Fashion Law 101 | Fashion Design and Copyright Law

New York Fashion Week 2012 is only a few days away! While the public waits six months or more to see new designs at fashion week, copies from the runway are usually in retail stores before the fashion designer can take a bow! So, how does this happen?

Usually, original works of authorship would fall under copyright law. Fashion design is not a text, but it is the result of a person’s creativity and ingenuity that has been transformed from an idea to a tangible garment. Yet, the law states that clothes are necessary to ensure human modesty in public. Therefore, clothes are classified as a “useful article” and generally not protected under copyright law.

An exception exists “only if…such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from…the utilitarian aspects of the article.” For example, if a belt buckle was shaped like a skeleton key then the buckle must be identifiable as separate from the belt itself. So, consumers are not buying just another belt–but a belt that has a specific and identifiable feature–the belt buckle. Because of that critical distinction, the belt buckle’s design could possibly receive copyright protection.

In my next article, I will begin a 4-part series about the different fashion law issues that lurk beneath the glamour of New York Fashion Week. Welcome to Fashion Law 101!

Attorney Pamela Williams Kelly, Esq.

Legal Disclaimer: Fashion Law 101 is not intended to serve as legal or other advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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