Jeanswest left feeling raw by G-Star

The NZ High Court is getting fashion conscious, ruling in favour of G-Star in a copyright infringement claim against Jeanswest. The denim giants fought it out over a pair of Jeanswest’s “Dean Biker Slim Straight” jeans, which G-Star claimed infringed its copyright in G-Star’s famous “Elwood Anniversary” jeans.

The High Court was asked to decide whether the copyright in the original drawings for G-Star’s “Elwood Anniversary” jeans (top) had been infringed by Jeanswest’s “Dean Biker Slim Straight” jeans (bottom).

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 Despite Jeanswest arguing that its “Dean Biker Slim Straight” jeans were independently developed, the High Court saw double denim. It found that there were too many similarities between the jeans for it to be mere coincidence; namely, the distinctive oval knee pads, stitching behind the knees, double stitching diagonally from the hip to the crotch on each leg and heel guards at the back of each leg.

G-Star was awarded damages for the nominal sum of $325 (equivalent to the number of “Dean Biker Slim Straight” jeans sold by Jeanswest), but that wasn’t the point.

What this case says, other than judges having an eye for design, is not to mess with big name brands. Having previously brought claims against other big name fashion houses, G-Star has a reputation for aggressively protecting its intellectual property rights.

It is important to note that if Jeanswest sold the “Dean Biker Slim Straight” jeans in Australia, it wouldn’t breach the Australian Copyright Act. In NZ, the Copyright Act is breached if a 3D object is copied from a 2D artistic work; however, such protection is not afforded under the Australian Copyright Act. Here, G-Star would only be protected if its “Elwood Anniversary” jeans were registered under the Designs Act.

Some tips for young players:

  1. Understand the local laws in each market you are entering.
  2. Keep records of all independent designs and creations, so you can argue against intellectual property infringement claims.
  3. Wearing double denim is only for the brave.