By  on September 14, 2005

MILAN — The fashion bodies of Italy and France are increasingly teaming up to work on key issues, and the hot topics of copyright protection in the U.S. and counterfeits will be next.

During a press conference held in Milan on Tuesday, Mario Boselli and Didier Grumbach, the heads of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and Chambre Syndicale, respectively, blamed the loss of business and industry jobs on the overpowering digital flow of information and the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods. They said the need to protect intellectual property in the U.S. is no longer deferrable. Their statements follow a request by the two fashion associations earlier this year for the European Parliament to endorse a regulation whereby products made outside the European Economic Community should feature a label stating their country of origin.

"The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not recognize the importance of intellectual property," said Alain Coblence, a legal consultant to the Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode.

Coblence said the Americans' concept of free competition lies behind this status quo. "The time has come to change, we've seen an evolution in the legal system and people have started reflecting on the issue, also prompted by the Internet boom," he said.

The lawyer said American designers and the Council of Fashion Designers of America have been showing an interest in changing the current law. "We got Narciso Rodriguez involved and, at the end of July, we met with the Copyright Office, the Senate and the House of Representatives in Washington, and everyone was convinced of the prejudice against designers," said Coblence.

During the presentation, Rodriguez took one of his dresses out of a suitcase. The style had contributed to sales of $400,000. He also showed "the exact replica" of that dress, which generated sales of $8 million. "Everyone was really very impressed by the presentation," said Coblence, adding that more appointments with state representatives are scheduled in the upcoming months and other American designers will participate in the meetings. The lawyer declined to provide specific names, however.

"It is not strategically effective to say who they are now, but obviously, the most creative designers are the ones that stand to lose more and they are the ones that are more involved in this project," he said.Coblence said that, having found a 1998 amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976, which protects the original designs of vessel hulls, the organizations are trying to extend the exception to fashion designs. "While the hulls are protected for 10 years, we are asking for a two-year coverage," said Coblence.

"Copying clothes is counterfeiting without using the brand's name, and counterfeiting is a crime and a source of delinquency," he said.

As reported Monday, two recent court cases in the U.S. have highlighted the issue of copyright protections for wearable items. While the Second Circuit Appellate Court ruled that clothing can be considered under copyright protection, that decision sets precedent only in that court. Meanwhile, the Fifth Circuit took a different view of the issue in a separate case.

Trade councilor Roberto Predolin blamed the production and distribution of counterfeit goods for the loss of 25,000 jobs in Italy's fashion industry over the last year. Predolin said the state lost 1.5 billion euros, or $1.8 billion at current exchange rates, and fashion companies lost 4 billion euros, or $4.8 billion, a 300 percent increase in 10 years.

"This is the kind of competition that hits the whole system," said Predolin, adding that 72 million pieces of counterfeit items were taken off the streets in five months. "We've been hitting the organization, going straight to producers and distributors," he said.

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