WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would give copyright protection to fashion designs for the first time.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and named the Innovative Design Protection Act, would expand copyright laws to include fashion designs that are often the target of knockoff artists that profit from another designer’s creation.

It would cover “deliberate copies that are substantially identical to the protected designs” and would provide protection for three years. All designs created in the public domain prior to enactment of the bill would be exempt, and protection would extend automatically to designs without registration. A “heightened pleading standard” three-step process requires a plaintiff in a lawsuit to prove the design is “protectable, substantially identical” and that the defendant had access to, or was aware of, the “protected design.”

“The fashion industry is [a] pillar of New York’s economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people and contributing billions of dollars to our economy,” said Schumer. “However, overseas competitors are making cheap, copycat knockoffs of our best creations.…My new fashion bill will provide intellectual property protections to America’s fashion designers, and now that it has passed out of the Judiciary Committee, we are one step closer to protecting the fashion industry right here in New York.”

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The legislation is backed by the two major fashion groups — the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the American Apparel & Footwear Association — which forged a compromise in 2010 and have led the effort through the legislative process.

“The CFDA is very pleased by the outcome and encouraged by the committee’s bipartisan support,” said Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA. “It’s an important victory in protecting designers from those who pirate. We are now committed to ensuring IDPA passes the full Senate and then the House before the congressional session ends in January.”

The bill’s prospects this year are uncertain, as Congress has a truncated schedule and is expected to break at the end of this week for the November election. A possibility exists that the bill could be taken up if there is a lame-duck session after Election Day.