from propertization. Ideas on the other hand, are a dime a dozen and there is no real benefit to propertizing that space, it’s the execution that actually counts and confers societal benefit.

  5. Why do all the proponents seem like self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, snobbish, slimy shitballs?

    1. Why? Because they are. The fashion world is full of such creatures. I watched (unwillingly) America’s Top Model (I think that is the title) last night, and what a bunch of slimers. And that was just the judges. Of course, they gravitate to one another, which is why Diane von Eurotrash teamed up with Chuck Schumer.

  6. From Wikipedia: In the United States, a design patent is a patent granted on the ornamental design of a functional item.

    Problem solved. Designers merely need to file for patents on ornamental designs they wish to add to function items (clothing). Of course, they have to prove to an examiner that the ornamentation has never before appeared in human clothing.

  7. The whole point of intellectual property is to spur innovation

    Incorrect. The whole “point” is to protect the rights of property owners. Innovation is a consequence, nothing more. The rights would exist regardless.

    1. The constitution disagrees with you:

      “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

      See that first clause?

      1. To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts

        I would argue the Diane Diller is not engaged in the progress of science nor can anything she designs be considered a part of the “useful” Arts.

    2. I think your categorical mistake is in believing that intellectual property is a “natural right”. It’s not. If I am on an island with you and see you make a net to catch fish, you do not naturally have the right to stop me from making my own net and using it to catch fish.…

      1. This thing about “natural rights” is a little vague.

        Taking your example — If I am on the island with you and see you make a net to catch a fish, what is stopping me from taking a rock, bashing your head in and taking your fish?

        1. Your morality and the understanding that doing so is a violation of the other person’s rights is what should stop you.

          The concept of natural rights is the central concept of a just system of law and one of the central concepts of morality. Just because you’re not familiar with it (and why it would prevent one from murdering another person) does not mean it’s “vague.”

          1. But that is exactly the point

            My morality may say that bashing the other person’s head and taking his fish is OK.

            It is the same as another person’s morality saying that copying another person’s idea when it has taken him/her time, effort and money is OK.

            What I am trying to say is that I am not too sure if a moral rights/natural rights argument for either pro or anti IP purposes works.

  8. Chuck Scumer is fighting for IP? Is this the same Chuck Scumer who was willing to shit on Bayer’s patent for Ciprofloxacin back in 2001 or “the terrorists and their anthrax would win”?

    Scumer is even more of a douchebag than I gave him credit for.

    1. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t concentrated in NYC.

  9. Boat hulls for Florida, gowns for New York and Los Angeles…can’t wait until litigation drives up the price of dear little Molly’s eight-dollar dress from Target while Mommy buys Us Weekly. Irony.

    The fashion industry: You bet we’ve got something personal against you!

    By the way, I’ve only seen a year or two or three of Project Runway, but (seemingly) once a year, there’s a rip-off episode where a designer either consciously or subconsciously rips off a design, passes it off as his/her own, and gets caught. When it’s brought up by the judges, it’s always like embarrassing and horrendous flatulence for all involved.

  10. Back up a sec. Last time I checked, the designers themselves didn’t sell their Oscar dresses. I thought they only made one design for the stars to wear. I’ve never seen an Oscar dress for sale from the designer after the Oscars (and yes, I’ve looked). I thought knock-offs were the only way one could obtain those dresses. Am I missing something?

    1. My understanding is that Oscar dresses are never production pieces, but pieces you have to basically special order from fashion houses. Other red carpet events feature much more production clothing.

  11. I have no idea what Project Runway is, but from your description I can’t imagine why you would subject yourself to three years of it.

    1. I have no excuse. The seasons were power watched, I think because it’d be on re-runs after Top Chef sometimes? Or something like that? Reality TV can be strangely addictive. Tim Gunn was also an interesting watch before he started writing manners and corporate instructive books. In addition, I did like watching the creative process of a talent I can’t even begin to fathom.

      1. *writing books about corporate leadership and manners.

      2. Project Runway is great! I’m disinterested in fashion but agree that watching the creative process is fascinating. Plus Tim Gunn is truly fabulous.

        I would imagine a law like this would kill shows like Project Runway and Launch My Line. Lifetime and Bravo wouldn’t want to deal with the potential liability of the contestants accidentally copying some major designer’s work.

        And what will fashion mags do when they can’t tell women how to recreate expensive looks for less? That’s like 1/3 of their content.

    1. Really, I can’t see what could possibly be wrong with mixing pink, red, Mardi Gras beads, and a rape whistle hanging on a rainbow cord.

      1. Does he really dress his elderly mother like that or did she dress herself? And what’s up with that haircut? It makes her look like a guy with boobs.

  12. I am sure Tony and Chad collect all the dresses.

  13. Not that it matters a great deal, but D. von F. is not and never has been a ‘former German princess.’ I think she was married at one time to a man whose ancestors were German princes, but to my knowledge there are no such creatures any more.

  14. Didn’t Diane V and Calvin Klein sue target for selling their products for much less than “designer” stores? And didn’t they lose then too?

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