From music tunes to movie scripts, smartphone manufacturers to artists and designers alike, the act of imitation is rarely seen as a form of flattery among the creative. While we can’t stop the imitators and their subconscious impulse to copy, the law can surely tighten up its screws to protect the originals – but where do the legal boundaries draw themselves between what’s inspired and copied?
Fashion has long enjoyed a trickle down effect in it’s trend adoption cycle – the styles popularly dictated on runways soon enough always find themselves on the racks of high street stores in some degree of imitation or another.
Copying in fashion is not a recent epidemic, it dates back to the 1700’s when couturiers in Paris created original designs and the industrial revolution enabled rapid reproduction at low costs. Fast fashion retailers copy, though with just the right amount of complexity to avoid legal problems. The UK Anti-Counterfeiting Group estimates that the fashion industry loses nearly 4% of its annual revenue to copies. Other sources suggest that fast-fashion copying costs the industry hundreds of millions of dollars annually in lost sales, especially as the quality of garments and accuracy of the copying increases and the turnaround time becomes impossible for designers to compete with.
Lessons In Legality
Copyright in India – The Copyright Act, 1957 protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and cinematograph films and sound recordings from unauthorized uses. Unlike the case with patents, copyright protects the expressions and not the ideas. There is no copyright protection for ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such. Post registration, this process takes anywhere from two to three months to reach a verdict and can often get rejected.
Media and entertainment lawyer, Adv. Niyati Shah realises a need for copyright protection in the Indian fashion industry where counterfeits run rampant, “A designer can claim copyright for their original artistic work, layout, prints, designs under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 as it will ensure that the owner of the copyright (the designer) can claim exclusivity and refrain others from any unauthorized use of their artworks. Alternatively, fashion designers also can register their works under the Designs Act, 2000. However, if one has already fallen prey to some imitations, they can proactively seize the counterfeit goods, seek damages and injunctions in the courts of law, and even imprisonment,” she said.
In India, the works of designers are often aped by smaller brands that are hidden within familiar e-commerce and social media haunts. Often times it’s the local fabric vendors themselves that immediately provide an array of machine embroidered iterations and printed copies from famous designers that are happily gobbled up by customers. “In such cases, designers lose the opportunity to gain goodwill and reputation or worse, imitators ride and trade on these designers’ goodwill. Credit attribution is one of the main pillars of the spirit of copyright law. Simple things like putting watermarks on your online content can, although not fully, go a long way in protecting your rights as a designer. Designers should also monitor the online and offline market, recording, reporting, and proactively taking enforcement actions,” advises Shah.
In a world where you either innovate or perish, copying seems to be safest bet. Copyists and fast fashion retailers threaten innovation in fashion. Today, with the rapid democratisation of fashion, innovation seems to be a far fetched idea. Maintaining recognisable position in a market place of imitation artists would involve providing an unmatched quality with the products sold – we’ve seen this ring true with luxury brands – these days it takes a genius to tell apart an original Louis Vuitton from a fake.
Copying brands may be tempting path for some and it’s not without risk. Brands that offer quality and consistent innovation can command strong market loyalty that could be difficult for copycats to achieve.