Piracy, Copying, Protection, Exploitation and acknowledgements

At a Create event in May focused on and the problems faced by independent designers in developing sustainable business models. Dr Nicola Searle and Siân Prime delivered two presentations on their research and support of fashion designers and the industry more broadly, both focused on Intellectual Property (IP), the potential IP has for encouraging innovation and the under-representation of women in protected IP.

Siân Prime focused on how few women had gained recognition for their innovation in the creative industries, and how IP regulations were not only difficult to apply to fashion, but also the costs (financial and time) associated with pursuing infringements meant that it was hard for independent designers who did not have access to finance outside their own generated income to access legal frameworks.

Dr Nicola Searle introduced the issues of copying and its impact on the fashion industry. She detailed the idea of trickle down, trickle across and trickle up copying, pointing to the difficulty of finding fashion items that do not borrow from prior fashions. She noted high-end design houses dictate fashion through starting a trend which confirms a design house’s success, creative capacity and ranking in the fashion hierarchy. With the designs displayed in catwalk shows and couture lines as loss-leaders that establish exclusivity while promoting the designer’s cheaper, higher margin lines. High Street chains’ designers are then are inspired and the copying confirms high-end design superiority and speeds up the fashion cycle by making designs peak in popularity more quickly. She also noted that the fashion industry ‘copies’ colours as it collectively decides the seasonal Pantone palette, and that fashion brands also copy street-styles.

While protection is important, Siân pointed to the ability to participate as an equal when asserting rights as essential, and research shows that there is a lack of recognition for female innovation in patents and design rights. In particular the diversity of contributors to the work is rarely acknowledged or rewarded under existing IP legislation. Existing IP regulations do not recognise the team who bring their craft to the work and interpret the design. Interesting examples of where craft has been absorbed in to designs are in Westwood’s collaboration with artisans from Burkina Faso and artists from Kenya where the financial return is key to the women involved in the manufacture of textiles and decoration, and some acknowledgement is given to them.

The complexity of acknowledging the skills and craft that inform new design is clear and yet central to ensuring that the market understands authorship of work.

Sian Prime & Nicola Searle