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Design Piracy Prohibition Act Reintroduced in Congress

Renata Espinosa
May 01st, 2009 @ 1:52 PM - New York

As anyone who has ever visited New York’s Canal Street knows, the sale of counterfeit designer goods is big business.

But design piracy doesn’t end with counterfeit goods, which are technically goods that are copies with a fake label. Currently U.S. law protects against counterfeit goods that use trademarked labels, but not against copies of specific designs without a label.

Some American designers are putting their foot down and with the support of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), are pushing for Congress to pass the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, first introduced in 2006 by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.

Last week, designers Jason Wu, Narciso Rodriguez, Maria Cornejo and Thakoon Panichgul – all of whom have been worn by First Lady Michelle Obama – traveled to Washington for one day to lobby Congress for support of the bill.

On April 30, 2009, the bill was officially reintroduced in U.S. House of Representatives by Goodlatte along with Representatives Bill Delahunt, R-Mass., and Jerrold Nadler, R-N.Y.

“Fashion design is a $350 billion American industry,” said Rep. Goodlatte. “It is the only growth area in apparel manufacturing. In addition to the jobs directly related to the manufacturing of apparel, it creates jobs in many sectors: printing, trucking, distribution, advertising, publicity, merchandising and retail. By protecting a designer’s original work, we are also protecting the many jobs that support that design.”

The bill would treat designs as a creative product, like original works of art, as opposed to clothing, which is considered a “useful article” and not eligible for copyright protection under current laws related to apparel. It would amend the Copyright Act to include a three-year term of protection for fashion designs. Trends, on the other hand, would not be restricted, as long as the designs in question are not infringements.

The bill would also create a searchable database of designs that have filed for protection, maintained by the U.S. Office of Copyrights, and impose fines on copyright violators.

According to a report released by the United States Customs and Border Protection, they seized $272.7 million in counterfeit and pirated goods in 2008, a 38 percent increase as opposed to 2007. Footwear, the top commodity seized, accounted for $103.3 million, or 38 percent of the total value of goods seized.

"American designers should be afforded the same protection that other creative industries like music and film are given,” said Steven Kolb, CFDA executive director, in a statement. “Original design ideas are as much intellectual property to a designer as lyrics and notes are to a musician. Without protection the very foundation of their business is at risk."

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