I’m very happy that James Surowiecki has used his bully pulpit in the annual
Style Issue of the New Yorker (perfect bound, with a Gucci ad on the outside
back cover) to take a
well-aimed potshot at the ridiculous (and counterproductive) idea that designers
should be able to copyright their clothes. Surowiecki convincingly explains
that when clothes are copied that’s good for the original designers,
I do, however, have one question about Surowiecki’s description of the extent
of the "problem," insofar as it’s a problem at all (it isn’t). He
paints a picture of knock-off artists scurrying to copy all the latest designs,
and even claims that "private-label designers for major department stores
trumpet the fidelity of their imitations."
This doesn’t ring true to me. After all, major department stores are precisely
where the high-priced originals tend to get sold: would they really hire people
whose job is to copy those high-priced originals as faithfully as possible –
and then allow those designers to "trumpet the fidelity of their imitations"
in public? That doesn’t sound like good business to me.
On the other hand, as Surowiecki notes, people in the fashion industry don’t
always act in a profit-maximizing way. If they did, they wouldn’t be supporting
this bill. And Condé Nast, which is a prime recipient of the fashion
industry’s billions, might not be so keen to risk angering its biggest advertisers
by publishing Surowiecki’s column.