Tyler Green doesn't think much of the new Fashion Show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The New York Times had a more sympathetic account a couple of weeks ago ("for those who are tabulating the cultural value of elevating the fashion industry's most effective marketing tool -- the runway -- into a subject for serious discourse in an institution of fine arts, 'Fashion Show' provides as much unexpected substance as it does eye candy"). But there's been a lot of discussion of fashion among intellectual property scholars lately as well. Eugene Volokh points to a paper by Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman entitled The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design, which they summarize as follows:
"The Piracy Paradox is about the challenge that the fashion industry presents to the orthodox theories of IP. Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation. Yet fashion presents a significant empirical anomaly: the industry produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection in one of its biggest markets (the United States), and without apparent utilization of nominally strong IP rights in another large market (the countries of the European Union). Copying and derivative re-working are rampant in both the U.S. and E.U., as the orthodox account would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant.
"Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected --and economically successful? The fashion industry is a puzzle for orthodox IP theory. Our paper explores this puzzle."
The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Blog recently hosted a group blog session on the paper here. Tyler Cowen discussed this issue here, pointing also to this 1997 law review article and this IP-related fashion blog by Susan Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation And Authenticity In American Law.
UPDATE: In this week's New Yorker, Judith Thurman reviews another fashion-related show, this one at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art: "'Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture' is the first exhibition of its scale and kind—more than three hundred contemporary works by forty-six mostly avant-garde architects and designers, chosen to represent what Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s curator of architecture and design, calls the 'increasingly fruitful dialogue' between the two disciplines."