Legally Yours. Is It Legal to Copy Our Own Clothes?

September 21, 2010 • Fashion


Here's an interesting dilemma. We read almost weekly that chain stores like Forever 21 are being taken to court for copyright infringement by higher end fashion houses. Yet, when I lived in Asia, I knew a ton of people who went to parts of Thailand or Vietnam with their favorite trendy items from home in hopes that tailors would recreate them for a fraction of their original price. Now, is that copyright infringement as well? A journalist from The New York Times had the same question as she prepared to do just that on an upcoming trip to China. So she inquired on the legal as well as ethical issue, to the people who would know best—lawyers.

The lawyers she consulted, including Giacomo J. Corrado—a New York lawyer specializing in the fashion and luxury industry and an adjunct faculty member in the international trade and marketing department at the Fashion Institute of Technology—said the first point was whether or not the issue was within the jurisdiction of the American court system. Corrado said it would apply if the specific tailors one was using to recreate the designs were also promoting their services in the U.S. Yet, even of they were, its not illegal to simply copy someone else's design (ahem, Forever 21). “You are not subject to stricter rules than if you were operating as a firm," says said Kal Raustiala, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law and the university’s International Institute who has written for the Freakonomics blog on copyright law, including fashion copyright issues.

Copyrighting only comes into play when one is looking to duplicate specific copyrighted elements like fabric, patterns, designs or appliques that are legally owned by the original company. In other words, don't rip off the flower applique of a dress when you're backstage at Fashion Week and then ask someone to sew it onto your own dress. That's illegal. As for trademark issues, one would be at risk if they had the tailors copy the designer labels exactly, rip the label out of an old dress and put it into a replica or copy signature elements that were associated with the brand, like for instance, the LV logo.

Though these guidelines seem easy enough to follow, Congress has passed a legislation recently that would provide intellectual protection for fashion designs for three years from the time an item first appeared in public. But Susan Scafidi, a professor at the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University and an academic director there who helped create the legislation, says the legislation would only apply to people trying to copy designs in order to sell them, rather than for personal use. And anyway, Sacifidi noted, “The vast majority of clothes that people take to Hong Kong tailors to have copied would not be protected.They are part of the public domain, they pre-existed any kind of protection or they are fairly generic."

So there you have it—planning an overseas trip sometime soon? You may want to take advantage of the affordable labor and exquisite tailoring the region is known for. And now we know that we can, with these guidelines, make the safest and most ethical decisions. 

Article Source: The New York Times

Photo Source:

-Alia Rajput

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