You'd think L.A.'s big fashion industry would favor the Design Piracy Prohibition Act currently working its way through the U.S. Senate. After all, the act would prevent knock-off artists from copying designers' work.

Think again.

Many in the local fashion industry are gearing up to fight the bill because it would threaten one of their core businesses: creating clothes inspired by what's on the runway. Or, as some would say, knocking them off.

Although Los Angeles has some big designers, it also has many small apparel manufacturers that specialize in jumping on fashion designs as they emerge. Some call that trendy; others believe it comes close to infringing on designers' creativity.

As a result, the bill has created a schism between the major New York and Los Angeles fashion trade organizations.

The New York-based Council of Fashion Designers of America and an array of top designers argue that the bill will protect the creativity of their work and allow designers to recapture profits that they lose when manufactures make less expensive garments that look like their own.

But the California Fashion Association and some Los Angeles manufacturers counter that the bill will have an adverse affect on business and dramatically increase the number of lawsuits in the industry.

"If Donna Karan comes out with a single garment, and someone picks up on it, by the very nature of the business a trend develops," said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Association. "It's not a single garment that creates a trend."

But under the proposed law, any manufacturers that follow that trend may open themselves up to lawsuits.

That's because the act would allow designers to copyright their whole garment for three years from the cut of the cloth to such details as the placement of the button holes. That goes well beyond the current law that protects mainly designer labels and print designs.

In essence, the bill stipulates that a designer can take a picture of the front and back of a garment and claim ownership over the design through copyright, making substantially similar designs illegal.

Knock-off artists who view new designs at fashion and trade shows and quickly duplicate them or make something similar to sell to retailers would be forced to be more creative, said Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University in New York who supports the passage of the bill.


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