Well, we knew it was coming. Today, Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, or Senate Bill S. 3728 (IDPPPA).
While it seems that NY academics, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) have signed off on this bill, I cannot find any indication that the people involved in the business of fashion, or fashion litigators were consulted.
From a review of the bill, I only see some small improvements over the last version:
- Home sewers are free to make copes of anything for personal use;
- The increased damages that were proposed under DPPA were stricken, leaving section 1323 unchanged;
- The Plaintiff will have to plead his or her case with particularity -- like a fraud cause of action now, for example. This implies that the Plaintiff will have the burden of proof on those elements, but we'll have to see how the courts interpret that language; and
- The drafters have tried to clarify what constitutes infringement. The new standard is "substantially identical," which means "an article of apparel" (which includes clothes, handbags and eyeglass frames and hats, among other things) "which is so similar in appearance as to likely be mistaken for the protected designs, and contains only those differences in construction or designing which are merely trivial." HUH?
Here are the confusing parts:
First, fashion designs will automatically be protected so designers don't have to register the designs with the copyright office, saving the designer a $35 fee. Interestingly, Counterfeit Chic is touting this point as a victory, but to me, how could one verify that a design is "new and unique" if there is no public database to search?
Also, most federal circuits require copyright registration as a pre-requisite to filing suit. In legal terms, this means a plaintiff does not have standing to file a claim unless they have a copyright registration. Is this bill trying to change that federal requirement?
Second, so many designers mistakenly believe that their creation is new. But almost all the design we see these days pull inspiration from the art of past designers. A great example is Diane Von Furstenberg and the wrap dress. She claims to have invented it, but fashion history students know that McCardell introduced a wrap dress in the 1940's.
Third, only an article that is "unique, distinguishable, non-trivial and non-utilitarian variation over prior designs for similar types of articles," qualify as a fashion design. As a member of the fashion community, I shrudder to think how a judge is going to decide THAT question.
In sum this propossed legislation ignore the realities of the business of fashion including the financial ramifications of such a law and would make judges the arbitrator of fashion.
For example, I see:
- a ton of litigation as the courts sort this out. Pleading with particularity is no game changer. It only adds an extra round of litigation costs. Added litigation costs will raise the price consumer pays for apparel, something definitely not needed right now because the cost of clothing will likely rise anyways due to increasing cotton and labor prices. Do we really need the consumer to bear more cost increases when our economy finally seems to be rebounding? OR
- No one will be able to create a "fashion design" that qualifies under IDPPA as written, making it needless and irrelevant.
So, while I wait to see how the rest of the industry reacts, I see this as a big win for lawyers and big companies with the resources to sue. For now, I stick to my previous position:
As a practicing fashion lawyer, litigator, former COO of apparel companies and the fourth generation of my family to work in fashion, law professors and politicians with no hands-on fashion industry experience should not be allowed to "fix" something that they have no practical knowledge of.
photo credit: CFA