I have a whole new respect for the fashion industry after viewing this brilliant TED talk from Johanna Blakely called “Lessons from fashion’s free culture.”
In a nutshell, Blakely’s argument is that an entire creative ecosystem and industry has developed around fashion because fashion cannot be copyright. Indeed, without the ability for one designer to copy (or be “inspired”) by the work of another, there would be no fashion industry as we know it today.
Under the law, fashion designs are exempt from copyright. You cannot copyright a design because lawmakers view clothing as a “utilitarian” product. The common good of clothing humanity overrode the rights of fashion designers to profit from their clothing. But because there is no copyright, designers have been able to freely elevate that utilitarian product (clothing) into something that is now considered art.
It is a compelling argument in support of copying as a model of ownership that encourages innovation as copying allows for the the free flow of ideas, and this free flow of ideas drives innovation. It forces those who are being copied to continually “up their game” and create unique designs. Copying forces innovation and creativity.
But this lack of copyright isn’t limited to fashion. Cars, food, furniture – these are all utilitarian items that cannot be controlled by copyright (which begs the question in my mind, when does something like a smartphone or computing device become a utilitarian device so that the silly litigation wars from Apple and Samsung?)