Is legally protecting original fashion designs best way to combat plagiarism?

August 02 2017

Ace designer Rohit Bal's collection -- including a newly-introduced cock motif -- became talk of the town after he showcased it at the just-concluded India Couture Week here because it had been copyrighted. But is this move the best solution to fight plagiarism?

"Bandhgala Baron" Raghavendra Rathore, who walked for Bal during his show, says the designer, plagued by plagiarism, is a quintessential leader in the industry.

"His initiative to bring awareness on the issue of plagiarism will do the industry a lot of good, especially for the younger generation of designers," Rathore told IANS.

"The process -- and the cost -- of copywriting every design, season after season, is tedious no doubt, but key designs must be protected. Plagiarism in India is different from that in the West, as the motives are different -- in the West, fake products with logos of established brands are imitated, unlike elements, motifs and silhouettes in India," he added.

Talking about his own brand, Rathore said that in the last decade, he "has patented various techniques and details of the classic 'Bandhgala', which has become synonymous with the Raghavendra Rathore brand".

Designer duo Rimple and Harpreet Narula, who have been roped in by filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali to work on costumes for his period drama "Padmavati", are also thinking of protecting their work.

"In the digital world, with so much exchange of images and information, it is easy for anyone to pick up a design and replicate it. So it makes sense to protect your work."

Sanjay Garg, designer and founder of Raw Mango brand, feels a "patent isn't an absolute answer".

"As a textile designer, our work innovates on textiles and it's natural to feel protective of what one has developed. In 2014, our work on engineered brocade lehengas was something truly original and we did patent it. That said, the lehenga has also been replicated," he said.

When IANS spoke to people in the Chandni Chowk market, known for selling cheap replicas of designer wear, some said the designers' high-priced creations lead to plagiarism. So, should celebrated designers sell their designs at a lower price?

"There are many ways to answer this question, but simply: Some would consider cars and A/Cs a necessity, should they also all be sold at an accessible price point," asked Garg, who exhibited his collection in London earlier this year.

Ace designer Tarun Tahiliani, whose creations have been sported by celebrities like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, says that, unfortunately, there seems to be no value for intellectual property rights in India.

"I suppose that is great luxury in a country that is this poor. But having said that, this kind of duplication of bad quality speaks volumes to me as an individual. Firstly, let me say this, that people who value quality and originality would never buy a copy.

"The real thing has a name because of what they have done and therefore there is an expertise -- a Chanel jacket shoulder is a Chanel jacket shoulder, you may choose to wear a Zara but it is never going to feel the same as a Chanel."

Tahiliani said he once took legal action to protect his work.

"I once tried to sue a designer with an identical copy of an outfit with her name in a store abroad and the case dragged on and on and on. Unfortunately, with our judicial system, going to court is not really an option most of the time and the case continued until recently, long after the printer who had copied the prints was dead.

"So, I have learnt to be more stoic about it. I think one can embarrass people," said Tahiliani.

Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal says that, for design violation, there is "no criminal proceeding, so there will be no jail term".

"But if you do get a design registration, then you are in a position to stop others. It will certainly benefit the designers," Rajagopal said.

Will the customer also face legal consequences?

"No, there is nothing against the customer," he said.

So, if you have a copy that is protected, you need not worry. But it doesn't seem the battle between celebrated designers and copycats will end anytime soon.

(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted at natalia.n@ians.in)

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  • IANS