Techdirt has had many posts pointing out that the huge and vibrant fashion industry is a perfect demonstration that you don’t need monopolies to succeed, and that bringing in copyright for clothes and accessories now would be positively harmful. One of the people who’s been making that point for years is Kal Raustiala (co-author of this month’s Techdirt book club choice, The Knockoff Economy). NPR Books has just posted a short interview with him that succinctly explains why copyright would be a disaster for the fashion industry. Here are a couple of the key points.
For a start, Raustiala explains why copying is so good for the fashion world:
fashion relies on trends, and trends rely on copying. So you can think of copying as a turbocharger that spins the fashion cycle faster, so things come into fashion faster, they go out of fashion faster, and that makes fashion designers want to come up with something new because we want something new.
That’s the familiar argument that copying helps to drive innovation. But copying does something even more important: it helps define what exactly is fashionable.
copying helps condense the market into something that consumers can understand, so people want to follow trends, they want to be able to dress in a way that’s in style; they have to understand that.
That is, without copying, the sense of what is fashionable right now would be diminished, leading to a fractured fashion market. By amplifying and clarifying trends, copying also widens the market for the season’s current fashions.
Raustiala makes an good point about why it’s unusual to apply for design patents — the obvious “protection” here:
it’s unusual to do that because, 1) it’s very expensive to get a patent, and 2) patents require a standard of novelty and originality that’s often hard to reach in the fashion industry, where many things are reworkings of previous things.
That’s a recognition that the fashion industry is a kind of commons, with designers continually drawing on and contributing back to that pool of creativity. It means that other fashion houses can then build on those common ideas, which results in more creativity, and more choices for consumers.
Exactly the same kind of borrowing takes place elsewhere, especially in the computer field. But instead of accepting that fact, companies like Apple and Samsung have opted for an all-or-nothing legal strategy that tries to enclose parts of the knowledge commons through the granting of temporary monopolies on ideas and designs. The result is a huge waste of time and money, whose chief outcome is likely to be less consumer choice as models are blocked or withdrawn. The contrast with the world of fashion is painful.