By  on March 20, 2012

WASHINGTON — The fashion world is taking a different tack to copyright protection.

The two groups backing copyright protection for designers are shifting their priorities from a legislative solution that remains stalled in Congress and are focusing instead on industry initiatives addressing design piracy and knockoffs, as well as other hot-button policy battles.

While the Council of Fashion Designers of America said it is not giving up on the legislation, it is looking at other areas to promote awareness of the damage that counterfeiting wields on fashion designers, according to Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA.

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The American Apparel & Footwear Association also still supports the compromise legislation it helped hammer out with the CFDA, but is moving on to other legislative battles while there is a “lull” in moving the design piracy legislation forward, said Kevin Burke, president and ceo of the AAFA.

It has been five years since the legislative battle for copyright protection began in the fashion industry. What has come out of the lobbying campaign for the legislation is a higher level of collaboration between the AAFA, which opposed the initial bill, and the CFDA, which has taken the fight into its own hands and launched anticounterfeiting campaigns as an industry initiative.

The latest version of the bill in the House, known as the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, was introduced in July and would put more teeth into copyright protection for fashion creations, claiming that design piracy and knockoffs are stifling innovation. The bill would cover “deliberate copies that are substantially identical to the protection designs” and would provide protection for three years.

Kolb said the CFDA still champions the legislation and is in contact with House and Senate lawmakers involved in the bill, but he noted that the organization has also launched industry initiatives to address counterfeiting in the meantime.

“I think what we learned over the last five years is that in some ways, we have to be responsible ourselves for the messaging around intellectual property,” Kolb said.

He pointed to the CFDA’s creation in the fall of a “Design Manifesto,” as well as a separate collaboration with eBay on an anticounterfeit campaign known as “You Can’t Fake Fashion” that also touts the importance of original and authentic design. Several designers are participating in the campaign, creating tote bags with customized designs that are being sold exclusively on eBay.

Asked whether the CFDA has pulled back on its lobbying effort on the legislation, Kolb said: “I don’t know that it has been scaled back, but it is not a sprint. It is a marathon. If we learned nothing else in this giant civics lesson, we learned that’s the way things work in Washington.…A bit of patience is needed. We remain focused on it, but we are also building other ways to spread the word on why intellectual property belongs to the person who created it and shouldn’t be stolen from them by a pirate.”

Burke said the AAFA is ready to snap into action if the bill begins to move through committee, but other issues have moved to the top of the association’s lobbying agenda in the interim. But the industry is resolving some of the problems in the absence of a legislative fix.

“When two industry groups understand each other better, there is less of a need to go to a legislative solution,” he said, adding later that problems within the industry will “fix themselves because of better lines of communication between the two groups. When an issue is hot, we have to jump on it. If design piracy gets hot, we will be all over it, but it is not hot now.”

In light of the lack of traction on the bill, Rick Darling, president of LF USA and chairman of the AAFA, said, “I think what you are seeing is great collaboration that took place between the AAFA and the CFDA, and neither party necessarily needs the government to intervene right now. We’re actually cooperating pretty well together.”

Darling said the relationship has built more trust in the industry, whereas in the past “both parties, I think, felt they needed legislation to be able to protect themselves from each other.

“The conclusion was that it is not really true because [they] are all in it together,” Darling added. “So once the issue really got out, there seems to be a little bit less of an urgency on the part of the parties because they are actually cooperating together.”

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