The Fashion Piracy Paradox

With regard to IP (intellectual property) in fashion comes a paper entitled: The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design written by Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman (UCLA and UV-Law respectively). The abstract reads in part:

Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation… 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…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.

Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected – and economically successful? The fashion industry is a puzzle for the orthodox justification for IP rights. This paper explores this puzzle. We argue that the fashion industry counter-intuitively operates within a low-IP equilibrium in which copying does not deter innovation and may actually promote it. We call this the “piracy paradox.” This paper offers a model explaining how the fashion industry’s piracy paradox works, and how copying functions as an important element of and perhaps even a necessary predicate to the industry’s swift cycle of innovation.

Following the abstract are links to downloads (free). Gleaned from the comments on Marginal Revolution.

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  1. Diane says:

    C’mon folks, it’s just clothing, not rocket science. Who invented the robe and sandals that Jesus wore? Should Birkenstock be paying royalities today? Was the linen a special weave and patented? Does anyone really care 2000 years later? In another 2000 years will it matter? So far it’s socially unacceptable to wander around naked but hey, with the next administration it might be politically correct. The really creative person is working on their next idea long before the current project is finished and they are cranked out day after day, year after year. If the designer sticks around then they pull out the archives and voila! everything old is new again. The person who wastes time worrying about being copied is a person with ONE idea. Certainly not a threat to anyone. Personally, I like the pirate look. Johnny Depp in poet shirts, tight pants and hoop earrings. Bring it on!

  2. Jeff says:

    This article was excellent and brought, for me, some clarity and insight as to how positioning goods are rather uniquely qualified for low-IP status. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?” Yes, and more.

    Diane: I heard being “cranked out” is bad for you.
    Are you going to meetings?

    Oh…you should see me in my “Depp” personae.

  3. marilyn says:

    Today’s (Sunday) New York Times Style magazine has several terrific articles on fashion and our culture. There’s an article on handbag designer Giuliana who has been designing in Venice since 1945. The article tells us she’s been knocked off over and over again. “When I was only doing bags, I found it particularly important to be always very well dressed, and so I became a cient of Chanel. Once in a fitting she saw me crying because someone had copied a bag which I had done exclusively for Neiman Marcus. ‘You must not cry now,’ Coco said. ‘You cry the day they don’t copy you.'” I thought you’d like to hear this perspective.

  4. SB says:

    “The really creative person is working on their next idea long before the current project is finished”

    This is so true. By the time we launch a new design/product, I’m tired of it and mentally on to the next thing.


  5. Kathleen says:

    My favorite IP quote is from Howard Aiken

    Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.

    Btw, in the 40’s, Howard Aiken invented a computer which came to be known as the The Harvard Mark IV, the data cruncher for the Manhatten project. The Harvard Mark IV later became “Big Blue” and was manufactured by IBM.

  6. Helene says:

    Coming from the position of a producer in the film industry (and new to the fashion/design industry), I have this to offer:
    During a Q&A session with young filmmakers expressing concern that their stories could be stolen by other producers/studios if they went out and pitched their ideas, Penny Marshall said, “If you have an idea that is good enough for anyone to bother taking, you’ll have another one.”
    In other words, don’t let paranoia stop you from taking the steps you need to take to move forward-
    This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take steps to protect your ideas (we register ideas at the Writers Guild of America), but then you have to let it go and move. No one can be truly creative while tied-up in knots worrying about being ripped off. If your great at what you are doing, you will continue to be great and the copycats will be left reproducing in your wake.

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