Copyright and Costumes. Do you own that look? Can you be sued?

As artists it is always one of those perplexing questions – how much of what I create do I own?

WARNING!! An Australian belly dancer just told me via facebook of her intention of getting rich by suing other dancers if they copied a costume element she recently performed with!!! She wrote that she had the ‘copywrite’ (sic) for it.

OUCH! So much for the sisterhood.

In this piece I will let you know what is the copyright standard for costumes in Australia. It may vary for other countries and is not to be taken as legal advice just a guideline. For more details see http://www.copyright.org.au/find-an-answer/browse-by-what-you-do/fashion-costume-designers/

This post is inspired by the most bizarre exchange a few days ago where the afore mentioned comment was made. I was shocked to say the least and it made me wonder –Mine

Exactly how much of your home made costume do you own?  Can you protect it?

“Key points

• One-off fashion garments, costumes and jewellery pieces are likely to be protected by copyright.

• You will generally only be able to rely on copyright protection if what you want to protect is a “work of artistic craftsmanship” (such as a one-off garment or necklace) or a design for an item you have not yet started to exploit commercially.

• If you intend to make multiple copies of items you have designed (such as a design for readyto-wear clothes), you will need to look at your options under design law, not copyright law, and you will need to do this before you start marketing or manufacturing the items.” (Australian Copyright Council, 2012, p1)

“Copyright is free and applies automatically: there is no registration system for copyright and no fees to pay.” (Australian Copyright Council, 2012, p3)

If you make something inspired by something you see in a show or online – can someone sue you? 

Copyright does not protect styles, techniques, information or ideas or concepts. 

Eg. “A particular style of clothing such as peasant-inspired clothing would not be protected by copyright, although a particular item of clothing in that style may be.” (Australian Copyright Council, 2012, p3)

So over all it seems – don’t copy anyone’s costumes exactly or without their permission – which is just common sense really. The copyright information sheet goes on to recommend getting someones permission in writing. (Australian Copyright Council, 2012, p4). If you really like something, either buy it from the original designer or put your own unique twist on it.

It is OK to publish photos of copyright protected works if it was the purpose of making a critique, review or reporting news (Australian Copyright Council, 2012, p5).

I fully support the rights of designers and artists in all genres, and have never attempted to make a copy of anyones costume. However, I never thought we would get to the point of people wanting to sue each other over costume elements in Belly dance that have been available in various styles for years. It made me very sad indeed.

How do you feel about your costumes? Would you try and sue someone if they made something similar? Where do you think the line of ownership should be drawn? Comment below.

(For those enjoying the hints on costume shopping in Cairo, the continuing parts of it are still coming. I posted this piece in between as it is quite topical.)

Reference

Australian Copyright Council (2012). Fashion & Costume Designers Information Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.copyright.org.au/find-an-answer/browse-by-what-you-do/fashion-costume-designers/

© Jade Belly Dance 2014  😉

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Erica
    Aug 29, 2014 @ 01:44:17

    That is a really interesting topic! Our laws are very similar in the USA. There is a difference between using design elements vs wholesale copying, and also making your own costumes vs mass production and resale. Was this dancer you communicated with going after dancers who just made their own costumes, or producers who were going to sell? Or both? I tend to offer up my ideas as inspiration for others, but I would be PO’d if someone started selling my designs for profit.

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    Reply

    • jadebellydance
      Aug 29, 2014 @ 12:15:30

      Hi Erica! Thanks for the US perspective. The dancer in question made specific reference to individuals copying the design. As far as I know, no one had actually copied it, she told me people were thinking about doing something similar because they were complimentary and looked at the design closely. That was enough to prompt the threats of suing. Hopefully she was just in a bad mood and not serious, but she sure sounded like she was serious.

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