Designer piracy takes stage at New York Fashion Week

As their eye-catching creations come under the bright lights of New York's Spring-Summer 2011 Fashion Week, the fight Thursday for designers' intellectual property rights is also turning some heads.

With the inauguration of the Fordham Law school's Fashion Law Institute, legendary designer Diane von Furstenberg praised the opportunity for up-and-coming creators who need to protect their wares.

"As a designer who has been around for a long, long time, I can tell you, a lawyer who understands fashion is a very important thing," said von Furstenberg, who is also president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

"As a designer, you have to protect yourself in so many ways, there are so many reasons a designer needs a lawyer and, for a young designer, it's even more important," she said.

The institute will focus on the "diverse areas of the law that affect the fashion industry," Fordham says on its website, adding that the areas of study would include intellectual property, international trade and government regulation.

"The New York fashion industry employs nearly 200,000 people at over 800 fashion companies," noted Fordham's interim dean Michael Martin.

"The opening of the Fashion Law Institute will be a huge asset to this juggernaut industry and will be a tremendous resource for law students throughout the country," he said.

In the Internet age, fresh designs at the biggest international fashion weeks such as in New York - primming the styles for the next season - are beamed around the world: an easy target for unscrupulous fashion pirates who reel out knockoffs of these new creations in sweatshops stretching from Asia to Europe.

In the US Congress too, New York Senator Charles Schumer is defending fashionistas, with a bill introduced last month named the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.

"Unfortunately our local industry is at a severe disadvantage because greater protections are afforded to designs made overseas than in New York or the United States," Schumer said of the bill.

"Unregulated, high-end knockoffs are hurting the integrity of this industry... My legislation will level the playing field with European designers and protect an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and pumps billions of dollars into the local economy," he said.

In a column printed Thursday in Women's Wear Daily he said he hoped the Senate would adopt the measure in the next three weeks.

The New York event is the first of the leading, twice-yearly fashion weeks also held in London, Milan and Paris. It is attended by some 230,000 people and brings an estimated 770 million dollars in economic activity to a city where 175,000 people are employed in the fashion industry.

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