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The fashion industry survives without copyright protection -- can the rest of us?

Nilay Patel
05.26.10
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I really dig this TED talk from USC's Johanna Blakely about how the lack of copyright and patent protection for clothing design has accelerated the creative pace of the fashion industry, and I think she nails it when she points out that digital technologies have collapsed copyright law's traditional distinction between ideas and tangible expression. It's become so easy to create, copy, remix, and share that those definitions don't really apply anymore. On the other hand, I don't think simply doing away with IP protections entirely is the answer. (I'm a lawyer, after all.) While I'm not saying fashion is easy, I would argue that it's easier for fashion designers to iterate and differentiate, and that the harm done to Gucci by ripoff handbags is much less damaging than the harm done to an author or musician by someone who copies their work -- unlike the Gucci bag, the customers for original books and music often are the same people who buy the fakes, and not everyone will seek out the original.

What's more, I often find that arguments against IP protections are often made very idealistically, where competition, remix, and creativity only produce happy results, but sometimes things get stolen simply because it's easy and cheap to make money that way, and IP laws provide protection against that sad reality. The real question, in my mind, is how best to balance those protections against creative freedoms, not whether we're protecting ideas or expressions. Anyway, it's a great presentation that everyone should watch -- check it after the break.







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