Why copyright is so important when it comes to fashion

Illustration by Lizzy Cox

H&M has withdrawn its recent lawsuit against graffiti artist Jason ‘Revok” Williams. H&M filed the lawsuit when Revok tried to gain compensation for his artwork, which H&M used in an advertisement without his permission. H&M argued that because the artwork was created illegally, he had no rights to it. After much outrage by both consumers and artists, H&M retracted the lawsuit.

“H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter what the medium,” read a tweet on the company’s account.

H&M claims they “respect” artists, but that just isn’t true. They, and other retail giants, blatantly disrespect creators and their rights repeatedly.  

Forever 21 is a prime example of this. According to Jezebel, Forever 21 has been sued more than 50 times for copyright infringement but has never lost a case in court. These companies steal ideas and art repeatedly because they are able to get away with it. Instead of licensing art in the first place, major companies pay settlements in court only when they’re caught. Urban Outfitters Inc. was subject to this just last year when they willfully used a copyright fabric design from a local company. They were challenged in court and lost the battle, which $530,000 fine.

Unless we vocalize and protest against these major fashion companies for stealing work and disregarding artists, they won’t stop. The copyright infringement stacked up against human rights violations and environmental damage these fashion companies commit may seem irrelevant, but they are important. Intellectual property is necessary for innovation and creativity and it’s time we extend it to the fashion industry.  

Law experts will argue such legislation is not required because the fashion industry works well today. They claim that by creating copyright laws in the fashion industry, it will drive up the prices of trendy clothes so only rich people will be able to buy them. However, this may not be the case. Susan Scafidi, head of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, says if a law of this nature were created, it would act as a deterrence for major fashion companies to hire more designers and invest in new material instead of copying work. This ultimately benefits designers, artists and subsequently consumers too. With more original products in the market, there would be more choices and variety resulting in lower costs.

It may seem daunting to go up against these major fashion companies, but it is possible. In the European Union, there is a legal framework for design protection. In France, fashion has full copyright protection. The fashion industry is enormous and continues to grow quickly alongside globalization. It’s time for the U.S to take a stance on copyright laws in the fashion industry, one that protects the ideas of creators and benefits society as well.


Amna Kayani, Contributing Writer

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