Intellectual property and fashion

(via Nigel Jones) There is no better way to start the week than with some thought-provoking yet light TED talk. Johanna Blakley explains how the fashion industry has managed to survive without copyright protection.

The ideas in this video are refreshing and important, although it contains a couple of mistakes (open source DOES have copyright protection). You will also have to withstand that smug self-conscious monotone common to the true fashionista, but the result is a puzzling juxtaposition of style and good ideas (sort of like putting a woman from the cast of Sex and the City to give a lecture on copyright).

If you’re unwilling to watch the video, here is a very short synopsis. Fashion operates in a copyright-free environment where designers can copy each other all the time. Instead of an industry with no innovation, the opposite is true, where the top designers are always trying to find ways in which to stay ahead of their competitors, but also ahead of the knock-offs. What has happened is that while counterfeiting is rife, the top brands like Prada and Gucci do not bother too much, because in the words of someone from the industry, they discovered that the people who buy counterfeits would never buy a real Gucci. “They’re not our customers” they say.

My favourite bit is how the non-copyright creative industries out-sell the copyright creative industries by various orders of magnitude.

Some lessons to be learned by the traditional copyright industries? I think so. But also, the tech industry should take heed. Patents are currently proving to be more trouble than they’re worth, with everyone suing everyone else. This is an expensive toxic environment that stifles innovation.

Comments 4

  1. The flaw in the analogy is that the duplication of fashion goods (i.e. manufacture) is error-prone. The brands are selling high-quality manufacturing as well as high-quality design.

    For the copyright industries (including writing), there is no such quality control – a copy can be identical to the original, especially in the digital world (an area in which fashion simply doesn't play). So, if a high-quality item can be copied and distributed outside the control of the creator, there is far more damage than the fakes found in fashion.

    Interesting thoughts, though.

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