A tear in the fabric
Regarding the Sunday Calendar article “A close-knit community of designers” (“A Thread of Respect,” Nov. 21), are you kidding?! As a working member of Local 892, the Costume Designers Guild, I am appalled at the “woe is me” attitude of these “top tier designers.” Rank-and-file costume designers would trade their eyeteeth to make close to what these precious few have achieved. As a working television costume designer, I see how we constantly have to struggle to maintain the previous year’s salary, always worried the show could go to Canada, or be paid less because the studio is numbers-crunching. Parity among your peers is one thing, but having made it to the top, these men and women should try sharing the wealth with their “brothers and sisters” in the guild by passing on the lower-budget shows to other designers who need the work, truly creating a tight knit community
Peters is a costume designer for “Joan of Arcadia.”
Although the costume designers article made great points, a clarification needs to be made on the average salary of a studio-level designer. Only 10 out of 660 members of the guild make $9,000 per week. I represent approximately a dozen studio-level costume designers, and I think that this figure gives a better perspective on the state of the costume designer compared to a cinematographer or production designer.
Furie is president and CEO of Montana Artists Agency.
One of the reasons costume designers find it more difficult than other creative professionals to profit from their work is that clothing design is generally not protected by copyright. The creative contributions of a writer, director or cinematographer are independently copyrightable. Those artists, or their guilds, can grant producers a limited set of rights, retaining the ability to sue for infringement in federal court if the producers overstep their bounds.
Costume designers are hampered by the “useful article doctrine,” which withholds copyright protection from utilitarian works unless the artistic elements of a work can be identified separately from, and exist independently of, the utilitarian elements. This vague legal test has consistently been interpreted to deprive most clothing design, even period costumes with elaborate ornamental features, of copyright protection.
Without the fear of a copyright claim, producers do not have as much incentive to fairly compensate costume designers for their work, particularly in fields such as action figures.
Paul Karl Lukacs
Lukacs is an entertainment attorney in Century City.