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Natalie Laczek shares her stance on copyrighting in the fashion industry

Natalie Laczek

Natalie Laczek

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:53PM

In the early morning hours of April 29, 2011, I, like so many others, waited for Kate Middleton to enter Westminster Abbey so I could get that first look at her wedding gown. There had been speculation about which designer would be working on it, but little was known beforehand.

It was a beautiful dress, and I loved the lace detail in the sleeves and neckline, the form-fitting bodice, the special cut of the skirt, the lovely train. Everything about the handcrafted gown, designed by Sarah Burton of London’s Alexander McQueen studio, was spectacular.

And within five hours, a copy of the dress was available as a giveaway in a London contest.

I’m sad to say I wasn’t surprised.

Some say copying is a sign of flattery. But as a law student interested in fashion, I want the world to know that knock-offs are hurting a very important industry. Like all creations — whether they be music, art, prose or fashion — it’s the genius of the creator that is so important and deserves recognition and protection.

Even the fashions that are sold at your neighborhood retailer are often a variation on a theme that was first glimpsed months before on runways in New York, Paris or Milan. What we need to recognize — and protect — is that original idea.

America’s intellectual property rights laws are outrageouslyoutdated. None deal adequately with the issues that have affected the fashion industry over the past 10 years or so, as more and more designs are available through the Internet.

I’ve been examining these concepts over the past two years in my intellectual property law classes at The John Marshall Law School. My classmate Michon Stuttley and I organized the Fashion Law Society, a new student organization, after we discovered early on in law school that we both had an interest in putting our legal training to work in the fashion industry.

Today, the Fashion Law Society at John Marshall is hosting a symposium to examine the legal issues at the forefront of the fashion world. We have presenters from the United States, Canada and Mexico, and a full house of attorneys ready to expand their knowledge of legal issues in the fashion industry.

As an attorney, I’d like to protect a designer’s work, but we need to know how to do that in a competitive environment — and not just at home, but abroad. I think the rules we have today stifle creativity. If a design isn’t protected in 30 to 60 days, there’s a very real possibility it will no longer be recognized as an “original.” I would like to see the Patent and Trademark Office reduce the cost of the patent application for fashion designers and give expedited review for fashion designs.

Another goal I have is to use my interest in environmental law to promote a greater interest in sustainability within the fashion industry. And I’d like to have schools with fashion design programs provide a class — or at least a symposium — for students to get information on how to protect their creations through the legal system.

As a fashionista and a future lawyer, I’m excited for the options I see on the horizon. And as a native Chicagoan, I’m proud of my hometown. Chicago is being recognized as a new player in the world of fashion, and I want to be a part of that world. Our city’s fashion industry may be starting from the ground up, but our fashion sense has been around for decades. Personally, I can’t think of a better place to grow my career — and pioneer new fashion laws — than Chicago.

Natalie Laczek is a graduate of Chicago’s Hubbard High School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She will receive a J.D. degree in January 2014 from The John Marshall Law School.

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