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Oscar Gown Knock-Offs: How Do They Get Away With it Anyway?

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There are lots of reasons viewers will tune in to watch the Academy Awards arrivals this Sunday—for the designers at Faviana and ABS Allen Schwartz, that reason will be to copy the dresses parading down the red carpet. In a matter of a few short weeks, carbon copies of the gowns worn by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Carey Mulligan, Zoe Saldana, and Penelope Cruz will be hitting racks at department and specialty stores all over the country.

If, like us, you've always wondered how anyone gets away with this flagrant copycatting, the folks over at Freakonomics have answers:

The quick answer is that such copying is entirely legal in the United States. American law does not protect most fashion designs. Copyright law views fashion designs not primarily as artistic works, but rather as “useful articles,” and useful things are not granted copyright protection. This rule reflects the fact that useful things are supposed to be the domain of patent law. But clothing designs virtually never qualify for patent protection, because they are almost never “novel” – i.e., truly new – in the way patent law requires.
· Behind the scenes of Oscar fashion [Freakonomics]