The Folly of Trying to Own Fashion
Imagine if blues great B.B. King were able to prevent other artists from imitating his signature riffs, or Einstein's estate could prevent scientists from using E=MC2 without first getting permission or paying a royalty. The blues would languish as an art form. Theoretical physics would remain stuck in the 19th Century.
It sounds silly, but that's more or less what Senator Charles Schumer is proposing we do for clothing design – lock it up as private property. A few days ago, he announced legislation that would for the first time in history extend copyright protection to fashion. The bill may earn Senator Schumer some brownie points among the high-fashion businesses in New York City, but for the fashion industry as a whole – and for consumers – the idea is a disaster.
Copyright protection for clothing would shut down the robust competition and creativity that allows this great global industry to develop new ideas and trends. Big-name fashion houses could monopolize a design, and then sic their lawyers on competitors who dared to do what they have always done – produce "substantially similar" shirts, trousers and jackets.
Citing instances of "piracy" assembled by Council of Fashion Designers of America, Senator Schumer criticized the look-alike items of clothing as "stealing, plain and simple."
Actually, there's another name for such activity – a trend – and it is the economic heartbeat of the industry. Prohibit copying and derivations in fashion, and you are essentially outlawing the economic benefits of trends. Does it bear mentioning that fashion is based on trends?