PARIS — In a ruling that has wide-ranging copyright implications for luxury goods brands worldwide, France’s highest court on Thursday upheld a verdict in a landmark case pitting French fine-jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels against one of its former designers.
The Court of Cassation in Paris said the Court of Appeals was justified in ruling in September 2012 that designs made by an employee of a jewelry firm should be considered a simple contribution to collective works owned by the company, rather than the intellectual property of the individual designer.
Thursday’s final decision came after the plaintiff, Thierry Berthelot, appealed the verdict handed down by the Court of Appeals, in the latest twist in an eight-year legal battle.
Nicolas Bos, chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels, hailed what he termed a “historic” ruling.
“For decades, our industry’s creations have been the fruit of a collective effort and of the sum of individual contributions that go beyond the input of one single individual,” he told WWD. “That is the reality, the way our industry, our world, has always functioned, but [until now] it was not recognized in legal terms.”
Luxury executives had lauded last year’s verdict, which has now been endorsed, as providing much-needed clarity for all players in the luxury goods industry in France by stating that the fashion house is the first holder of the copyright of collective works, since it directs and originates the process.
The legal decision applies solely to full-time employees of fashion houses. French law contrasts with the system in place in many other jurisdictions, where employees automatically relinquish their rights to their employer under the terms of their employment contract, a mechanism known as “work made for hire.”
“France has had a much stronger framework historically for the protection of individual copyright, which applies to many other fields, but the way our houses and our teams work had never been recognized or described by a legal authority in the way that it was today,” noted Bos.
Berthelot’s lawyers had argued in court that his creative process had been performed independently of any instructions or supervision from his employer. Berthelot, who kept more than 500 sketches made during his time at Van Cleef, said he was the designer of the brand’s Frivole collection, among others.
Vincent Fauchoux, the lawyer who represented Van Cleef in the case, said the Court of Cassation had cemented a ruling unprecedented in its depth and clarity. “This case is going to come as a relief and reinforces the rights of major houses,” he said. “It is the recognition in law of an economic reality.”
In its pronouncement last year, the Court of Appeals detailed the various elements that determine whether a work should be considered collective. This ranges from the house’s heritage to the amount of instructions given to employees and the role of internal committees and organizations in assigning tasks.
Fauchoux said the Van Cleef verdict put France on a more even footing with other countries. “It confirms that France remains a center for creation that can be a world leader and that offers a safe and extremely solid framework,” he said.
Emmanuel Gouesse, a partner at law firm Pech de Laclause, Bathmanabane & Associés, which represented Berthelot, could not be reached for comment.
The legal case will drag on, as the Court of Cassation did not uphold the earlier decision by the Court of Appeals to sentence Berthelot to damages of 10,000 euros, or $13,600 at current exchange, for withholding his drawings for the duration of the court case, on the grounds that this amounted to “malicious behavior.”
That particular matter will now be sent back to a separate Court of Appeals in Lyon.
"'Dynasty' is all about gowns, the diamonds and the scandal, so it's a bit like the fashion industry. When we come to Cannes it's all about the red carpet dresses too, so it all fit really well," said designer @philippplein78 on the theme of his high-glamour resort 2019 show at his mansion in Cannes. #wwdfashion #cannes (📷: @zefashioninsider)
"I think Spike is such a brilliant director because he holds up a mirror to society and reflects these issues, yet he doesn't shove it down your throat, he doesn't tell you what to think," says @lauraharrier on her latest film @Blackkklansman. Harrier was at the Cannes Film Festival – for the very first time – with @officialspikelee. #wwdeye #cannes (📷: @zefashioninsider)
“I would think to myself, Are you happy? Yes, I’m wildly happy. I go to this studio every day and, in my inside voices, I’m giggling; I’m singing. Yes, it’s a lot of work, it’s a [huge] volume of material. It wouldn’t be for everybody. But I was very happy,” said soap opera star @therealsusanlucci of checking in throughout the years with her career trajectory. Lucci spoke to WWD about her decades-long career, love for pilates, motherhood and her QVC activewear line. Read Bridget Foley’s full piece on Lucci on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: @celestesloman)
@balmain has taken a stand at the #cannes Film Festival, dressing 16 actresses at a press call for the project “Noire N’est Pas Mon Metier,” or “Black Is Not My Profession.” The multimedia project includes a book, photo exhibit and documentary, which aims to expose discrimination in the French and American entertainment industries. “The moment I was asked to participate, I knew it was right for me, and for this brand, to form a part of this moment,” Balmain creative director @olivier_rousteing told WWD. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
"I always feel curious and I feel like there's more to learn. But I think being relevant, feeling relevant, I personally always feel that there's just so much more to know. And maybe that's the key.” — @themarcjacobs #wwdsummits #wwdbeauty (📷: @patrickmacleodphoto )
“The most amazing thing about her is that, regardless of all the things that have happened to her, her spirit is so undaunted by all of it. She is the most cheerful person you will ever meet. She doesn’t see problems, she only sees solutions,” said @ajanaomi_king of activist Ifrah Ahmed, who she plays in a new film “A Girl from Mogadishu.” WWD caught up with King at Cannes — Head to WWD.com to read more about her new role, personal style and how she uses social media for causes like Time’s Up and Black Lives Matter #wwdeye
WWD asked a number designers to share their thoughts on what Meghan Markle’s wedding gown will look like this Saturday. Here, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli sketches his look. #wwdfashion #royalwedding #meghanmarkle