Tag Archives: copyright

Copyright or Copywrong?

A short video on copyright just came over my Twitter feed today which got me thinking about the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act (good god) or as it’s also known the Fashion Copyright Law. The video is below but first, a quick review of the status of the IDPPPA: In December 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill that would give copyright protection to clothing design. I read last month that it had finally arrived to the Senate for a vote but I don’t know if the vote has happened yet. I’m guessing not. While the CFDA and other institutions, agencies, and people of the fashion establishment are fighting hard to get this bill passed, there are a number of organizations, economists, lawyers, designers, and manufacturers who are opposed to it. They include Johanna Blakely whose TED talk, I believe, we posted on our Facebook wall. Blakely also wrote an article for The New Design Observer  called “The Costs of Ownership: Why Copyright Protection Will Hurt the Fashion Industry.” Also see TechDirt’s post “Yet Again, Evidence Of The Need For Fashion Copyright Is Totally And Completely Missing” and the countless articles about the booming luxury market (at a time when the copyright protections for fashion are very limited, mostly to logo trademarks). Here’s a recent one. Also, see Kal Raustiala and  Christopher Sprigman’s (a.k.a. the Freakonomics guys) testimony against the IDPPPA. Finally – though she doesn’t write about fashion copyright specifically, check out Martha Woodmansee’s fabulous work on the history and politics of copyright. Her book, The Author, Art, and the Market is brilliant.

The script can be found here: http://blog.cgpgrey.com/copyright-forever-less-one-day/

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Bloggers and the Politics of “Free” Labor

Depeche Mode once opined in “Blasephemous Rumors” that God’s got a sick sense of humor. I don’t know much about God, but it may be that the blogging gods have a funny kind of humor as well. Just as I promise to shift the blog onto the proverbial back burner and focus on my manuscript, out pops a slew of articles, posts, and debates I can’t help but post about!

Take, for instance, this post on IFB on the issue of digital content and copyright. In a nutshell, the discount shoe company Payless Shoes seems to have entered into a partnership with Chictopia for use of the outfit posts of their users in Payless shoewear. The question: who has the right to give permission to Payless Shoes for the use of these images? (A summer storm of props to Jenny of FFW for bringing this to my attention, by the way, via our Threadbared Facebook page.)

Because I’m still determined to be all about the manuscript this week, I’ll save my longer commentary for another time. For now, I do want to point out that Chictopia users’ ire about this partnership (from the comments, many are suggesting a boycott of Chictopia) is both understandable and misguided. As we’ve noted before, “free” Web 2.0 technologies are a complicated matter. In posts about The Fake Sartorialist, the digital wunderkind Tavi Gevinson, and pretty much all our posts listed under the category “Labor and the Creative Economy” and the tag “New Digital Work Order,” we’ve pointed out that the free exchange of visual and textual content that blogs and other social media technologies enable is both democratizing (the modes of knowledge and culture production are diffused across a wider swath of people – yay!) and capitalist (and thus exploitative – boo!) because the products that we produce and consume (digital content) are given voluntarily/freely. As such, bloggers and other digital laborers are providing (freely) FREE LABOR to entities like Chictopia as well as Facebook, MySpace, The Sartorialist, etc. who profit from that labor. (I realize that’s an incredibly long and probably run-on sentence but the manuscript beckons! (I love your run-ons, and I love making them into discrete sentences for you! — Mimi))

Chictopia users certainly have reason to gripe about this – it doesn’t feel good when our labors profit others (see Marx and the concept of “alienation”) but a boycott of Chictopia isn’t really the answer. As I said, Chictopia is not the only one that profits (materially or immaterially) from this free digital content. A more productive approach might be to insist on updating laws for the digital age that takes into account the changing relations of labor and capital. As one commenter called Unfunded rightly points out:

There is such a double standard between digital media and print media. Magazines inspire people and publish creative content and, holy crap guess what??, they get paid to do it! They receive daily shipments of a bunch of products from various merchants who hope to get their product featured. And I guarantee if Payless posted an article or editorial on their site that was originally published in a top magazine, with no credit back to that magazine, they would have hell to pay.

Copyright law is expanding for better and for worse and hopefully one day it’ll address the similarities and differences between digital and print media labor.

But before we all jump on the copyright bandwagon – let’s also consider how copyright protections are historically embedded in narrow ideas of what it means to be an author, an individual, and thus worthy of legal protection. See Martha Woodmansee’s work for more on this history and also my post on the politics of fake.

Oh, what the hell – here’s the Depeche Mode video too:

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Sonia Sotomayor: Fashion Police?

After only Day One completed of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice,* we’ve already heard some of the more predictable commendations and attacks about her. Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, a democrat from Vermont, began the hearings with a cautionary note (Let no one demean this extraordinary woman) that ranking Republican committee members like Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) disregarded (I will not vote for –no senator should vote for — an individual [who] allows their own personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court).

Throughout the rest of the hearings, we are also likely to hear about Sotomayor’s judicial record on capital punishment, affirmative action, abortion, and her civil rights work with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now known as LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

One bit of news about her judicial past that has been circulating in the fashion media but has not made its way into the mainstream is her work with the legal firm, Pavia & Harcourt, as a civil litigator for luxury fashion houses Fendi and Bulgari between 1984 and 1992. According to articles in WWD and Latina magazine, Sotomayor’s crackdown on the knockoff industry involved stakeouts “in the back of police vans with the windows blacked out” and dicey motorcycle pursuits “around Shea Stadium in an attempt to catch some criminals selling bootleg merchandise.” She also participated in rather theatrical protests like the 1986 “Fendi Crush” in which “phony Fendi bags were smashed by a garbage truck in front of Tavern on the Green as a message to those who sell and buy these fake goods.” Also finally, while at Pavia & Harcourt, Sotomayor drafted key anti-counterfeiting legislation that has since become part of the New York state penal code.

* If she is confirmed (as she should be!), Sotomayor will be the first Puerto Rican, first Latina, and only third woman to serve on the High Court.

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Copy Cats and Cheap Chic

We all know about the raft of allegations and lawsuits for intellectual copyright infringement aimed at Forever 21, Top Shop, H&M, and other discount retailers. (Fashionista regularly features sharp-eyed notes about the proliferation of such copies.) Because these retailers replicate print patterns, dress styles, et cetera, major designers claim cheap manufacturing and mass distribution degrades the “originality” of their creative output.

This is, of course, the rehearsal of what Walter Benjamin called “the aura” in his essay, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This “aura,” he argued, was first derived from art’s original value in religious ceremonies and rituals, and later from the Renaissance’s secularization of art as singular works of individual genius. This produced the notion of “art of art’s sake,” of art as transcendent and of the artist guided by a privileged insight into capital-T truth, in the 1800s, against the rapid industrialization and urbanization of “culture.”

We can see this at work in claims by major designers against Forever 21 and its cheap cohort of retailers. At the same time, major designers buying vintage and copying these pieces include Jill Stuart, Anna Sui, Jean Paul Gautier, and of course Marc Jacobs, who is seen browsing vintage stores in New York City for just this purpose in his new documentary. Some of these same designers are part of copyright lawsuits against Forever 21 and other discount retailers – and a few are finding themselves at the other end of such lawsuits.

Famed Belgian deconstructionist designer Martin Margiela was recently dinged for only slightly, –very, very slightly– modifying a copyrighted t-shirt design featuring an ominous sky full of thundering white horses and a barren mountain cliff. Reproduced on an asymmetrically draped and padded cotton shirt, and sold out at the designer’s Beverly Hills boutique, the almost exact image’s copyright belongs to British artist David Penfound, who sells reproduction rights to the painting for as much as one of Margiela’s shirts.

TOP: Margiela’s version from the S/S 08 collection, BOTTOM: Penfound’s original from a $20 t-shirt.

Margiela’s representatives say the graphic is a “collage of nostalgic images compiled in-house.” Nevermind for a moment that there is pretty much no “collage” effect at all in the copy. This invocation of nostalgia is telling because it suggests a fashion-backwardness, a temporal anomaly, brought forward into the future at the behest of the fashion-forward. This nostalgia for a certain set of images, however, is nonetheless contemporaneous; a particular aesthetic imagined to be still alive and, as many observers have noted, representative of a series of degraded cultural touchstones: “Midwestern gas station,” “trailer trash,” and “cheap and ugly souvenir.” (This chain of associations is no accident.) One fashion blog commentator wrote, “I picture the original on someone buying an extra-large order of nachos and a foot-long hot dog.“

These aesthetic judgments of the original design are called upon in both defenses and denunciations of Margiela. In the first, such judgments suggest that the original design was of such poor aesthetic quality that Margiela’s replication of the design only elevated something that was otherwise cultural detritus. Which is to say, Margiela’s transformation of the design (in the details and drape) can and should be regarded as the design’s alienation –not as isolation but as repudiation—of the original. In the second, such judgments argue that the original design is too ugly to redeem, too “cheesy” to rip off.

So what sort of aura is it when major designers copy cheap and derided –in no uncertain terms of economic and cultural capital— thrift store and vintage items? How are discourses of art and originality distributed unevenly, unequally, here? How do certain ideas about other peoples’ styles travel, and inform (or not!) the clothing options and choices for the consumers of these styles? How do these same ideas inform the clothing options and choices for consumers of these styles when they are “transformed” in other contexts – whether Urban Outfitters’s array of vintage reprints for the college crowd, or Martin Margiela’s vintage rip off for the wealthy?

Consider feminist media theorist Judith Williamson’s seminal essay, “No Woman Is an Island:” “It is currently ‘in’ for the young and well-fed to go around in torn rags, but not for tramps to do so. In other words, the appropriation of other people’s dress is fashionable provided it is perfectly clear that you are, in fact, different from whoever would normally wear such clothes.” Written in 1986, it seems this still applies.

Meanwhile, 55 year-old Swede, Göran Olofsson, has been compensated an unknown amount for the scarf that Marc Jacobs blatantly plagiarized for Louis Vuitton. The scarf had been designed and created by Olofsson’s father Gosta in the 1950s as part of a line of tourist souvenirs for the Swedish small town of Linsell, and the print on Jacob’s silk scarf was a near exact copy. (He replaced the name of the town with the tagline, “Marc Jacobs since 1984.”) (Mimi)

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Chloe Sees Red over Topshop’s Yellow Dress

Should there be any doubt as to which direction fashion’s democratic impulses flow, one need only consider See By Chloé’s recent legal victory over Topshop to know that our inalienable “right” to fashion (to paraphrase Sarah Jessica Parker) has its limits and certainly does not extend to Chloé’s yellow over-all dress (on sale now for $205 at Net-a-Porter.com, http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/19187) which they argue the British mass market retailer copied from their cruise collection (and sold for about $70).

For this misstep, Topshop agreed to pay the Paris house £12,000 (roughly $24,000) in damages and legal costs and destroy the remaining 2,000 dresses (744 dresses were already sold).

I have to admit that I find this a curious decision for an industry that is constantly recycling, referencing, reinscribing, and reworking fashions from other cultures, eras, and social groups.

I wonder how much the Harajuku street kids will get from their settlement against Gwen Stefani . . .

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