22 May 2018CopyrightCA Brijesh and Dhruv Grover

Ready to wear (but not to copy)

Designs vs copyright

Copyright law covers ‘artistic works’; design law on the other hand offers protection to ‘novel’ features of shape, configuration, patterns, ornaments or colours applied to an article, which in the finished article are judged solely by the eye. In this way, ‘design protection’ is not limited to an image/design printed on clothing but also extends to the shape/configuration of a garment or accessory.

Copyright lasts for a period of 60 years in addition to the lifetime of the author; but design protection is for a far shorter period of ten years (extendable by five years). Also, copyright infringement can be claimed without a registration—rights subsist automatically from the moment of creation. However, to claim piracy of a design, it is mandatory to have registered the design.

Design law offers protection only to ‘new’ designs or ‘new’ features of designs; fashion labels often re-work previously existing designs, so many do not qualify for design protection.

That said, section 15 of the Indian copyright statute is very relevant for the fashion industry on account of its interplay with Indian design law—its impact makes design registration critical before the launch of a product.

The provision reads: “Copyright in any design, which is capable of being registered under the Designs Act, 2000 but which has not been so registered, shall cease as soon as any article to which the design has been applied has been reproduced more than 50 times by an industrial process by the owner of the copyright or, with his licence, by any other person.”

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