Good sentences about fashion and copying

by on February 7, 2013 at 7:43 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

The mass copying of a style is what creates a trend, and trends sell clothes today.  This is why many in the industry furiously protect their right to ripping each other off.  Two law professors, Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, have argued against the design piracy act on the grounds that the American apparel industry “may actually benefit” from copying, as it speeds up the creation and exhaustion of trends.

Note the clever assignment of the externality.  Rapid copying is needed for customers to develop the expectation that trends come and go rapidly, and thus to get customers to visit the store and buy today.  Yet no single business will invest enough on its own in creating these broader expectations, because the industry as a whole reaps the benefit.  The “copying game” induces the sellers to, in essence, act collusively to help establish these “hurry up and buy now” expectations.

The quotation is from Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, which I quite enjoyed reading, despite some glaring weaknesses when it comes to FDI, wages, and foreign development.  I now understand the affordable yet fashionable clothing stores in Tysons Corner Mall, and how they have changed over the last fifteen years, and I can thank this book for that.

anon February 7, 2013 at 8:10 am

I’m wondering what Yana says about this book.

Norman Pfyster February 7, 2013 at 9:11 am

Ah, but are trends a positive or negative externality?

john personna February 7, 2013 at 9:27 am

I see that Boldrin and Levine have published again on “The Case Against Patents.” Their argument seems a close parallel.

Bill February 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

Don’t be confused by this post: Dress design is largely unprotected by IP, other than if you incorporate a Trademark, say, in the purse clatch, etc.

In fact, the authors this post cite say exactly this:

“The orthodox justification for intellectual property is utilitarian. Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation. This orthodox justification is logically straightforward and well reflected in the law. Yet a significant empirical anomaly exists: the global fashion industry, which produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection. Copying is rampant as the orthodox account would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant. Few commentators have considered the status of fashion design in IP law. Those who have almost uniformly criticize the current legal regime for failing to protect apparel designs. But the fashion industry itself is surprisingly quiescent about copying. Firms take steps to protect the value of trademarks, but appear to accept appropriation of designs as a fact of life. This diffidence about copying stands in striking contrast to the heated condemnation of piracy and associated legislative and litigation campaigns in other creative industries.

Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected – and economically successful?….Part II advances an explanation for the piracy paradox that rests on two features: induced obsolescence and anchoring.”

Here is the link that was not provided in the post: http://www.virginialawreview.org/articles.php?article=124

Norman Pfyster February 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

But the link is talking about proposed legislation, not the current state of the law.

Bill February 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

If you read only what was posted here, you would not reach that conclusion. For example, from above,: “This is why many in the industry furiously protect their right to ripping each other off. Two law professors, Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, have argued against the design piracy act on the grounds that the American apparel industry….”

As I said, don’t get confused. If you think that dress design is protected and that IP is inhibiting innovation, get the facts: dress design is largely not IP protected.

dan1111 February 7, 2013 at 9:46 am

I am not sure what you are seeing in the post. I thought it was quite clear that clothing is not IP protected. That is what “many in the industry furiously protect their right to ripping each other off” means.

Bill February 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

dan, point taken on the first part of the sentence, but not on the last: “have argued against the design piracy act….”

Rich Berger February 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

I wasn’t confused – seemed clear to me.

IVV February 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

Induced obsolescence sounds like the best theory to me. Trends go stale. Being the trendsetter brings extra profits, and you can’t be the trendsetter if you aren’t copied, so it’s a net gain for the fashion industry.

Now, if someone were to invent a more capable clothing in a factor that results in a long-lasting gain for the consumer–more comfortable, cheaper and simpler care, etc., then we should expect to see more IP protection in those areas. We do. Innovations in better sports wear, for example, are definitely patented and copying is frowned upon.

Roy February 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

Is copying frowned upon? I sure don’t see that in outdoor clothing, I see rampant copying of every useful new feature.

Stanton February 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

The fashion industry faces very unique conditions when it comes to copying and imitation. In fact, contrary to what our intuition might tell us, the fashion cycle (and the turnover rate and sales) is propelled by copying. First-mover advantages seem to provide another layer of incentives for individuals to create and innovate, but Raustiala and Sprigman do not seem find evidence of this, which I think is strange…

wiki February 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

Does this mean Tyler makes a distinction between design (IP) innovation and material innovation (patent)? Or is he against all such laws? If the former, where do we draw the line between the two? Improvements in style should be copied but not materials innovation? What about an innovative stitching system that improves durability? Etc.

I hope for clarification

Doug M February 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Why does this seem obvious to me.

The fashion trendsetters put out a new style with the hope that it will be imitated. Their clientelle pay a premium to buy these clothes in hopes that they will be aknowledged as trendsetters. The imitators jump on board because that is what is selling. When the wave appears to be cresting, the trendsetters attempt to start a new trend.

john personna February 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

It’s easy by the beach, just figure out what color your t-shirt is supposed to be.

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