The ugly reality of intellectual property rights within the fashion industry.
Isn’t it heart-breaking that every designer entering the highly competitive fashion market has to come to terms with the fact that his work is likely to be copied and replicas sold for peanuts?
Balmain v Zara
Of course, there’s nothing extraordinary about this situation; designers all over the world have been feeding off each other’s ideas since ancient times. Italian designer Roberto Cavalli has been on an aggressive rampage against Michael Kors for years, accusing the American designer of being “the biggest copy designer in the world”. International fashion house Balmain may be a frequent target of knockoffs in Pakistan. However, Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousteing did send an all-white pantsuit with cutout panels that recalled Alexander McQueen’s 1997 couture collection for Givenchy. Christian Louboutin dragged the brands like YSL and Zara to court for incorporating his trademark red undersole in its collection. And Giorgio Armani famously accused Dolce & Gabanna of copying his quilted trouser design. The instances are endless.
As records have it, Zara, the giant clothing retailer of pret a porter currently holds the proud title of ‘Copycat Champion’ –both in ‘Design’ and the ‘Turnaround’ categories- within the fashion industry. Many of Zara’s collection pieces often mimic high-end fashion designs. The list of copied designers will be too long to mention – the latest collection is oddly reminiscent of Mr Self Portrait for example. With endless court cases filed against the retailer, Zara senior management don’t seem to be even bothered with explanations. It looks like Amanico Ortega, the owner has succeeded by making copycat his modus operandi, factoring in potential legal expenditure and copyright infringement in to the business model.
Gucci AW15 vs Mango knock off
Without doubt, the reasons why retailers are able to copy designs and get away with it again and again are the protections afforded to fashion designers. These are extremely limited and often difficult to prove. The copyright is normally extended to prints and logos, whereas ‘uncopyrightable’ elements such as shapes, patterns and aesthetics are being shamelessly used as inspiration AKA ‘stolen’. In this way, retailers like Zara can maintain a certain level of prestige in design because their clothing looks high-end without legally being a carbon copy.
However, even the prints –protected by copyright laws- are being routinely copied to the extent where plagiarism has become a norm. Social media sites, Pinterest in particular, serve as an infinite pool of ‘inspiration’ to those who seek to cut down on their design and production costs. Forever 21 is one prominent example. The brand has been sued and has settled claims over 50 times for stealing prints and designs from top designers. Since prints and textiles are copyrightable, Forever 21 has in many instances unquestionably breached the law.
Zara V Celine Fashion Knockoff
The company has come to regard copyright infringements as an unavoidable and overall profitable strategy for their business. In many cases, infringing on the copyright and settling the suit later is more cost-effective than licensing the design in the first place. Legal experts have noted that the company’s response in these cases is almost methodical: When Forever 21 settles a dispute over copying, it typically includes a non-admission of guilt, financial compensation to the designer whose work was copied, and a confidentiality agreement.
With giant retailers hunting constantly for new designs, no one can be safe from the plagiarism. And while certain designers have succeeded in clawing some of the losses back, the expenditure and the effort that goes in to each claim are hardly worth the money received from the settlement.
In this argument there is one factor that is almost always forgotten or left out of the equation – the customers simply don’t care. As long as they can purchase high-end looking garments for the fraction of the high-end price the trend will continue. No costly customer awareness campaigns or change of laws are capable of stopping the wheels of copycat production.