Congress Considers Fashion's Copyrights

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacqueline Palank, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In a city where fake Kate Spade and Coach handbags are sold on street corners, members of Congress yesterday debated a House measure that aims to protect the $350 billion U.S. fashion industry from piracy.

Supporters say the bill especially will benefit young designers and small businesses, while opponents argue that innovation in fashion requires inspiration from other designs. Lawmakers expressed a desire to ensure that the U.S. fashion industry, centered in some of their home states, will thrive.

The bill's supporters said copyright protection is needed because of technological advancements that have allowed companies to issue knockoffs more quickly.

"Digital photographs from a runway show in New York or a red carpet in Los Angeles can be uploaded to the Internet within minutes, the images viewed at a factory in China, and copies offered for sale online within days - months before the designer is able to deliver the original garment to stores," said Susan Scafidi, associate professor of law at Southern Methodist University.

About two-thirds of the value of all counterfeit goods, which include apparel and handbags, seized between Oct.1, 2003, and Sept, 30, 2005, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection were from China, said spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger.

D.C. native and fashion designer Jeffrey Banks pointed to this year's Golden Globes, when an exact copy of "Desperate Housewives" actress Marcia Cross' coral dress designed by young New York fashion designer Marc Bouwer showed up days later at department stores across the nation.

While trademark law protects designer logos and patent law can apply to designs that have a pictorial, graphic or sculptural feature, clothing is generally considered a "useful article" and is not protected under copyright law, said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary courts, the Internet and intellectual property subcommittee.

A bill introduced in March by Rep. …