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In-house legal jobs need to know about fashion, now, apparently

Posted by: Laurence Simons 17/10/12

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has had about enough of these rip-off weddings dresses. He has had it up to here with cheap disco pants. Poorly made parachute trousers? Senator Chuck Schumer cannot stand them. He will not have another facsimiled pair of jorts fall apart on him. No, Sir. No Ma'am.

Basically, this: fashion designs are not currently eligible for copyright protection in the US. Chuck Schumer, representing New York City, wants to change that. He wants to change that thing. But a number of critics have questioned his plans after the latest iteration of a copyright reform, the Innovative Design Protection Act, was approved by a Senate Committee. That's step one of three on 'becoming a law'.

We have been wrapping our coldest bits in cloth since time immemorial, so it's surprising that Senator Schumer is choosing to push through what is basically 'copyright equal rights' in defence of the fashion industry now, in the future, in 2012. But as Fordham Law School's Susan Scafidi told Ars Technica, it's never been easier than it is right now to copy clothes - meaning designers are losing out. And with other artistic disciplines being protected under copyright law, the expert thinks it's time to balance the scale a little in favour of fashionable creators.

"Digital photographs from a runway show in New York or a red carpet in Los Angeles can be uploaded to the internet within minutes," Scafidi said. "The images [are then] viewed at a factory in China, and copies offered for sale online within days - months before the designer is able to deliver the original garments to stores."

But the implications of such a reform are two-fold: firstly, what if someone locks the plain white tee down tight? And secondly, what the heck will happen to Primark if it can't sell off very lightly altered high street and runway designs?

"The fashion cycle runs on copying," said University of Virgina law professor Chris Sprigman, speaking to Ars. "Copying is the fuel that makes it go. Absent copying, the fashion industry would be smaller. It would be poorer."

This year has already seen plenty of IP law slugfests between tech giants that sound a lot like 'Apple', 'Samsung' and 'Motorola'. And, basically, such fights do stifle creativity. If Apple argues that tapping the screen on a Motorola is akin to a zero-length swipe, then who is to stop Louboutin from copyrighting 'having two legs in a pair of trousers'. The house has already won a case last month to claim ownership of having the colour red on the bottom of its shoes. What next. What next.

It's not yet clear if and when the Schumer bill will go through, but if and when it does a number of fashion houses are going to have a sudden vacancy for in-house lawyer jobs or private practice firms that both specialise in IP law and know a good Capri pant when they see it.