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Authors: Christopher Sprigman Kal Raustiala

The Knockoff Economy

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THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY

THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY

HOW IMITATION SPARKS INNOVATION

KAL RAUSTIALA
AND
CHRISTOPHER SPRIGMAN

 

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
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© Oxford University Press 2012

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Raustiala, Kal.

The knockoff economy: how imitation spurs innovation / Kal Raustiala, Christopher Jon Sprigman.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-19-539978-3 (hardback)
1. Piracy (Copyright)—United States. 2. Piracy (Copyright)—Economic aspects—United States. 3. Copyright—United
States. 4. Intellectual property—United States. 5. Copyright—Music—United States. 6. Sound recordings—Pirated
editions—United States. I. Sprigman, Christopher Jon. II. Title.
KF3080.R38     2012
364.16’62—dc23        2012006974

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

For Lara, Clark, and Willem
For Anne, Arin, and Iain

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

1
KNOCKOFFS AND FASHION VICTIMS

2
CUISINE, COPYING, AND CREATIVITY

3
COMEDY VIGILANTES

4
FOOTBALL, FONTS, FINANCE, AND
FEIST

CONCLUSION: COPIES AND CREATIVITY

EPILOGUE: THE FUTURE OF MUSIC

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

THE KNOCKOFF ECONOMY

INTRODUCTION

Every spring, millions of viewers around the world tune in to watch the Academy Awards. Ostensibly, the Oscars are about recognizing the year’s best movies. But for many people the Oscars are really about fashion. Fans and paparazzi press against the rope line to see Hollywood stars pose on the red carpet in expensive designer gowns. The television cameras are there too, broadcasting the red carpet fashion show (and the inevitable fashion faux pas) across the globe. In the process, careers in both film and fashion are made and unmade.

For years, the designers at Faviana have been watching the Oscars as well—very closely. Faviana is an apparel firm located on Seventh Avenue in New York City. If you go to Faviana’s Web site, you will see a link titled “Dress Like a Star.”
1
That link leads to a collection of dresses that are direct copies of those worn by actresses on television, in movies, and, most important, at awards shows like the Oscars. In fact, the dresses are identified using photos of stars, such as Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker, wearing the original designs.

Knockoffs like these are a significant part of Faviana’s business, as its Web site somewhat immodestly makes clear: “For the past 7 years, the company’s ‘designer magicians’ have been interpreting the red carpet looks of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.” And the company does not try to hide that it
does more than “interpret” these red carpet looks; it copies them. Indeed, Faviana trumpets this fact. “Ten minutes after any big awards telecast, the Faviana design team is already working on our newest ‘celebrity look-alike gowns,’” crowed CEO Omid Moradi in an interview.
*

Faviana’s creations retail for between $200 and $500—not cheap, but much less expensive than the multi-thousand dollar designer creations they imitate. At these prices, even Faviana’s “designer magicians” cannot replicate the expensive materials and workmanship of many of the originals. But for women who could never afford to buy the real thing, that does not matter. For them, a cheap facsimile is better than nothing. The company, which excels at the production of both knockoffs and PR catchphrases, refers to its work as “bling-on-a-budget.”

The existence of firms like Faviana (or ABS, Promgirl, or any of a number of similar houses) raises fascinating questions about the relationship between creativity and copying. In most creative industries, copying is illegal. We all have seen this warning as we sit back on the couch to watch our latest Netflix arrival:

“Reproducing,” or copying, a creative work like a film is against the law. Copyright law—and intellectual property law more generally—exist to prevent copying, on the theory that the freedom to copy would ultimately destroy creative industries. If others could simply copy the efforts of creators, few would bother to create in the first place. How then can a firm like Faviana get away with blatantly knocking off a dress that someone else has
designed? And, even more important, why doesn’t this rampant copying destroy the fashion industry?

Surprisingly, fashion designs are not covered by copyright law. What Faviana does is perfectly legal—and very common.
2
Fashion trademarks are fiercely policed; it is illegal to copy brand names such as Gucci or Marc Jacobs, and expensive lawyers aggressively sue those who try. But the underlying clothing designs can be copied at will. Firms both high and low in the fashion world knock off others’ designs. Some merely take inspiration from or “reference” existing designs. Others copy far more blatantly. But all this copying is free and legal.

As a glance at the reliably thick September issue of
Vogue
will show, however, creativity in fashion has hardly ended. The development of new apparel designs continues every day at a dizzying pace. Indeed, the American fashion industry has never been more creative. All this copying has not killed the fashion industry. In fact, fashion not only survives despite copying;
it thrives due to copying.
This book is about why—and what the story of fashion, and of football, cuisine, finance, and a host of other unusual industries, can tell us about the future of innovation in a world in which copying is cheaper and easier than ever before.

Innovation is central to our contemporary economy. And many people believe that the rules about copying that fall under the banner of “intellectual property”—in particular, copyright and patent—are the basis of sustained innovation.
*
This belief in the power of intellectual property, or IP, predates the Internet, the computer, and even the lightbulb. It was also a central concern of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution explicitly grants Congress the power to create patents and copyrights for “limited Times” as a way to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

In a market economy like ours, of course, we depend on competition to keep the price of goods and services low and their quality high. And a lot of competition involves copying. (Think of Pinkberry, whose success spawned kiwiberry, Yogurt Land, and dozens of other stand-alone shops serving tart,
frozen yogurt with mix-ins). So why do we allow prohibitions on copying, prohibitions that constrain competition?
3
As the language of the Constitution suggests, we protect innovation from copying because innovation has good consequences, and restraints on copying are thought to be necessary for innovation to occur in the first place.

Some believe that these restrictions have an important moral dimension as well: copying the work of another, they say, is unfair and akin to stealing. The Framers generally took a different view.
4
As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, ideas are not like tables or televisions:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea…. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
5

In other words, if we take your car, we have it and you do not. But to copy an idea takes nothing from the creator; the creator still has it and so too does the copyist. And this makes the copying of ideas more morally ambiguous than stealing ordinary tangible property like a car.

The primary reason the American legal system regulates copying, in short, is not moral but practical. Both copyright, which protects books, songs, films, and the like, and patent, which protects useful inventions such as medicines, machines, and business methods, rest on the theory that the control of copying is necessary for innovation to occur. Innovation requires rules that allow creators to control who can make copies—either by making the copies themselves, or selling licenses to others. Creators, in short, need a monopoly over the right to make copies. In this book, we refer to this as the
monopoly theory
of innovation.
6

Why is it thought that creators need a monopoly over their creations? Many innovations are difficult to invent but easy to copy. If copying is allowed, the monopoly theory holds, investment in new inventions and creations will be discouraged as copyists replicate the work of originators—and often more cheaply, since they do not bear the costs of creation. In Jefferson’s terms, if everyone is constantly lighting their taper from our flame, we might not bother to light our own taper in the first place.

BOOK: The Knockoff Economy
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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