Why The Copyright Infringement Law & Knock-off Culture Affects Fashion Sustainability

*image from Jezebel.com*

Although I am often the first person to be offended by the often egregious price tags on certain items being sold under specific brand names. I can certainly name more than a handful *ahemVETEMENTahem*. However, the blatant rip-offs and copyright infringement which seems to be getting more frequent every day is by no means justified by this idea (or my opinion).

A few days ago I heard of a pretty egregious case committed by Zara towards an independent artist/illustrator Tuesday Bassen , known for creating fun, original pins and patches of her illustrations.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.15.25 AM

*image from @tuesdaybassen instagram*

thefashionlaw.com has an excellent breakdown of this story, and states that “…Zara is looking past the fact that original illustrations are subject to copyright protection as soon as they are created and ‘fixed in a tangible medium’ in legal terms.” and that “in accordance with copyright law, the level of “originality” required for protection is rather low.” which basically invalidates the statements made by Zara’s legal team.

As bad as it is to copy the big fashion houses, ripping off a smaller artist is even less excusable. There is very little room to argue with a giant corporation or conglomerate or topursue litigation- often because of their deep pockets and a lack of resources on the part of the plaintiff. “…even to have a lawyer send a cease and desist letter to Zara has cost me $2,000 so far. I want to point out that most artists don’t even get this far. The ‘luxury’ of spending $2,000 for a lawyer to write a letter is something most artists cannot afford. This is for me and this is for every single artist that can’t do anything.” says Bassen of potentially initiating litigation against Zara.

Sure- maybe she’s not a fashion designer, but pins, patches and accessories are gaining ground within the fashion world- sold everywhere from tiny, local boutiques to ASOS, Urban Outfitters, Zara and other on-trend retailers.

Zara has also copied the work of other independent artists and designers such as Crywolf- a store here in Toronto I very much love and own multiple pieces from, as well as others from the list below. Take a look at this (likely incomplete) listing from @shoparttheft’s instagram:

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It’s not just Zara…

This is not the first time Zara has been accused of creative theft,  nor is the retail giant the only company to do so. Forever 21 is a big perpetrator having been sued on over 50 occasions, as is Urban Outfitters. More often than not these companies get away with it.

As another article on fashionlaw.com states “Much of what we see in fashion has already been done, so much so that many argue that nothing in fashion is really new anymore.” But there is a big difference between inspiration and outright stealing a design or idea and not compensating for it.

The lack of compensation proliferates several dangerous ideas; that big corporations can skirt or outright defy the law because of their size and popularity, that independent artists and designers don’t need or deserve to get paid for their hard work and that really, the consumer doesn’t care about where their goods come from, who made them or how it affects other people. As an artist, I find this offensive on many levels, just one of those being the lack of regard for the inspiration that artists bring to the world through their work and ideas.

Companies that legitimately hire and pay for artists and textile designers have to spend time and money developing their collections. It’s unfair that these Fast-Fashion giants can just steal whatever they want without waiting or paying or helping develop the careers of those involved and then tyrannically refuse to acknowledge the wrongfulness of their actions. This is just one of the ways that these retailers keep prices low and put new designs on the floor every month (or sooner). This is what fast-fashion is principally based on. The idea of getting clothes to you as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible- which would not be possible if they were not chiefly stealing ideas or knocking off designs. Putting in actual thought and work would take too much time; time they just don’t have.

By shopping at fast-fashion retailers like Zara, we are supporting an economy that devalues hard work and creativity and on some level a person’s right to be paid for their work. More frequently still, it devalues the things we own. We as fashion consumers have lost our ability to focus on originality or inspiration and on finding value where we once did because of the overabundance of cheap clothes. We have warped our own sense of beauty.  Buying a dress for 200$ often guarantees that it will be treated better and more carefully than the same dress bought for 20$. No matter how identical- the 20$ dress is seen as a throwaway. Easily replaceable and boring soon after purchase. Not only that, but we are far less likely to spend a little extra money on purchasing eco-friendly/sustainable goods because we’ve been trained to spend as little as possible on what we wear.

All this is a big part of what perpetuates the consumer-goods waste-cycle and negatively affects our lives and the environment- as I said, I strongly believe that the knock-off culture directly contributes to a lack of sustainability within the fashion industry. And this without even touching on the other

It is, as Bassen states disheartening, to say the least.

Further Reading:

Check out Tuesday Bassen’s Illustrations on her website http://tuesdaybassen.com/ and her instagram http://instagram.com/tuesdaybassen

Jezebel’s article  exploring forever 21 and their copyright scandals: http://jezebel.com/5822762/how-forever-21-keeps-getting-away-with-designer-knockoffs

SheFinds breakdown of suing for copyrightinfringements: http://www.shefinds.com/2014/what-happens-when-fashion-brands-sue-over-trademark-infringement/

Why Patent Holding Designs still get knocked off: http://fashionista.com/2013/12/why-fashion-designers-get-knocked-off-alexander-wang


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