What a thing to wake up to. Apparently the Design Piracy Prohibition Act is getting closer to being passed by United States Congress. The Act would extend protection to "the appearance as a whole of an article of apparel, including its ornamentation." It was introduced in 2006, kind of disappeared and now it's back and it looks as if it will become law. In effect, this will result in dire consequences for all independent fashion designers.
Miss Jess, an American independent designer tells Boing Boing that "Under this legislation designers will need to consult with a lawyer throughout the design process to ensure that every new design created could not subjectively be found at a later date to be 'closely and substantially similar' to one protected in the Copyright registry. Further, young, up-and-coming designers would be susceptible to legal intimidation from designing anything new at all, as they would likely not have the resources to fight a legal challenge in court."
And so it would become a part of the cost of doing business - in essence a killer of anyone trying to make it on their own.
Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator offers this plausible scenario:
Your name is getting out there, picking up more orders everyday and your accounts love you. Now that your fabric samples have arrived, you’re inspired and happily sketching your new styles. This is sure to be your best collection ever! So then you reach for the phone to schedule a slot to have your patterns and samples made. But on the other end, the pattern maker or sewing contractor refuses to work with you. Your heart sinks through the floor, why? You’ve got an established relationship, you’re a great customer with regular work and steady pay but still, no one will take your contracts. In fact, they’re shutting down themselves.
I don't know exactly who is behind this, but common sense and a healthy dose of cynicism tells me that some of the most powerful American designers have clandestinely banded together and used their influence (ie. loud talking wallets) to convince Congress to pass a bill that in effect benefits them and prevents independent designers from being able to create freely. I can't imagine every big American designer is backing this but I don't hear any of them opposing it, either. Do you? I may have missed something. I hope I did.
What twists the knife deeper is how it's these very people who are ripping off the independents in the first place - if anyone needs protection from having their work stolen outright it's the little guys. Diane von Furstenberg, anyone? And shockingly she happens to be one of the most vocal supporters of the bill. Sorry, Diane, you were a favourite of mine but you have no place on this blog anymore
Update #1:I was fired up when I wrote this and am now reconsidering. Not because she compensated the designer and admitted fault - this didn't matter to me at the time I wrote this; it is what should be done when you steal another's design. But I'll reserve judgement regarding the inclusion of certain designers on this blog pending how the outcome - should the bill pass - actually plays out.
As an end note, what passes as law in the U.S. tends to have global repercussions, so it's up to us supporters of independent fashion to watch what's happening in our respective countries and act accordingly should we notice the introduction of talk around similar, one-sided legislation threatening our vulnerable design talent. See the interview with Xuan-Thu Nguyen below - would we want to lose someone like her?
Update #1 continued (I know, this is getting confusing): A reader by the name of Ms. Shoo - an independent fashion designer - submitted a comment that presents the other side of the argument, which I'm glad for as I'm not a fashion designer and this surely isn't a one-sided issue. Please see her thoughtfully expressed argument and links below.
When composing this post earlier today I couldn't see anything in the writing of the act that appears to blatantly discriminate against independent fashion designers. However, I was heavily influenced by the interpretation of some who strongly feel that it does present serious implications for independent designers, as referenced above. They are angry, frustrated and frightened and surely they're not simply winding themselves up for kicks. But maybe their concerns are a hypothetical scenario rather than an absolute doomsday?
So now the question seems to be, is it possible that the original work of a designer can be protected by a law such as this without compromising the creative freedom of others?
Update #2: Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator responded to the comment that subdued me after my rant, and I feel a bit like a ping pong ball batted back and forth with great ferocity. I'm again thinking this is very, very bad, her arguments are too compelling to ignore. And I'd rather it not be true but I am soured on DvF. (Nevermind that she lost all credibility when she signed up for The City! Yeah, okay, I'll watch it I admit, but I can't believe she needs to do a show for cheap publicity or pick on the independents. Like The Fonz when he could no longer start a jukebox with a swift side-punch to the glass, she's lost her 'cool.')