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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fashion & Design Law: Stories the Students Collected

As part of their first week assignment, I asked the students to bring in stories about fashion law legal disputes that they found interesting. The variety of stories they chose reflect the diversity of topics that arise in fashion law.

Some students were interested the business aspects of fashion law, including what we should consider a “fair” business practice. For instance, students discussed trademark infringement claims against retailers that sell inexpensive imitations of designer clothes. Even when the courts found no trademark infringement, some students were concerned that such retailers were unfairly profiting by copying the creative work of others. Of course, what is fair or unfair can be a matter of perspective. While some of the students disagreed with this “free riding,” other students observed that these retailers service a different clientele from the upscale fashion boutiques. It was not clear to them, therefore, that the high-end designers suffered any loss of business. Nonetheless there seemed to be some consensus that the reputation of a luxury brand could be harmed by widely available low quality look-alikes.

Students also selected stories, such as the Gucci/Guess trademark dispute about the interlocking G’s and other Gucci trademarks. The Gucci/Guess dispute presents a good comparative law case study because the litigation led to different results in different countries. For instance, Gucci found success when it litigated in the United States. However, Italian courts were less sympathetic to Gucci, and decided in favor of Guess. Another case that was identified by students was the recent copyright litigation, Varsity Brands Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC, which addressed whether the stripes on cheerleading uniforms could be protected by copyright. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concluded that the stripes were “conceptually separable” from the utilitarian aspects of the cheerleading uniform. The Court rejected Star’s argument that the stripes on the uniform are utilitarian and that the uniform would not be recognized as a cheerleading uniform without the stripes.[1]

On the international human rights and employment side, a couple of students talked about child labor and sweatshops, and the relationship with our demand for low cost products. Finally, students made the connection between culture and fashion. For instance an indigenous group in Mexico objected to a French fashion designer basing her clothing designs on their cultural clothing. The Mexican group asserted that the actions of the French designer amounted to theft and cultural appropriation. There are other issues that we will discuss in Fashion & Design Law, but this represents a good sampling of the topics we will cover over the course of the semester.

[1] Varsity Brands, pp. 26-28

Posted by Jan OseiTutu on January 26, 2016 at 09:15 AM | Permalink


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