Every creative field has a strong and serious connection with the idea of copyright, which is the legal frame that allows one to create without having to worry that someone else will steal his or her idea, replicate it and then make money off it.
Interestingly enough, in the fashion world, the copyright idea does not apply, or it does apply in a way that it makes no sense to copyright a garment (for example, in Japan, the innovation standard is too high meaning that you have to invent something that does not resemble anything that exists and in the EU the standard is too low, meaning that if you change even an inch of an existing garment, you can copyright it). Seeing a jacket on a shelf in a store and then replicating it is not only legal, but something that is being done every day. The motivation behind this is that fashion is composed of clothes and clothing is considered to be utilitarian goods, which cannot be copyrighted. It is in this sense that other things such as cars, food recipes or haircuts (the latter two being sets of instructions) cannot be copyrighted. And, even more interestingly, if you look at the revenue figures of different industries and work fields, the fields that do no not practice copyright laws are the ones that are not only the most widespread, but also the ones that make the most money.
Back to fashion world, one needs to know that in the fashion industry there is no copyright protection and no patent protection (but wouldn’t it be cool if someone patented the collar or the sleeve?). However, there is such thing as trademark protection, which means that a brand may protect its name, logo and other elements in order to maintain its image and avoid the production of knock-offs, but which, in the end, are not bought by the same people who shop from high-end labels.
However, it also needs be stated that this “culture of copying” is what moves the fashion industry, as it allows it to create trends.
Basically what this means is that anyone can copy and sell any design, but they are not allowed to copy and sell a label and a name. Besides from the wish to brand themselves and to turn their brands in to symbols, some fashion brands place their logos all over their garments in order to make them harder to copy.
So, if one is not allowed to copy a label, which seems fair, but one is allowed to copy the product and to make it their own and the result is that the fashion industry is one of the most successful industries in the world, what does this mean? What can we learn from it?
One would expect that since there are no actual copyright laws in the fashion industry, designers and fashion creators might be bitter and unmotivated. What happens is the exact opposite: this free trade, if you want to call it this way, is a motivational factor for designers to create things that are not only unique and very interesting, but that have style, meaning that designers want to create clothes that have a look and feel that, when one sees it, they can automatically associate it with a brand and with a certain designer’s aesthetic – in a term: a signature look. And, in a way, this is what creativity is all about. When art is pushed to the limit, it becomes more interesting, more personal and more universal at the same time. Being able to sample for all their peers’ designs allows fashion designers to create new things that are their own. In a way, this is a great lesson for other creatives, such as film makers, painters, sculptors and others. In short lines, the lesson is that not obsessing over owning a creation and offering it to someone else for adaptation generates a whole chain of creative activities that will push the whole field further and, by extension, yourself as an artist.
Of course, copying something 100% and claiming it to be your own is theft and therefore immoral, but in a way, obsessing that someone will steal your garments that claim them to be their own can be more damaging than useful.
There are in a way actually many advantages that come from the fact that fashion is so easily copy-able: fashion becomes more and more democratic, meaning that you don’t have to have lots of money to have style, trends move faster and at a more global level, which is great news for fashionistos and fashionistas and, as we already discussed, the creative process becomes more sophisticated and more elevated faster than ever.
And, in a world where everything moves quickly and develops at an incredible state, shouldn’t art and creative cultural products develop and change at a very fast pace as well? This way, fashion is one of the few creative fields that, due to the fast rhythm in which it moves, is a great reflection of the world. And, in the end, shouldn’t one of art’s functions actually be to be a mirror of society that shows it through the artist’s sensibility and mind?
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. What do you think about the legal frame in which the fashion world exists? Do you think there should be harsher copyright laws attached to clothing and apparel items? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!