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© 2010 Elizabeth

Fashion and Copyright

Wonderful ideas come out of the Ted Talks. Inspiring speaches, eye opening explanations, heartening tales, and illuminating revelations are all presented by major minds in a variety of fields and taped to be shared with the rest of the world.   While I have several favorites, a new one has been brought to my attention that I have been thinking a lot about since I watched it.

Johanna Blakley presented a new argument for free culture as modeled by the fashion industry to a TedX talk at USC. My feelings on USC aside, I was fascinated by the implications that she drew from the fashion industry’s unprotected creative culture and other, protected industries.  I want you to watch the movie, but for the sake of this post, suffice it to say that, despite the lack of copyright and patent protection and blatant ripping off of others’ designs, the fashion industry is big money and designers are prospering.  So, maybe there should be less protection for other industries.  This is actually a bit of a personally interesting issue for me as someone who has been rather involved in a recent movement to increase the open dialogue of creativity and knowledge in the fashion industry.

You see, Blackly isn’t giving the whole story. This lack of copyright and patent protection, aside from gross overuse of trademarks in fashion designs, has also generated an incredibly secretive environment in the fashion industry. Since anything out there is open to being ripped off, any tricks of the trade that designers can keep to themselves tend to be carefully guarded secrets and smaller desigers that are in competition with larger houses and stores often fall into the trap of keeping their designs so close to the chest that few ever see what they are capable of. Yes, established designers and large chains have a positive cycle of riffing off of each other. But new, small designers have few resources and little chance of making it on their own. The argument that your competition isn’t really your competition doesn’t work when patterns are being reused within the same market bracket by more established designers.

And so we do have this level of secretive work that is harming the fashion industry in a time when so much is changing and there is little dialogue between designers as to how to change with it. What does the internet mean to a designer who is too scared to post their work in a digital store front? Not that I support this approach. The answer should be to make a webpage and start generating some attention. But who in the fashion community is going to tell them that?

This is where FashionCamp comes in. FashionCamp is a weekend long unconference that started last September at ITP. FashionCamp is an unconference inspired by the information sharing culture among coders and developers in barcamps. What the software community learned, and the fashion community needs to pick up on, is that the best work and ideas come from an open dialogue within the field. Attendees sign up to give talks, moderate discussions, and lead workshops for rest of the attendees during the barcamp. This way, the event becomes what the attendees want and feel a need for at the time. FashionCamp in New York has already had two official events (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010) and is spreading to new locations, including FashionCampLA, June 13th.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we have a lot to learn from the fasion industry. But I also think the fashion industry has a lot to learn from us.

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