The creative industries have long been subjected to copycat works and piracy. It is, to a certain extent, an unavoidable pitfall of producing creative products in the age of mass media. However, the current economic crisis has prompted a surge in litigation against unauthorised copying as the film, music and fashion industries fight to protect their products and profits.
The problem is a familiar one to those in the music and film fields. The internet has made piracy virtually impossible to control; any attempts to do so generally prove futile due to the vast and unregulated nature of the web. As a result, film and music businesses have been forced to evolve in unprofitable ways. For some record companies this means giving away music for free; the very product which should be making them money.
Nonetheless, the big players in the industry continue to challenge those that violate their rights wherever it is possible to prove a good case. In recent times, one of the biggest piracy cases of the decade began in Sweden against three men running a filesharing website. As well as facing criminal charges, the men will also fight civil claims from members of the music and film industries. If the claims are successful, those responsible could be liable for up to 13.1 million euros in compensation for loss of profits.
By contrast, the fashion industy has generally adopted a more forgiving attitude towards copying. Creating styles and trends results in an inevitable volume of product emulation which – up until now – has widely been accepted as the nature of the beast. However, the economic downturn has hit profits in the consumer industry hard, and designers are now calling in litigation solicitors to protect their rights and hard won profits.
However, the fight against copiers is unlikely to be an easily won battle. Intellectual Properties laws, including trademarking and copyright, serve the fashion industry only up to a certain extent. Similarly, the registered design system introduced in 2003 offers protection throughout the EU, but still has limited power. The most effecive means for a fashion designer to protect their work is with the two unregistered design rights available in the UK. Nonetheless, because of the difficulty of regualting design, even designs with near identical features may be considered acceptable if their complete look is deemed to ultimately differ.
It will be interesting to see whether this trend for litigation continues when the economy picks up. While it is likely that those in the music and film industries will continue to fight copiers with the same fervour they adopted prior to the recession, the fashion industy may return to their more accepting attitude when profits return to previous levels. In the meantime, litigation solicitors are likely to find themselves to be some of the few who may be able to make a profit in this period of economic difficulty.