14 March 2016

What are the consequences of copycats?

The Issue

What are the consequences of copycats?

Modern fast fashion behemoths like Zara and H&M have built global empires by offering cheap copies of high-end fashion. But copycats are as old as the industry itself. Back in 1930, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel joined forces with rival designer Madeline Vionnet to sue copyist Suzanne Laneil, who was caught with 48 knockoffs.

A French court found Laneil guilty in a landmark case that recognised French design originals as “real works of art… entitled to the same protection accorded authors and copyright holders.” Yet legal protection for fashion design varies significantly in different countries — the US, for example, fashion designs are exempt from copyright protection— reflecting a complex reality.

Some say copycats dilute brand equity and damage sales, reducing incentives to innovate. Others argue that copycats are, in fact, healthy for the fashion industry, because they keep trend cycles turning. Because fashion lacks a constant stream of product innovation to render old items obsolete, copycats help to make once exclusive products feel passé, thereby generating demand for new items, so the argument goes.

Complicating matters, copycats have become faster and faster. When images of runway collections are shared across the Internet in close to realtime and factories churn out knockoffs in a matter of days, copies can hit the market before originals. What are the consequences of copycats?

Context
Opinions
Christopher Sprigman and Kal Raustiala Co-Authors, "The Knockoff Economy"

Op-Ed | Piracy Doesn’t Destroy the Incentive to Create, It Increases It

Copying has always existed in the fashion industry — and it has always fuelled new trends and designs, argue Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman.

Susan Scafidi Founder, the Fashion Law Institute

Op-Ed | Fashion Designers Deserve The Same Protection as Other Creatives

Copying is doing more damage to designers than ever before, but the legal system in many countries has yet to act, argues Susan Scafidi.

What's your opinion?