Key Takeaways:

  • Copyright infringement in fashion happens when someone uses, reproduces, or imitates fashion designs, trademarks, logos, or other protected features without permission.
  • In cases of garment infringement of copyright, designers and fashion businesses sue to defend their IP.
  • Adding layers of protection to your design entails examining different types of intellectual property rights that can protect your creative effort.

Copyright infringement in fashion is a critical issue that affects designers, brands, and the integrity of creative works.

It refers to the unauthorised use, reproduction, or imitation of copyrighted fashion designs, trademarks, logos, or other distinctive elements without proper permission or licensing.

This practice undermines the efforts of original designers and dilutes their creativity and brand value.

In the fast-paced fashion industry, copyright infringement can occur through counterfeiting, producing knock-offs, or even closely imitating popular designs.

These actions can deceive consumers and harm legitimate designers who invest time, effort, and resources into developing unique fashion creations.

The significance of copyright protection in fashion cannot be overstated.

It plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of designers, encouraging innovation, and fostering a competitive and fair marketplace.

Understanding the principles of copyright law, licensing, and design protection is essential for fashion industry professionals, consumers, and policymakers to promote a climate of respect for intellectual property.

This article explores the various aspects of copyright infringement in fashion, its impact on designers and the industry, and the measures needed to protect creative expression and uphold the integrity of the fashion world.

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Fashion and Copyright

As per Collins dictionary, fashion is portrayed as:

A fashion is a style of clothing or a way of behaving that is popular at a particular time.

Copyrightability in fashion refers to the extent to which fashion designs and elements can be protected by copyright law.

The fashion industry is characterised by ever-changing trends and a wide range of design elements, including colors, silhouettes, fabrics, cuts, and prints.

However, copyright in fashion law has limitations when it comes to protecting fashion.

Ideas, concepts, and common creative elements, such as standard patterns like polka dots or basic geometric shapes, are generally not eligible for copyright protection law.

Copyright law focuses on protecting creative expression rather than utilitarian or functional aspects of fashion.

While individual design elements may not be copyrightable, certain aspects of fashion can receive copyright protection.

Unique and original fabric prints, textile designs, or intricate jewelry pieces may be eligible for copyright as artistic works or pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works.

It’s important to note that copyrightability in fashion requires a sufficient level of creativity and originality in the design.

Determining copyrightability in fashion can be complex, and designers should consult legal professionals to understand the specific requirements and limitations of intellectual property laws.


An example of copyrightability in fashion could be a unique and original textile design used in a clothing collection.

Let’s say a fashion designer creates a captivating floral print that incorporates intricate details and a distinct color palette. This textile design reflects the designer’s creativity and originality.

In this case, the designer may be able to seek copyright protection for the textile design as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work.

By obtaining copyright protection for the textile design, the designer can establish their ownership and control over the creative expression embodied in the design.

This can help protect their investment in developing unique and original designs and ensure that they have the legal means to prevent unauthorised copying or use of their work.

It’s important to note that copyrightability in fashion depends on the specific elements of the design and the level of creativity and originality they exhibit.

Each case is unique, and designers should consult legal professionals to assess the copyrightability of their specific fashion creations.

Limited Copyright Protection for Fashion Designs

limited copyright protection for fashion

Fashion designs, considered “useful articles,” have limited copyright protection.

The Copyright Act excludes protection for items with intrinsic utilitarian functions.

Clothing and costume designs were historically denied copyright registration due to their utilitarian nature.

Copyright does not extend to the overall shape, cut, or functionality of fashion items. However, certain design elements, such as original prints or graphics, may be eligible for copyright protection as separable artistic works.

Fashion designers may explore alternative forms of protection, such as design patents or trademarks, to safeguard their unique designs and brand identity.

Understanding the balance between copyright law and the utilitarian aspects of fashion is essential for designers seeking to protect their intellectual property.

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When Copyright Infringement in Fashion Happens?

Copyright infringement in clothing occurs when someone uses, reproduces, or imitates copyrighted fashion designs, trademarks, logos, or other protected elements without proper authorisation or permission from the copyright owner.

It involves the unauthorised use of intellectual property owned by designers, brands, or fashion houses, and is a violation of their exclusive rights.

Examples of copyright infringement in fashion include:

  • Counterfeiting: Producing and selling counterfeit replicas of branded fashion items, such as handbags, shoes, or clothing, without the permission of the original brand.
  • Knock-offs: Creating and selling products that closely imitate popular designs or styles, attempting to deceive consumers into believing they are purchasing an original design.
  • Unauthorised reproduction: Copying and reproducing copyrighted textile prints, patterns, or graphics without the consent of the original designer or copyright owner.
  • Uncredited use: Using copyrighted fashion photographs, illustrations, or artwork without proper attribution or permission from the original creator.
  • Design piracy: Replicating and selling fashion designs that are substantially similar to original creations, without obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions.

Copyright infringement in clothing design undermines the rights and economic interests of designers, dilutes creativity, and can lead to financial losses for original creators.

Designers and fashion brands often take legal action to protect their intellectual property and enforce their rights in cases of clothing copyright infringement.

Under Copyright Law, Which Fashion Designs are Eligible for Protection?

Under copyright law, certain fashion designs can be eligible for protection.

While individual fashion designs, such as clothing styles or cuts, are generally not protected, the following design elements within the fashion industry may qualify for copyright protection:

Graphic Designs: Original graphic designs, including prints, patterns, or artwork used on clothing, may be eligible for copyright protection. This can include unique illustrations, motifs, or graphic elements that are sufficiently creative and original.

Textile Designs: Original textile designs, which refer to the patterns, prints, or arrangements of elements on fabric, can be eligible for copyright protection. This applies to unique and creative combinations of colors, shapes, or motifs that are fixed in a tangible medium.

Logos: Logos used in fashion, such as brand logos or distinctive symbols, may also be protected under copyright law. Logos that exhibit a sufficient level of creativity and originality can receive copyright protection as artistic works.

Copyright protection does not cover ideas, concepts, or mere facts.

Additionally, it does not typically protect basic design elements in fashion, such as colour schemes and cuts.

These elements are considered functional or utilitarian aspects of fashion and are not generally eligible for copyright protection.

  • Color: Copyright law does not provide protection for individual colors or colour combinations used in fashion designs. Colors are considered part of the public domain and can be freely used by designers.
  • Cut: The cut or silhouette of a garment is also not subject to copyright protection. This is because cuts or shapes of clothing serve functional purposes and are considered utilitarian in nature.

It’s important to note that while copyright may not protect these specific design elements, other forms of intellectual property protection, such as trademarks or design patents, may be applicable in certain cases.

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Copyright Infringement Cases in Fashion

copyright infringement cases in fashion

Copyright infringement cases in fashion have become increasingly common, as more and more designers are finding their original designs copied and sold by other brands.

Some of the most well-known fashion copyright infringement cases are discussed below:

Rajesh Masrani v. Tahiliani Designs Pvt Limited (2008 PTC (38) 251 (Del.))

This case raised a question regarding the copyright and design protection of patterns printed on fabrics.

The case pertained to an appeal against an interim injunction in favor of Tahiliani Designs.

The injunction prevented Rajesh Masrani from engaging in the production, sale, or advertising of similar fabric.

The defendant-appellant presented compelling arguments challenging the classification of garments and drawings as “artistic works” eligible for copyright protection.

They also argued that the drawings should be registered as designs under Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act.

The Delhi High Court ruled that such designs could be protected under copyright if produced in limited quantities of fewer than 50 and not intended for commercial use.

Tarun Tahiliani’s fashion brand produced a limited edition of 20 pieces featuring a specific design, resulting in protection against replication and prohibiting any actions related to printing, selling, or advertising a similar design.

Masquerade Novelty

The copyrightability of garment designs involves a distinction between their artistic and utilitarian elements.

For a design to be eligible for copyright protection, the original artistic elements must be separable from the functional aspects of the article. This concept is illustrated in this case, as referenced in Scruggs (2007, 124).

In this case, the issue centered around “nose masks” designed to resemble the noses of animals like pigs, elephants, or parrots. Initially, the district court deemed the masks as “useful articles” ineligible for copyright protection.

However, the ruling was overturned by the Third Circuit, which reasoned that the masks’ only utilitarian function was their portrayal of animal noses.

Therefore, the masks were found to possess separable artistic expression, making them potentially copyrightable.

Protection Measures for Your Design

Adding levels of protection to your design involves considering various forms of intellectual property rights that can safeguard your creative work.

Here are some key avenues to explore:

Copyright: Copyright protection automatically applies to original works of authorship, including artistic designs. It safeguards the expression of your design in a tangible form.

While copyright does not protect functional aspects, it covers artistic elements, such as unique patterns, graphics, or decorative elements. Ensure that your design meets the originality and fixation requirements for copyright protection.

Design Patents: Design patents offer protection for the ornamental or aesthetic aspects of a functional item. They can be obtained for new, original, and non-obvious designs.

Design patents can be valuable in safeguarding the visual appearance of your design, including its shape, configuration, or surface ornamentation.

Trademarks: Trademarks protect brand names, logos, symbols, or other distinctive identifiers associated with your design. Registering a trademark provides exclusive rights and prevents others from using similar marks that may cause confusion among consumers.

Trademarks help establish brand recognition and prevent unauthorised use of your design’s branding elements.

Trade Dress: Trade dress refers to the distinctive visual appearance or overall image of a product or its packaging. It can include unique color combinations, shapes, or layouts that consumers associate with your brand or design.

Trade dress protection can be obtained through trademarks or, in some cases, common law recognition.

Contracts and Non-disclosure Agreements: Use contracts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to establish legal agreements with employees, contractors, manufacturers, or partners involved in the creation or production of your design. These agreements ensure that confidential information about your design is protected, preventing unauthorised disclosure or use.

It is essential to consult with intellectual property attorneys or professionals experienced in design protection to determine the most suitable strategies and ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

They can help you assess the best combination of protection measures for your specific design and guide you through the registration processes, enforcement, and any legal disputes that may arise.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement in Fashion?

To avoid copyright infringement in the fashion industry, consider the following guidelines:

  • Create Original Designs: Focus on developing your own original designs rather than copying or imitating existing designs. Invest in research, experimentation, and innovation to create unique and distinctive fashion pieces.
  • Understand Copyright Law: Familiarise yourself with the basics of copyright law as it relates to fashion. Understand what elements of fashion designs are eligible for copyright protection and what is considered in the public domain or unprotectable.
  • Conduct a Prior Art Search: Before finalising a design, conduct a thorough search to ensure that it does not infringe on existing copyrighted designs. This includes researching fashion publications, online platforms, and visiting trade shows to identify similar designs.
  • Obtain Proper Licenses and Permissions: If you intend to use copyrighted materials such as artwork, prints, or logos created by others, ensure that you have obtained the necessary licenses or permissions from the copyright holders. This applies to both physical and digital elements of your fashion designs.
  • Attribute and Respect Intellectual Property: If you draw inspiration from other designers or artists, give proper attribution and credit. Respect intellectual property rights and seek permission if necessary.
  • Consult Legal Professionals: When in doubt about the legality of a design or the use of copyrighted materials, consult with intellectual property lawyers who specialise in fashion law. They can provide guidance on compliance, licensing, and protecting your own designs.

By adhering to these practices and respecting intellectual property rights, you can minimise the risk of copyright infringement in the fashion industry and establish your brand as one that values originality and creativity.

What’s Next?

Copyright violation in the fashion industry poses significant challenges and requires a comprehensive understanding of intellectual property laws.

Design registration plays a crucial role in providing stronger protection to fashion designs, while the scope of copyright protection focuses on the creative aspects rather than functional elements.

Trademark protection adds an extra layer of safeguarding brand identity. Design houses must navigate the ever-changing landscape of fashion trends while respecting the rights of others.

Copyright plays a pivotal role in providing legal protection to fashion apparel and promoting innovation.

By upholding copyright principles and exploring appropriate avenues for protection, the fashion industry can thrive while respecting the rights of designers and creators.

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What does copyright law protect in clothing?

Copyright law primarily protects the creative and original aspects of clothing designs, such as unique prints, patterns, or graphics.

It safeguards the artistic expression embodied in the design rather than the functional or utilitarian aspects of clothing.

Is it possible to obtain copyright protection for my fashion designs?

Yes, you can protect certain aspects of your fashion designs with copyright.

Original and creative elements, such as unique prints, patterns, or graphic designs, may be eligible for copyright protection.

However, keep in mind that copyright does not protect functional or utilitarian aspects of clothing designs.

What is copyright in the fashion industry?

Copyright in the fashion industry refers to the legal protection granted to original and creative elements of fashion designs.

It allows designers to assert their rights over their unique expressions, such as prints, patterns, or graphic designs and prevents others from copying or reproducing them without permission.

Copyright plays a significant role in fostering creativity and encouraging innovation within the fashion industry.