Law on fashion knockoffs not needed say experts

Mon Sep 13, 2010 1:47pm EDT
 
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By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawmakers are considering legislation intended to protect fashion designs from knockoffs, but some experts say the proposed rules could do more harm than good to the industry and consumers.

The proposed law, which has bipartisan support, would protect unique designs for three years. For a knockoff to be considered a copyright infringement, it must be so similar that it is likely to be mistaken for a protected design.

The legislation was introduced by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer last month after a 2007 bill to amend the Copyright Act for fashion designs was deemed too broad. Schumer's bill came after talks with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA, and the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

"It is not needed," Kal Raustiala, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said of the legislation. "It will probably cause more harm than good."

"The industry is actually working very well today, and there is no compelling reason to change," he said. "The point of copyright laws is to ensure that copying doesn't kill creativity. In fashion, we have long seen copying coexist with creativity. Indeed, copying often fosters creativity."

But Schumer said the legislation was needed because the U.S. fashion industry was being hurt by knockoffs and at a disadvantage compared with Europe, where laws protect registered designs for up to 25 years.

Fashion is the second-largest industry behind finance in New York, home to more than 800 fashion companies. The industry employs 175,000 people and generates some $10 billion in wages and $1.5 billion tax revenue, authorities say.

There is no copyright law in America that protects fashion. Anti-sweatshop laws affect labor, while this law would cover style and design.   Continued...

 
<p>A campaign slogan, 'I am original, I don't buy fake' is displayed on a counterfeit Louis Vuitton luxury handbag by French Customs officers before a destruction operation in Cannes, southeastern France September 28, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>