NEW YORK — The Council of Fashion Designers of America is trying to get Congress to take fashion piracy seriously.

The CFDA, together with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and the Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs de Mode, is kicking off a campaign to give greater protection to local and international fashion designers in the U.S. The drive will include lobbying Congress for an amendment to the Copyright Act that would address fashion and be comparable to laws already in place in the European Union.

The effort will begin officially on Tuesday when Stan Herman, CFDA’s president, and Steven Kolb, its executive director, travel to Washington to attend a screening of the 15-minute film “Fashion Piracy: The Great American Rip-Off.” They are expected to be joined there by the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Giovanna Ferragamo, Chanel vice chairman Arie Kopelman, Hermès president Robert Chavez and Chambre Syndicale president Didier Grumbach.

According to information supplied by the CFDA and taken from the Department of Homeland Security, fashion items accounted for 38 percent of the domestic commodities U.S. Customs seized by the middle of 2005.

Attorney Alain Coblence, who has been a legal consultant to the CFDA, the Federation Francaise de la Couture and the Camera Nazionale, started conceptualizing the campaign about a year ago, and is working with Liz Robbins, a lobbyist who will bring the issue to members of Congress.

“In the U.S., there is no protection against design piracy,” Coblence said. “It’s the only country from the industrialized nations where this is the case. Merchandise worth hundreds of millions of dollars comes in from the Far East and nothing can be done, because there is no committed law to protect design piracy.”

The timing for this couldn’t be better, according to Robbins. “There is a big push by many companies all over America to strengthen the laws against counterfeiting,” she said. “Most [Congress] members we talk to see there is no difference between the dress copied with the label and the dress copied without the label.”

Kolb and Herman conceded the initiative is still in its early stages. That said, the campaign seeks to set clear boundaries between inspiration and downright copying. “We know and recognize that the creation of fashion designs is a matter of inspiration,” Coblence said. “But we are really going after plagiarism, which is very different. If it’s original and identifiable, with elements of novelty and originality, it should be protected.”

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Herman concurred. “There is nothing wrong with inspiration, but to copy line for line is different,” he said. “This is about piracy.”

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