In the last ten years, the internet has incredibly changed the world we live in today; the fashion industry was no exception to this change. For the longest time, fashion was considered one of the most cut-throat and hardest industries to make it in. Fashion has always been one of the most secretive and closed-door industries, but that has changed with houses needing to keep up with the ever-changing, fast-paced market.
Unfortunately, the internet has also made it super easy for brands and people, with more influence and power, to rip-off the work of talented and lesser-known designers, passing it off as their own. It doesn’t help that in fashion, it is a gray area in which most designers do not protect their intellectual property, leading to designers’ ability to copy without consequence; however, the main problem that stems from all of this is that copyright has never been extended to fashion designs in the United States.
One of the more prominent cases in copying designs that rose to the public’s attention was Kylie Jenner, who stole the camo designs of New York-based indie streetwear shop, PluggedNYC. However, the lines of what can be constituted as “copying” are blurred due to the nature of camo, not mutually exclusive to the designer of PluggedNYC: Tizita Balemlay. For years before this, camo has been seen on celebrities and has been a popular part of style trends and culture. The designs of Balemlay have been seen on Jenner herself which did not help her case.
Balemlay points out that many of her pieces are unique because two-pieced camo designs have never been done before her. Whether she owns the rights to calling her designers her own is subject to debate, but it further addresses the problem of copyright laws in fashion.
Diet Prada has had enough of designers copying one another’s looks and stealing art, so they made an Instagram showcasing the side-by-side comparison to point them out for all to see, or as they identify themselves, “ppl knocking each other off lol.” But besides fashion, the account points out the climate of the current fashion culture such as cultural appropriation, and the lack of diversity in models that brands use.
The reason for their nearly 600,000 followers is due to the Internet widely becoming a place where people call each other out, but the Internet has also made people more conscious of their choices and becoming smarter consumers. Big designer brands often rip off smaller businesses to give off the illusion that they are spearheading creativity in fashion; however, the opposite is true.
By stealing and changing ideas in the slightest, the ability for smaller, less established designers to be as creative as possible is slim. After the emergence of people such as those behind Diet Prada pointing out the discrepancies, more and more fashion houses are becoming conscious of the backlash they could face, but many have not stopped, and continually rip off the work of smaller-designers with no credit.
In terms of copyrights for fashion, the laws protecting designs are nearly non-existent in the United States. Besides cases of Christian Louboutin suing brands who have red bottom shoes, many instances of copying have not been able to be legally settled. According to New Media Rights, “the courts have concluded that clothing is non-copyrightable for the exact same reason that those phrases are non-protectable, because clothing serves a utilitarian purpose.”
In the law’s eyes, clothing is not a creative concept that needs protecting. Jewelry, for example, does not serve a utilitarian purpose and since it is only for decoration, jewelry can be covered under copyright. Interestingly enough, some aspects of clothing can be copyrighted. If the portion of the clothing, when taken off the clothing independently meets the requirements to copyright, then that portion can be copyrighted.
Clothing can be protected under patent or trademark, but almost never meet the criteria to receive a patent. Design patents are the most used and friendly within the fashion industry, but it has to be definitively proved that the designs are completely new.
The only way for designers to protect themselves from being a victim of stolen designs is by filing for protection of their intellectual property, but many neglect it. It is incredibly worthwhile for designers to protect their designs, but most brands don’t see the point because the turn-around for items in fashion for a season is 6-12 months maximum.
Patents can take over two years, making many designers not want to invest the time and energy into something that has not had favorable results in the past. But within that time, clothes and bags have the potential to become an iconic part of a brand, and without protection, it allows others to rip off a part of a brand’s history and legacy.
The Internet has caused the fashion industry to become more susceptible to taking each others’ designs but it has made consumers more aware of the problem within the industry, and causing brands to face backlash when finding out that they stole ideas from smaller, lesser-known designers who don’t have the same opportunity or power that they do. Whether a smaller designer or a huge brand, the number one way to protect against copying ideas and designs is to file for intellectual property protection.
All in all, the Internet and this particular industry have clashed in ways that caused more damage than expected. The freshness of fashion has faded due to the freedom that the internet gives its users.