Fashion Week Reminds Us That Clothing Shouldn’t Be Copyrighted

While New York Fashion Week marches on, let’s take a moment to look at where the future of the fashion industry should and shouldn’t go.

Should: Into the world of 3D printing.

Shouldn’t: Into the world of harsher copyright protection.

Over the weekend, the 3D printing group Shapeways kicked off Fashion Week with the unveiling of a collaboratively designed 3D printed gown. The metallic creation, modeled by Dita Von Teese and designed by Francis Bitoni and Michael Schmidt (of Lady Gaga’s famous bubble dress), exhibited printing technology that suggests a fashion forward future of extraordinary creativity from within the industry.

That is, if Congress doesn’t pass a law applying copyright protection to clothing designs.

Currently, fashion is one of the best examples of an industry with low intellectual property protections, yet high creativity and ingenuity. But the Innovative Design Protection Act, introduced in the fall of 2012 by New York State Senator Chuck Schumer, would have suppressed this celebrated creativity by introducing strict copyright laws enforced through lawsuits. And let’s all agree that lawyers and fashion can often be a combination that, well, clashes. 

By giving clothing design owners the right to take legal action against competitors, successful large designers could sue small, new, lawyer-less designers out of business. The fashion industry relies on a constant stream of new faces in the design world bringing ideas to advance creatively each season. If new designers (like 3D printing engineers Shapeways) are pushed out of the competition, fashion will suffer.

Schumer’s Fashion Copyright Bill gained fast approval in the Senate when it was introduced this fall. Though the bill was not approved in the 112th Congress and thus must be reintroduced, its Congressional acceptance poses a threat to an innovative fashion industry. Another fashion copyright bill could appear in the 113th Congress, and with it, excessively repressive copyright laws on clothing.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama acknowledged that 3D printing “has the potential to revolutionize how we make almost everything.” A fashion copyright bill would inhibit truly revolutionary fashion, whether sewn or 3D printed. Let’s ensure that Fashion Week continues to be a celebration of the season’s innovative designs on the runway and not an ugly legal battle in the copyright office.

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