Friday, July 22, 2016

Copycatwalks: Fashion & The Law

Earlier this week, Los Angeles-based artist Tuesday Bassen accused international clothing retailer Zara of stealing several of her designs for its clothing and jewelry. Her Instagram post featured side-by-side comparisons of Bassen's art next to Zara's designs, which incorporated suspiciously similar elements. Bassen was incensed by the company's response, which denied any legal wrongdoing and insinuated that Bassen is not well-known enough for the public to confuse Zara's designs for hers. In a follow-up social media post, Bassen noted that she had retained "an aggressive lawyer" and is pursuing litigation.

In fashion, runway "knockoffs" are nothing new – many clothing companies produce low-cost variations on high-end designer duds, usually taking sufficient steps to change the design enough to avoid legal problems. But lesser-known clothing designers and independent artists sometimes find their work emblazoned on an international retailer's latest designs without attribution or payment. As Zara's response indicates, it can be difficult and expensive for unknown designers to fight back against multinational corporations, particularly with no guarantee of success. Bassen lamented on her Instagram post about Zara's dismissive reply that "[just] to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far."

But litigation is frequent, particularly against repeat offenders like Zara, which the Guardian noted has been the target of similar accusations in the past. (Adam J. Kurtz, another artist who has complained that Zara appropriated his designs, created the website Shop the Stolen Art, which provides links to buy the original designs directly from the affected independent artists.) Forever 21 is another retailer which often comes under fire for appropriating work by other designers and independent artists. Late last year, artist Sam Larson accused the chain of copying his artwork for a very similar t-shirt design; press coverage noted how frequently that chain, too, has been accused of fashion plagiarism.

Fashion law is a fascinating topic of legal research, which includes a number of intellectual property and other issues. For background information, try a search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for the phrase "fashion law" to see available titles, like 2013's The Little Book of Fashion Law or 2014's Fashion Law: A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives, and Attorneys. Although more general in their coverage, many intellectual property treatises also include some discussion of fashion design; consult our research guide to Intellectual Property for additional resources.

There are also a number of excellent and up-to-date blogs dedicated to fashion law. The Fashion Law was created by Julie Zerbo, who also co-authored a chapter in Fashion Law: A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives, and Attorneys. Sheppard Mullin maintains The Fashion & Apparel Law Blog. Arent Fox also maintains Fashion Counsel. All three blogs provide regular updates on recent litigation and fashion law news.

For help locating these or other fashion law resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokemon Court?

Are you one of the millions of users who downloaded the Pokémon GO app in its first week of release? Or have you spent the last few days confused by your friends' sudden stream of social media references to "PokéStops," "Poké Balls," and "Pidgeys"? For the uninitiated, Pokémon GO is an augmented-reality game, available in the US on iPhone or Android mobile devices, which encourages players to head outdoors in search of computer-generated creatures which pop up on your screen. Users catch the Pokémon by throwing a virtual ball, then engage in competitive battles with other users' Pokémon.

The game was an instant cultural phenomenon, capitalizing on nostalgia for the Pokémon cartoons of the early 2000s and the prevalence of smartphones. Almost immediately, users began to flood public spaces which have been designated as Pokémon "Gyms" (including many churches, parks, and even the White House). Despite safety warnings from municipal police departments and gamemakers, users began to drive around in search of Pokémon (hopefully as passengers). Some enterprising armed robbers used the game's location data to rob victims before being caught by police. A Wyoming teenager even discovered a dead body while collecting creatures near a river.

Many commentators began to remark on potential legal issues related to the game: negligence of players, including those behind the wheel of a car; concerns about game-players innocently engaging in what looks like "suspicious activity" to police; and questions about the collection of data by the game creators and its potential value as a target for hackers. The University of Pittsburgh's Barco Law Library blog highlights today's ABA Journal article on these and other legal issues related to Pokémon GO and other virtual reality games. Certainly, more potential issues, and potential law school exam hypotheticals, will develop as the game continues to grow in popularity.

By the way -- this adorable creature was captured yesterday on Duke Law's official Instagram.

A photo posted by Duke Law (@dukelaw) on

We're not sure how many Pokémon might be lurking in the Goodson Law Library, but we hope our users will watch their step when walking in augmented reality!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In Praise of Microform

During library tours for new law students, there is usually a brief stop in the Microforms Room on level 1. It's not the most attractive space in the library, with its rows of metal cabinets, but it's a good place to pause the tour for some quick commentary before moving into the more-populated quiet study areas of level 1. Tour leaders sometimes ask if any students have ever used microfilm (reels) or its flat cousin, microfiche (cards) in the past. Usually, only one or two hands are raised in response.

Could you get through three years of law school without ever using microforms? Probably, since so many collections which are commonly found on microformats have been digitized, or have moved to entirely electronic publication formats. Your risk factor increases, though, with membership on a student-edited journal, work as a faculty research assistant, or in-depth research on a historical topic. Some individual journal titles, record and brief collections from certain time periods, and other valuable pieces of research interest remain available only in space-saving microformats.

Earlier this summer, the library's Microforms Room reader/printer machine stopped working after many years of service. A new ScanPro scanner has been installed in the Microforms Room to allow users to read, save digital copies, and/or print from our microfilm and microfiche collections. For assistance with using the new scanner, please see the library service desk staff on level 3.

Want to know more about microformats? Last month, Atlas Obscura published "The Strange History of Microfilm, Which Will Be With Us for Centuries." The fascinating (and illustrated) story traces microfilm's invention in the 19th century to its wide adoption as a preservation option in the 1930s, to its various pros and cons. Those cons, including clunky reading machinery and low-quality source material, have led to some prominent detractors of the format. In 2001, novelist Nicholson Baker published Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, an impassioned critique of libraries' destruction of historical newspapers and books in favor of microformat, which Baker finds to be an inferior substitute.

But microfilm and microfiche are (by design) here to stay, and you may encounter references to "[Microform]" or "[microfiche serial]" in the Duke Libraries Catalog. For help determining whether a particular microform title has been digitized or if you too need to join the ranks of the microform users, be sure to Ask a Librarian.