What is Fashion Law?

Pablo Garcia

Fashion law is a specialized field that is rapidly growing and is beginning to be taught in law schools. It deals primarily with issues of intellectual property, copyright, and trademark law. International trade agreements, import and export laws, and customs regulations all play a part in the fashion industry. A fashion attorney may represent clothing manufacturers, retail chains, clothing designers, artists or models.

Accessories, like perfumes, can be subject to fashion laws.
Accessories, like perfumes, can be subject to fashion laws.

Intellectual property, copyright and trademark law are important aspects of fashion law for fashion designers. The manufacture and sale of counterfeit designer clothing and accessories is a huge problem worldwide and can cost designers millions of dollars. Designers often need legal advice on international agreements like the newly drafted Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement, signed by several countries, including the US. The Design Piracy Act, proposed US legislation, would strengthen copyright protections for the fashion industry, as well as increase penalties for the importation and sale of pirated goods.

Fashion law may come into play with designers and retail outlets.
Fashion law may come into play with designers and retail outlets.

Fashion law sometimes involves litigation between designers and retail outlets. These usually involve allegations by a designer of an original fashion that a retailer is selling clothing that is so similar as to constitute a copy or be confused with the original. An example of the global reach of fashion law disputes is the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club against a French clothing designer and Saks Fifth Avenue for allegedly using its “death’s head” insignia in fashion designs. Copyright and trademark disputes frequently involve perfume, cologne, jewelry, and other fashion accessories. Another legal issue in the fashion industry involves determining under what circumstances designer clothing and accessories can be “auctioned” on Internet sites.

Contractual negotiations between designers and the models who wear their designs in fashion shows are central to the fashion industry. Retailers may also contract with their own models for appearances in their catalogs. Fashion photographers and design artists also have legal interests to protect in the fashion industry. It is important for artists to ensure that copyright of their work is protected, and that they receive appropriate royalties.

Clothing manufactures have their own set of fashion law concerns. Manufacturers are subject to the applicable labor and safety laws in their country of manufacture. In the US, a fashion lawyer must be familiar with federal and state labor laws. Knowledge of import, export and tariff laws is also very important, as is awareness of any foreign trade agreements which allow apparel and textile manufacturers to enter and compete in the global marketplace.

A fashion attorney may represent artists and models, as well as retail and clothing design companies.
A fashion attorney may represent artists and models, as well as retail and clothing design companies.

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