I was alarmed to read your Aug. 15 editorial, “Fashion Copyrights Cut Creativity.” As president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a victim of fashion piracy, I strongly disagree that protecting fashion designs from knockoffs would harm America’s industry. Europe has provided protection for decades and its fashion industry is flourishing.
In legal terms, fashion designers are the poor relations of the creative world. Starving artists, struggling writers and independent filmmakers all at least own the rights to their work. Emerging designers, however, remain vulnerable to knockoff artists who can steal ideas straight off the runway and produce copies before the originals even reach stores. This can effectively put young designers out of business before they even have a chance.
The United States is the only world fashion leader that does not protect the intellectual property of its fashion designers. In Europe, designs qualify for up to 25 years of protection. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act pending before Congress would provide a minimal three years of design protection. Once enacted, this law would protect only unique and original designs, leaving absolutely everything already designed in the public domain and available to copy. This short-term protection offers support to creative designers while preserving the flow of trends and styles at the heart of fashion design.
Great American fashion design is available at every price point. Mass retailers, including Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney, are increasingly hiring designers to create collections for their stores. This protects designers while making fashion available at affordable prices to consumers. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act encourages this trend and seeks to balance the scales for us all.
Pirates, on the other hand, steal American designs, make low-quality copies in foreign factories with cheap labor and import them into the U.S. to compete with original designs. This is currently LEGAL under U.S. law. The lack of strong laws in the United States has made it a haven for piracy.
I want to thank California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Diane Watson, Daryl Issa and Mary Bono, among others, for supporting this important legislation. The unique California experience with copyright protection demonstrates that strong safeguards foster creativity. That is why Congress should enact the Design Piracy Prohibition Act.
Diane von Furstenberg is president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. to read more about The Times’ Blowback feature.