« April 2006 | Main | June 2006 »

May 31, 2006

Buy an Original, Win a Prize

We interrupt our series of jewelry posts at Counterfeit Chic to bring you this newsflash:

Geoffrey A. Fowler at the Wall Street Journal reports today that Disney is enlisting Chinese consumers "to help it weed out counterfeit products" -- by offering prizes to those who buy the real thing.  The genuine products include red hologram stickers, which customers can peel off, attach to a form, and send in to win prizes ranging from DVDs to trips to Disneyland (in Hong Kong).  Apparently, "[s]ome customers have even called the company to alert it to retailers selling [presumably fake] products without the stickers...."  At the same time, Disney is building a database of consumers lured by the promotion.

Love the technique or hate it, this may be Disney's most enticing vision since Walt's (allegedly) China white-induced dreams.

May 30, 2006

Counterfeit Antique Chic

If you were "as rich as Croesus," would you wear costume jewelry?

Apparently the original King Croesus preferred the real thing -- and would probably not have been pleased that an undisclosed number of objects representing his 6th century BCE reign have been stolen from a Turkish museum and replaced with fakes.  Among the missing items from the collection, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned to Turkey in 1993, is the winged seahorse broach at left. 

Counterfeit Chic asks, "What's the big deal?"  Or, to put it somewhat more eloquently, why does it matter whether an artifact under glass in a museum is the real thing or a virtually identical copy? 

Archaeologists or historians will plausibly argue that only the real thing -- whatever that thing happens to be -- can truly yield information about ancient creative techniques or be subjected to scientific tests to determine age, composition, etc.  But for most of us, an expert replica is equally informative.  Why, then, would we make a special trip to see an historic object but hardly glance at the version in the museum shop?

Alexander Stille takes on this question in his book, The Future of the Past, describing the common Chinese practice of making and displaying museum-quality copies of artifacts -- and the culture clashes that can ensue when Western curators refuse to accept these substitutes in traveling exhibits. 

The concept of "authenticity" is complex, evolving, and culturally determined.  For many of us, there is an intuitive preference for an original over a copy, even when we are objectively unable to tell the difference.  In the case of the golden broach, there is a qualitative difference between real gold and gold-colored metal, but in a museum display the properties of gold versus a substitute are irrelevant. 

At the end of the day, it is often the item's totemic value that matters -- the little winged seahorse has touched history, perhaps even adorned the body of a celebrated figure from the past.  Turkey wanted it back from the Met, and the Usak Archaeological Museum wants it back now, for much the same reason that people bid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the faux pearls previously owned by Jackie Kennedy. 

Reality may be relative, but it carries a high price.

May 29, 2006

A Girl's Best Friend (or Faux)

Caution:  Bad lawyer joke ahead.

Q.  What's the difference between a lawyer and a pit bull?

A.  Jewelry.

OK, back to the intellectual property & jewelry issue.  If copyright law is supposed to protect creative works, shouldn't fine jewelry and costume jewelry receive the same treatment?

Not so fast.  The answer is yes -- but it took a couple of lawsuits by storied costume jewelry manufactuers in the 1950s to make that clear.  In Trifari, Krussman & Fishel, Inc. v. Charel Co., 134 F. Supp. 551 (S.D.N.Y 1955), the defendant argued that the copied Trifari pieces were mere "junk jewelry" and not subject to copyright.  The court disagreed with the contention that costume jewelry could not be copyrighted, citing the applicable regulation listing "artistic jewelry" among protectable "works of art."  The opinion continued:

Costume jewelry may express the artistic conception of its 'author' no less than a painting or a statute....  Simply because it is a commonplace fashion accessory, not an expression of 'pure' or 'fine' art does not preclude a finding that plaintiff's copyrighted article is a 'work of art' within the meaning and intendment of the Act.

Although the court focused on the copyrightability of costume jewelry generally, rather than on the distinction between precious gems and paste suggested by the defendant, this opinion was the first to clarify the status of costume jewelry under U.S. law.  A few years later, another court reached the same conclusion in Boucher v. Du Boyes, Inc., 253 F.2d 948 (1958).  Faux jewelry may be more democratic than its "real" counterpart, but it is no less an art form.

In fact, while costume or travel jewelry often imitates more expensive pieces, sometimes the tables are turned.  In his artistic memoir, Faking It, Kenneth Jay Lane offers several anecdotes about wealthy admirers of his costume jewelry who have had it copied -- in precious stones.  Apparently no legal action ensued.

May 26, 2006

A Girl's Best Friend

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend -- but when the girl is also a jewelry designer, copyright law runs  a close second.

A recent raid on several companies in New York's Diamond District resulted in the seizure of over 100 items alleged to be "substantially similar" to designs by Judith Ripka.

Lucky for Judith that she doesn't design clothes.  Why?  Because while the Copyright Office considers clothing to useful and thus excluded from copyright protection, jewelry is more like a sculpture or work of art -- and therefore copyrightable.  (No need to slap on a logo and turn to trademark law for protection, like clothing or handbag designers do.)

In the landmark case of Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201 (1954), the Supreme Court traced this protection for 3-D works of art, including sculpture, back to 1870.  Later Copyright Office regulations cited by the Court specifically included "works of artistic craftsmanship, in so far as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned, such as artistic jewelry...." (emphasis added). 

Of course, adding an adjective like "artistic" to describe copyrightable jewelry was an open invitation to argue about what is considered artistic and what isn't (with some interesting social class implications along the way) -- but that's a post for another day. 

In the meantime, enjoy your -- or Judith Ripka's -- copyright-protected bling!

May 25, 2006

Denim Detective

Barbara KolsunIn today's WWD, Liza Casabona and Ross Tucker report on the shady world of counterfeit premium denim, with a feature on Seven for All Mankind's general counsel and anticounterfeiting crusader Barbara Kolsun.

Barbara, known as a "mentor in the market," has been successful in building relationships among the legal officers of various luxury brands and bringing them together to take collective action against copyists: 

"We're competitors in the marketplace, but compatriots in the fight against counterfeiting," Kolsun said. 

Interestingly, the general counsel of another company mentioned Barbara to Counterfeit Chic recently (with great admiration), and suggested that Barbara was one of the few industry lawyers willing to talk on the record about her company's battles against counterfeiters.  Most luxury brands, apparently, would rather that any press they receive be focused on more positive issues.  It's one thing to receive attention for the new "it" bag or philanthropic campaign, but quite another to be associated with fake goods and police raids. 

Still, Seven for All Mankind's cooperative approach appears to be having an effect -- and kudos to Barbara for making lawyers (not to mention multiple government agencies) play nicely together.

BTW, how do you tell a counterfeit pair of Sevens?  Well, if you're buying them from a table set up next to your subway stop, there's a good chance that they're fake.  WWD offers list of additional tips as well:

  1. Tapered stitching on both interior and exterior edges of the pocket?  Fake.  The real deal has tapered stitching only on the inside edge and parallel seams on the outside edge.
  2. Missing or generic rivets?  Fake -- Seven rivets (and other hardware) include the company name.
  3. Loose threads and other poor quality construction inside?  Probably fake.
  4. Logo on inside of waistband in wrong font?  Fake.
  5. "Made in China"?  Definitely fake -- Sevens are only produced in the U.S.
  6. Exterior hangtag with different paper quality, font, or twine attachment?  Fake.
  7. Zipper missing name-brand YKK logo?  Fake.

Some of these differences are subtle, but the true denim afficionado will go to great lengths to find the perfect jeans.  Counterfeit Chic's advice?  If you're hoping to score a bargain but unsure whether you're simply getting ripped off instead, bring along a real pair of your preferred brand for comparison -- and if you're still in doubt, CYA elsewhere.

Hat tip to Julie of Almost Girl and Coutorture  and Fashion Wire Daily (and tomorrow the world!).

May 24, 2006

It's All About the Clothes

Paul Noth, in The New Yorker, May 29, 2006, p. 47.

May 23, 2006

Valedictory Chic

In recognition of yesterday's graduation day at the Yale Law School, Counterfeit Chic would like to congratulate the fabulous ladies of ShangriLaw, as well as all of her former students.  The hallowed halls will surely be less stylish without you, but it is sincerely hoped that your influence will linger on like an expensive perfume.  And of course, the legal profession could use a makeover as well!

As the real intention of an alma mater is to impose alumni/ae obligations forevermore, here is your first task:  to find and eliminate all faux Yale merchandise (like the T-shirt pictured on Flickr, below).  Note that the offending garment already has prison bars imprinted on the front.  Unflattering fakes from competing New England institutions are, of course, fair game.

Counterfeit Chic also just spent a lovely semester at Georgetown and congratulates her wonderful D.C. graduates, as well. 

Hail and farewell!

May 22, 2006

Costume or Clothing?

In this week's Carnivale of Couture, the clever Style Graduate seeks examples of runway looks that could double as Halloween costumes.  Or carnival costumes, for that matter. 

This topic appears on its surface to be an innocent amusement, and perhaps a bit of a joke about the extreme fashions shown on the runway.  But beware -- it also poses a conundrum that could overload the fevered brains of copyright afficionados.

Last year, in Chosun Int'l., Inc. v. Chrisha Creations, Ltd., 413 F.3d 324 (2d Cir. 2005), Judge Guido Calabresi (former dean of the Yale Law School and my esteemed torts professor) addressed the question of whether Halloween costumes are subject to copyright protection.  In 1991, the Copyright Office had stated that neither costumes nor ordinary garments are protectable as a whole, since they are "useful articles," but costumes may also contain separable design elements that could be protected in the manner of artworks. 

While the lower court had thrown up its hands at the "incoherence" of such a policy and simply dismissed the copyright infringement claim, Guido sent the case back for a separability test -- asking the district court to decide, for example, whether the body portion of a costume was a useful article of clothing but the heads and tails were distinct elements that could be protected by copyright.  According to his decision, some elements of the costumes were at least in theory copyrightable.

So if a designer sends an outfit down the runway as part of a collection, but a blogger later decides that it is more suitable as a Halloween costume, are elements of the look copyrightable?  What if the look was never intended for production, but was a unique garment produced for the show?  And for that matter, what exactly does "useful" mean in the context of couture?  (Confusing?  Of course.  Legal minds are still scratching their heads over the meaning of usefulness, separability, and so on.) 

Halloween costumes can be scary.  In the world of Counterfeit Chic, the separability test in copyright is even scarier.

P.S.  My favorite candidate for runway-to-trick-or-treat fashion?  Yohji Yamamoto's 1998 wedding gown, a wonderful play on proportion as well as the relative significance of an actual bride in comparison with the social and cultural excesses of a white wedding.  Of course, it requires 4 men with bamboo poles to hold up the hat -- but what's a wedding without cute attendants?

Knockoff News 19

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

It's a sporting week at Counterfeit Chic, as the Knockoff News is filled with faux athletic goods and apparel from soccer (or football, if you please) to golf.  Major league baseball is no exception, with a report that Barry Bonds is not only continuing his allegedly steroid-fueled fight to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time career home runs list but also fighting against the sale of counterfeit memorabilia.

As the article notes:

Word of these challenges [to authenticity] in the close-knit collectibles market, combined with the allegations that Mr. Bonds took steroids, has put a damper on demand for his memorabilia -- even as he approaches one of baseball's most hallowed records. Some dealers say the market price for certain items he used in games has fallen by at least 50% this year. Doug Allen, president of Mastro Auctions in Burr Ridge, Ill., says one collector who paid $25,000 for a Bonds jersey in late 2001 recently sold it for $4,400.

$25,000 for a game-used Bonds jersey?  The real crime may not be the fakes out there, but the fact that a collector would be willing to pay that much for someone else's dirty laundry -- of which there is apparently plenty.

May 21, 2006

Iranian Fashion Police

Reports last week that a proposed Iranian law would require religious minorities to wear identifying badges reminiscent of the yellow stars worn by Jews under the Nazi regime were apparently false.

The actual draft legislation, however, is not exactly a cause for celebration.  Conservative members of parliament, seeking to halt the influence of Western fashion on urban Iranian women, have turned to cultural protectionism.  According to an Associated Press translation:

"In order to preserve and strengthen Iranian-Islamic culture and identity, consolidate and promote national clothing designs and guide the manufacturing and marketing of clothes, on the basis of domestic forms and designs, as well as to encourage the public to refrain from choosing and spending on foreign designs not appropriate to the Iranian culture and identity," the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry will form a committee made up of representatives from various ministries, the state media and the parliament culture committee to follow through this law.

In other words, no more headscarves slipping back to reveal -- gasp! -- hair; no more ankle-baring trousers, let alone jeans; no more coats tailored to suggest that somewhere underneath all that fabric might be an actual human form. 

Promoting local culture is a good thing, as is encouraging local industry.  In light of the existing restrictive dress code for women, however, these paeans to traditional culture and to emerging designers seem disingenuous.  Iranian consumers aren't buying the story, either:

In the modern metropolis of Tehran, many women were also on the defensive.

"They sugar-coat it at first, but they could move on to make everyone wear a certain outfit," said Manijeh Afzali, a 47-year-old resident of the city spotted while out shopping for clothes.

Her 20-year-old daughter was equally cynical: "I'm not sure about the patterns they are going to put out. They will probably be tacky and like villagers' clothes," she said.

There are plenty of Western trends that, as an aesthetic matter, probably shouldn't be copied.  (Legwarmers outside of a dance studio, etc.?  Why exactly would anyone pursue the illusion of having calves wider than her thighs?)  On the other hand, there are some appealing Middle Eastern uses of color and pattern.

But in this case, Iran's proposed deployment of the fashion police sounds more like an effort to silence women's freedom of expression -- a right that should always be in style.

May 19, 2006

Luxury Bricks & Clicks

In today's Wall Street Journal, Christina Passariello reports that luxury brands are finally warming up to the idea of direct sales on the internet, albeit a decade late.  Sure, eluxury.com and net-a-porter.com have been around for a while, but most high-end designer websites are useless merely artistic. 

Not only are brands like Dior, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta finally realizing that websites offer the possibility of big profits and low overhead costs, but they may also play a role in the war on counterfeits:

E-commerce sites could also help fashion houses combat what they see as a troubling phenomenon -- fakes sold over the Internet.  One of the reasons the Web has become a major venue for sales of counterfeit handbags, experts say, is that fashion houses weren't offering the originals online.  "The lack of availability directly from the brands could drive consumers to online auction places and other sites, where it is mch harder to verify whether the item is genuine or not," says James Lawson, director of London consulting company Ledbury Research. 

OK, the customer buying a $29.99 Birkin on eBay probably won't go for the real thing, but some shoppers might be willing to pay a bit extra to ensure authenticity and condition. 

So what's next, Nicolas Ghesquiere hawking Balenciaga on the Home Shopping Network?

One of Tomas' Picks at Bottega Veneta

Escape to Reality

Counterfeit Chic and her distinguished escort, Blingdom of God, emerged from their computers last night to drop by the festivities at the combined launch party for Coutorture and celebration of Verbal Croquis' winning the Perrier Bubbling Under Award for Design in the Gen Art competition.  Many congratulations to the remarkably energetic Julie & Phil of Coutorture and the fabulously talented Zoe of VC!

Not only was the event a wonderful opportunity to match faces with blogs (Fashion Tribes, Final Fashion, Stereoette, I Am Pretty NYC, Beauty News, and many more), but it seems that every young designer or design world affiliate has a knockoff story to tell.  Watch this space for details.

And don't even think about copying Zoe's award-winning collection.  There were at least 4 legal types at the party and, difficulties with the law aside, we've got her back.

Thanks to our gracious hosts, Julie & Phil!

May 18, 2006

Knockoff Nuptials

Ever since Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, Western brides have been opting for white wedding dresses -- and a vast industry is eager to oblige.  For the New York bride-to-be, and many others across the country, the epicenter of the bridal industrial complex is Kleinfeld's.  The wedding gown emporium recently moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, prompting the New York Times to take notice and send in "Critical Shopper" Alex Kuczynski. 

Within the satin- and lace-covered retail acreage, the proprieties must be observed.  Among these is a rule intended to foil would-be copyists masquerading as customers:

As a grandmother fumbled hopefully with a camera, the bridal consultant approached and put a hand on her arm.

"No pictures," she said, her smile settling into a thin line of reproach.

That's right.  "The use of cameras and the sketching of gowns is prohibited at Kleinfeld," reads a placard in each dressing room.  "This policy is strictly enforced."

In the world of bridal gowns, which, year in and year out are basically long and white-ish, individuality is key.  And no designer wants a one-of-a-kind sample copied by the tailor down the street, who would probably do it for a cost many multiples less.

Like other items of clothing, wedding dress designs are not protected by intellectual property law.  One designer did manage to find a loophole, however.  In Eve of Milady v. Impression Bridal, 957 F.Supp. 484 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), Judge Shira Scheindlin granted a prliminary injunction against an alleged copyist of the distinctive lace designs on certain bridal dresses.  The reason?  While clothes are not subject to copyright, fabric designs are considered protectable forms of writing, and the court found lace patterns to be a form of fabric design. 

All in all, a civilized dispute resolution -- surely more so than some of those likely to take place this Sunday at Kleinfeld's annual sample sale.

May 17, 2006

"Real" Espadrilles?

For several summers the humble peasant shoe known as the espadrille has been adorning the feet of the fashion flock, initially as a traditional flat shoe and more recently in ever higher, more fanciful, and more expensive versions. 

But at what point is an espadrille no longer an espadrille?

To start by giving credit where it's due, espadrilles apparently go back several centuries and are associated with the south of France and with Spain, especially Catalonia.  In their most basic form, they consist of woven rope soles sewn to a canvas upper.  Today many have rubber bottoms attached to the soles, but true purists eschew such modern innovations.

So what if we embellish and reshape them?

Cross them with flip-flops?

Sam & Libby espadrille

Turn the heel into a wedge?

Kors espadrille

Dip the whole thing into a turquoise dye bath?

Dior espadrille

Raise them to sky-high levels and invite cobbler extraordinaire Christian Louboutin to personalize them?

It seems that authentic peasant fashion, like cucina povera, has come a long way from its humble roots.  But the good news for longtime espadrille makers is that traditional or "artisanal" versions can cost more than five times as much as modernized copies -- though still orders of magnitude less than the "designer" versions.

So will whoever is wearing "real" espadrilles please stand up?  Or better yet, walk away and "borrow" a new trend?

May 16, 2006

Counterfeit Coffee Break

This afternoon, faced with a daunting stack of final papers and exams to grade, Counterfeit Chic slipped out to a local coffeeshop (which shall remain nameless) for a restorative cup of tea.  Naturally, I paused to consider the latest sugary temptations -- and did a double take.  There, displayed behind glass, were row upon row of chocolate cupcakes with a bold black-and-white label:  Faux Hostess.

As the survivor of a nutritionally strict childhood, I'm not much of an expert on branded snacks -- real or fake.  My esteemed colleague and spouse, however, has considerably more experience in this regard and offered his palate in the service of research.  According to his analysis, the copycake was visually a dead ringer for the Hostess original:  chocolate cake, shiny chocolate ganache icing, signature 7-loop white icing stripe, cream-filled interior.  More detailed examination revealed a superior taste (more intensely chocolate) and denser texture.  While he expressed a certain nostalgic longing for the cellophane wrapping around the original, not to mention the lower price, it seemed that the copy was actually a sweeter treat.

Back online, it quickly became apparent that my favorite caffeine merchant is not the only producer of contraband carbohydrates.  Recipes (and accompanying trademark disclaimers) abound, leading one to wonder:  what is the point of spending extra money and time in the kitchen to imitate an inexpensive, mass-produced, convenience food available from virtually any grocery store?

And are the superfake bakers likely to get burned by the Hostess legal department?

May 15, 2006

Knockoff News 18

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And on a strategic point, Counterfeit Chic has noticed a recent uptick in efforts to blacken the otherwise legal grey market by association with fakes.  (The grey market -- or gray market, if you prefer -- consists of legitmate goods authorized for sale in one market but instead exported for sale in another market to take advantage of differences in price (i.e. arbitrage) or other factors like local taste or exclusivity.  These "parallel imports" generally don't violate intellectual property law but may run afoul of contractual agreements with distributors or retailers.) 

With all of the current attention to knockoffs, it would be a coup for producers to blur the line between grey market goods, on the one hand, and counterfeits or stolen goods, on the other.  This would subject the operation of the grey market to greater scrutiny -- thus increasing producers' ability to engage in market differentiation while limiting the ability of the market to deliver goods to consumers. 

At the moment, Commonwealth countries seem to be most vocal -- last week, New Zealand, this week, the U.K. -- but stay tuned.

May 14, 2006

Flower Power

From Chanel camelias to Louis Vuitton cherry blossoms, flowers commonly adorn luxury goods -- real or fake.

But sometimes it's the authenticity of flowers themselves that is at issue.  Japan imports millions of carnations from China each year, with demand rising dramatically just prior to Mother's Day.  This year Japanese Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Shoichi Nakagawa announced an inquiry into whether Chinese flower growers are cultivating and shipping proprietary varieties of carnation without obtaining permission from their owners.

So if you forgot to send Mum flowers, you may have a ready-made excuse.

May 12, 2006

Big Brother is Watching You Get Dressed

Quick, take off your clothes!

According to privacy activists, your favorite jeans may actually be secret agents, tracking your every move.  Levi's has apparently been testing controversial radio frequency identification (RFID) technology on hangtags "on a few of our larger-volume core men's Levi's jeans styles" at at least one U.S. retail location.  RFID has broad potential for monitoring inventory, ascertaining authenticity, and many other things.  The problem is that it also has the potential to track an unsuspecting consumer's every move. 

Who knew that naturists would one day enjoy more privacy than the rest of us?

May 10, 2006

Counterfeit Travel Advisory

Dress carefully for your European vacation.

After a tourist from Shanghai was fined 50 euros and had his fake Adidas bag confiscated by French customs officials, Chinese travel agencies are warning tourists not to wear or carry fakes to Europe.  The French Embassy in Beijing has denied profiling on the basis of national origin -- but the land of Chanel and Louis Vuitton is serious about targeting consumers as well as producers and retailers of counterfeit goods.  (The maximum penalty is 300,000 euros and 3 years in prision.)

And you thought that snooty waiters were the toughest characters in Paris.

UPDATE:  Later reports indicate that, while the law is real, the Chinese story that sparked such a furor may itself have been fake

May 09, 2006

Knocked Off Knockoffs?

Apparently the global "fast fashion" giant H&M doesn't like being copied any more than its luxury siblings do. 

H&M has hired MarkMonitor to keep tabs on online auction sales of H&M counterfeits and grey market goods (legitimate H&M products sold through unauthorized channels):

"We suspected that our products were being sold illegally online and have not had the tools to track down and identify the perpetrators until we used Auction Monitoring," said Bjorn Norberg, General Counsel at H&M. "With MarkMonitor's solution, we can automate and more efficiently uncover the profile of those responsible and take immediate action to shut down their illegal auction listings. MarkMonitor will help us to better utilize internal resources by effectively scaling a previously time-consuming process, enhance the overall security of the company with in-depth monitoring of online fraud activities, and minimize revenue losses from counterfeit and gray market goods, so we can continue to provide quality fashion at the affordable prices that we are known for."

So on the one hand H&M is fighting counterfeiters, and on the other hand it's fighting the perception that some of its designs are themselves -- ahem -- less than original.  Of course, partnering with Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney to do one-time, immediately-sold-out special collections for H&M goes a long way toward establishing design street cred.  Now, about the rest of the clothes....  But then again, if H&M is being copied, it must be doing something right.

Hat tip to the aptly named Runway Scoop, a font of interesting fashion industry information and commentary. 

Copy-tomcats

Most of the copying at Counterfeit Chic involves women's clothing and accessories, or at least labels that outfit both men and women.  That's no surprise; for the last few hundred years, Western fashion (or at least wearing it) has been a girl thing.

A new ad campaign from Men's Wearhouse, however, specifically targets bargain shoppers of the putatively less fashionable gender. 

The tagline, "If you can't tell the difference, why pay for it?" is absolutely gender-brilliant.  It works at persuading men to shop -- rationally and intelligently -- while at the same time reinforcing their heterosexual male American "I-can't-tell-all-that-fashion-garbage-apart" machismo. 

A similar appeal to the fairer sex wouldn't be nearly as effective, as fashion-conscious women and girls are more likely to pride themselves  on being able to tell the difference between expensive and inexpensive versions of a similar item.  Even when a woman chooses the bargain style (the "steal" rather than the "splurge," in Marie Claire terms), the value of the copy is based in part on the ability to recognize the original and cleverly imitate the overall look.  In terms of social expectations, a woman who can't tell the difference needs to spend time studying, not shopping. 

Of course, the Men's Wearhouse isn't comparing a $3,000+ bespoke suit with its own bargain version; the differences are more like $495 v. $299.99.   Still, it takes balls to make sartorial cluelessness a virtue (esteemed readers excepted, of course!)

P.S.  I can't believe I just typed that, nor can my spouse -- final exam season takes its toll. 

May 07, 2006

Knockoff News 17

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And in a convoluted ethical move, conservative Christians' children are playing with American Girl knockoffs rather than the real dolls:

Mission City's doll brand, called A Life of Faith, looks like an American Girl knockoff, complete with historical theme, steep price ($100) and cultlike membership clubs (another $100). The Faith dolls have two enhancements, however: They can position their hands in a prayer pose, and they come equipped with mini Bibles.

For more background on the playroom politics, read on:

May 05, 2006

Designed Piracy

Did you ever wonder at what point in fashion history we decided to start using our chests as billboards?

There were tabards emblazoned with coats of arms in the Middle Ages, of course -- under all that armor, it probably helped to know who riding toward you on horseback with a lance.  But according to The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, it wasn't until the 20th century that the humble T-shirt became an expressive medium.  MGM used the T-shirt to promote The Wizard of Oz in 1939, and Thomas Dewey (the guy who "defeated" Truman, remember?) distributed T's during his 1948 campaign.  It took the multiplication of messages and identities in the 60's, though, to turn the T-shirt into the current quotidian hybrid of apparel and self-expression.

From an intellectual property perspective, the T-shirt is a good illustration of the doctrine of "conceptual separability."  This U.S. copyright principle basically says that you can protect the design on the surface of a functional item, but you can't protect the item itself.  In other words, you can copyright the picture on the front of your T-shirt, but not the T-shirt as a whole. 

Of course, some designers may be philosophically opposed to protection.  Check out this design:

And remember back to 1999 and the DeCSS T-shirts, which were imprinted with source code for de-scrambling DVDs to make a point about free speech -- and thus became part of several trade secret lawsuits?

Perhaps the next step is to take a page out of Abbie Hoffman's book and print "Copy this T-shirt!" T-shirts. 

May 04, 2006

Crocs Snap at Competitors' Heels

What is it about crocodiles and fashion wars?

For years, Lacoste and Crocodile International have been battling over their respective croc logos.

Now, Crocs, the latest so-ugly-they're-cool comfort shoe company, is suing 11 competitors who have copied its perforated, slingback clog design.  The colorful shoes, molded from a proprietary resin that boasts of being everything from non-slip to bacteria-resistant, were originally marketed as a boating/outdoor shoe and are now being worn by everyone from trendy teenagers to their grandparents

Naturally, imitation follows success -- but Crocs was prepared, having applied for a number of utility and design patents, four of which issued in February and March (check out the drawing from patent no. D517,789 below).  The market must love a good crocfight -- it responded positively to news of the lawsuits, which claim trade dress as well as patent infringement. 

Now we'll just wait and see whether the claims have any teeth.

May 02, 2006

Knockoff News 16

A weekly (or thereabouts) collection of news about counterfeits, fakes, knockoffs, replicas, imitations, and the culture of copying in general around the globe:

And in case you've been wondering about  the sources of "superfakes" and lookalike brands (not to mention the real challenges of litigating IP rights in China):

New Balance vs. Henkee

May 01, 2006

Counterfeit Misprint

Judgmentalist posted the photo below on Flickr.  Take a close look at the label of the pair of jeans on top of the stack.

Apparently a Thai denim counterfeiter stored a number of different logos in the computer, ready to print labels on demand -- but there was a bug in the software.  Thus instead of printing a counterfeit label, a line of incorrect code appeared on the tag.

And judging from the comments on Flickr, the jeans with the broken code label are more in demand than the faux/real thing!