For designers, the new battlefield for copyright infringement can be found on social media—not in the courtroom.
Social media websites make it possible for knockoffs and duplications to be on display like never before, but they also provide a means for designers to fight back. For smaller companies, the social media route is also more accessible—and far cheaper—than litigation.
Earlier this month, designer Phillip Lim posted side-by-side pictures of his original designs and images of products from retailer Topshop, which he alleged were copies. “This happens all the time,” he wrote on the post. “And the sad thing is there is no law that protects intellectual property in [the] fashion industry—but that doesn’t mean I can’t call it out.” He followed up that post with a similar one comparing a current line of Gucci tote bags to Lim’s fall 2014 line.
Lim isn’t alone. M2Malletier, the designer of a handbag line, took a similar approach in March when it displayed images of a CH by Carolina Herrera line of bags it claimed copied some of its distinctive features. “We are deeply shocked that @houseofherrera takes such an unfair advantage of our brand’s signature handle,” according to the post.
The experience of one small designer encapsulates the current trend. Aurora James, the founder of Brother Vellies, a luxury footwear line launched in 2013, was tipped off to a possible knockoff by social media users. Instead of directly contacting Steve Madden about the issue, James took to social media to propose that if the company wanted similar styles, it could move production to her workshop in Ethiopia.
“It’s not even about the money necessarily,” James told the Business of Fashion. “The revolution is not going to happen in the court system, it’s going to happen on the consumer level.”
Why it matters: Social media has changed the way companies communicate with consumers as well as with competitors, including setting the stage for confrontations over trademark and trade dress issues. Although social media can provide a convenient and inexpensive outlet for designers, it can also prove risky, opening them up to the possibility of a defamation or libel claim.