In a fashion law twist, Forever 21 is accusing Saint Laurent of infringement. Although Forever 21 is no stranger to fashion law problems, this fast fashion retail chain is usually on the defendant side of IP infringement claims.
The copying in question is of a lipstick print dress. Saint Laurent’s lipstick print dresses are priced from $1,890 to $3,490. Forever 21’s 2013 lipstick print dress was priced at $23.
Copyright law is the relevant fashion law issue here
Obtaining copyright protection for fashion designs is generally a difficult task.* Designers in London, Milan, and Paris receive protection over their apparel. In the U.S., only jewelry and fabric prints enjoy full copyright protection.**
So, use copyright law to protect fashion designs via fabric design protection whenever you can. 😉
How copyright protects fabric prints
Copyright protects expression, not ideas.
A designer cannot have a monopoly on the idea of a lipstick print. But a designer can protect the expression of a particular lipstick design and color.
Scope of protection depends on how many different ways there are to express a particular idea. Broad protection is given if there are many ways to express the idea. For example, there are many ways to combine a design of colored lips on a dress (like this DVF print), in contrast to the more limited number of ways to show red lips on a black canvas (like this YSL lips dress).
Read this fabric copyright fashion law post
A realistic looking animal print would receive light copyright protection because of the limited number of ways there are to realistically depict a given animal print. Lipstick print dresses are not groundbreaking. But they can likewise be afforded protection.
Does YSL’s lipstick dress infringe Forever 21?
The lipstick prints in question here are very similar. Forever 21’s dress was out in 2013. Saint Laurent’s is in its Autumn/Winter 2015 collection. The lipstick tube container likeness, red lipstick color, and similarity of the lipstick arrangement weighs in favor of a finding of infringement.
Of course, to me, it seems the designers were both inspired by MAC cosmetics. And as Louboutin previously pointed out in reference to his red sole trademark, the color red “is engaging, flirtatious, memorable, and the color of passion.”
* The Council of Fashion Designers of America and I believe fashion designers should be privy to copyright protection for fashion designs. The CFDA has asked Congress to pass a federal law that would give designs 3-year copyright protection. This protection would be similar to existing protection currently afforded to other art forms.
** Full copyright protection is for the life of the creator plus 70 years.