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Fordham Law Announces First Academic Degree in Fashion Law

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Fordham Law School announced this morning they will be offering the world’s first degree in fashion law.

Gathered inside a conference room at the school’s Lincoln Center campus in New York City, Professor Susan Scafidi, creator of the first course in fashion law in 2010 and founder of the school's Fashion Law Institute, was joined by program backer Diane von Furstenberg and told a group of professors and press how important it is for the fashion industry to have their own specially trained lawyers.

"There are plenty of big law firms in the city that hire lawyers who have knowledge in the background of fashion," Scafidi said. "Why wouldn’t they hire lawyers who are actually trained in the field of fashion?"

Fordham’s new fashion law program, which started accepting applicants today for Fall 2015 and will be offered both full time and part time, will offer two degrees: a Master of Studies in Law, or M.S.L, for professionals interested in fashion law, and a Master’s of Law, or LL.M, in Fashion Law for students already with a J.D. law degree. The program has already been approved by the American Bar Association, and comes with seed money provided by von Furstenberg.

While this academic program is the first of its kind, it has also been a long time coming. With the rise of the internet—and fast fashion brands—the fashion industry has been struggling with a whole new territory of intellectual theft and design knockoffs. Unlike sectors like art and literature, fashion doesn't have its own laws of copyright protection, leaving lawyers to invent creative loopholes to support clients.

"It became apparent to me that there were questions about the fashion industry that no one was trained to answer," Scafidi told Racked back in January. "There needed to be a field of fashion law where people were trained. Fashion companies have in-house counsel, but they aren't specialized in fashion. If they were going to have an IPO, they called a lawyer that dealt with that. If they were acquired, they called someone specializing in mergers and acquisitions. But each time, they'd have to educate the lawyer about how their business works, and that's a waste of time and money. A fashion lawyer can understand, empathize with, and act on behalf of clients in a technical and specialized industry. They understand all the quirky details."

Add the powerful rise of $600 billion counterfeit industry to the problem of fast fashion houses, and it’s apparent that lawyers specializing fashion are a necessity—especially in America, where designers are not protected under copyright laws (countries like Italy and France, on the other hand, have much stricter laws). An official press release from the new academic program notes the degree will give "lawyers an in-depth understanding of the law and business of fashion and, for the first time, access to unique courses taught by fashion industry insiders, including classes in fashion financing, fashion modeling law, fashion licensing, and sustainability."

Up until now, law students have been able to taken fashion courses at Fordham, but were not able to specialize in the field. This area of law was pioneered by Scafidi, and the institute is supported with help from the CFDA. Since Scafidi has brought fashion law classes to the field, schools like Cardozo, NYU, and Loyala have followed suit and offered classes with similar curriculum. At the event this morning, Scafidi said she already had inquiries about the new curriculum from schools in Germany.

As president of the CFDA and avid supporter of Fordham’s Fashion Law Institute, von Furstenberg said she "firmly believes this program will become a powerful tool in the fashion world and beyond, and help us all as an industry—lawyers or not—better understand, grow, and protect our businesses." Von Furstenberg has been an outspoken advocate for bringing copyright protection to the US—she was a major supporter of the 2012 Innovative Design Protection Act, a bill written by the CFDA and Senator Chuck Schumer to protect brands from copycats. Congress failed to pass the bill.

The curriculum of Fordham’s new fashion law degree will include core classes like Fashion Law and Finance, Fashion Licensing, Fashion Retail Law, but will also let students matriculate into Fordham Law’s regular school and take extra classes there as well.

"For too long law schools have left everyone but lawyers ignorant of all the most basic legal rules," notes Scafidi. "By opening the doors of law school to anyone in fashion, the Fashion Law Institute aims not only to prepare graduate students to launch their own lines or pursue career opportunities…. But also provide a model for the future of legal education itself."