In fashion, trends come and go as quickly as the seasons. Prints, slogans and silhouettes that are in style now could fade away in just a year. As a result, many clothing manufacturers and retailers are racing to push out products and capitalize on trends before their demand dwindles. Sometimes, this involves borrowing designs from the original creators, reproducing them, and branding them as their own.
Even though this is convenient, it raises questions about creativity, ethics, and the thin line between inspiration and imitation.
Does copyright apply to clothing?
Generally, useful articles such as clothing are not subject to copyright law. The functional aspects of clothing, including its cut and construction, typically do not qualify for copyright protection. However, copyright law may apply to the non-functional or artistic elements of clothing. For instance, creators can copyright unique and original elements such as patterns, prints, artwork and fabric designs.
If a content creator embroiders an original pattern onto a sweater, the design would be considered a piece of art deserving copyright protection.
Avoiding copyright infringement in your clothing designs
Businesses in the clothing industry should use extreme caution to avoid infringing on the rights of others. Finding inspiration is fine, but plagiarizing someone else’s work could land your company in court.
A known online fashion retailer notorious for releasing items just days after they trend is currently facing a copyright infringement lawsuit. Artists claim the company has repeatedly copied and sold their work, lowering its value. If proven guilty, the company could face serious penalties, including up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per offense.
Even if the business wins in its legal battle, it is never a good look for anyone to exploit the creativity of others. Generally, without the creator’s or owner’s permission, the following should be avoided while developing a new line of clothing:
- Graphic designs
- Character designs, including derivative artwork
- Online images
Copyright law can be daunting for clothing companies, and borrowing designs can lead to legal disputes. By investing in research, trend forecasting and a dedicated design team or artist collaborations, companies may produce unique and on-trend collections, dodging these legal pitfalls.