My discussions on Africa Fashion Law have been limited particularly because the cases are far and few between. Although a lot of breach of contract, trademark and copyright infringement occurs, among other legal issues, many keep silent about it. Nevertheless, we do have an interesting Fashion Law topic raised today by Terrence Sambo of One Nigerian blog. Here in the USA, we saw the same question raised and currently in court as designer Kate Spade was recently sued for $1million over the alleged infringement of the Poppy print.
Here, Sambo questions the use by Folake Folarin Coker, Lawyer turned Designer, in her latest showing at New York Fashion Week under the Tiffany Amber label.
“African luxury brands have slowly been paving the way for other younger designer to follow and also bearing the torch for all that is African fashion and most times the best of it. It’s kind of uncool when these brands we all look up to sorta perform below expectation or take actions you least expect from them. The most striking thing about the Tiffany Amber SS13 collection that just showed at MBNYFW titled ‘Rythmn of Africa’ were the African dancing ladies print which bear very close resemblance to the one used by another Nigerian luxury brand Jewel by Lisa in it’s ss12 collection.
The Tiffany Amber design team could have worked harder to create a print that still flows with the collections theme without going to close to the Jewel by Lisa print. Copying aside, its not just not a good look. It’s not like Zara jacking off a Prada print…Tiffany Amber and Jewel by Lisa are both luxury brands.” – Terrence Sambo/One Nigerian Blog
What Law Governs?
Nigerian Copyright Law if a lawsuit ensues in Nigeria. US law could also govern if there can be a connection made to give US courts jurisdiction (power to hear this case). This is particularly so because Tiffany Amber unveiled the collection, for the first time, in New York. Will that fly, that is for their lawyers to hash that issue out should Jewel by Lisa decide to sue, which I highly doubt it would come to that.
Does Nigerian Copyright Law Protect Fabric Prints?
Yes. Prints are defined under “Artistic Works” under the Act. USA law also protects print designs but does not protect the entire garment, its cut or its assembly.
If I want to Protect by Fabric Designs What is the Medium to Use?
What Can I Do With My Copyrights When Others Infringe Them?
You can go after those who infringe and knockoff your designs i.e. sue them and also send a message to others to back off.
Does Copyright Protect the Functional elements of my garment?
Both under US and Nigerian law, your “artistic” works are protected i.e. your fabric prints, your artistic designs that you place on your shoes, clothes, bags etc. For U.S law, the functional element of your garment i.e. pocket of your jacket or your entire jacket, for example, is not protected. Nigerian law is silent on this but a reading of the act would seem to suggest it is in line with US law on the non-protection of the functionality of a garment.
The one problem I have with this insinuation of alleged copyright infringement is Sambo offers nothing to establish that Jewel by Lisa, in fact, owns the fabric prints exclusively i.e. she does not own it under a non-exclusive license by whomever the graphic designer/artist is. Until he can establish that, if the artist decides to sell his/her designs to multiple designers under a non-exclusive license, insinuating infringement with no other backing against the Tiffany Amber label is “not a good look,” to borrow his words.
However, assuming Jewel by Lisa does in fact own its prints exclusively, do you believe there is infringement? Are the fabrics strikingly similar? You decide.
Photo credit: Tiffany Amber Photo by Keith Bedford/Reuters, Jewel by Lisa photo by JBL