Kim Kardashian has won a copycat lawsuit against an online fashion retailer
Kim Kardashian is something of a style icon. With her eye-catching figure, Armenian complexion and revealing outfits, her style choices have been commodified by magazines, make-up brands, clothing lines and, importantly, retailers.
One half of the infamous Kardashian-West power couple, her influence is far-reaching and her following is vast. It makes sense then that retailers would want to tap into this audience in order to generate sales. But not everyone can afford Gucci bags and Fendi dresses.
If you’ve ever opened a glossy fashion magazine, you’ll know that you can “get the look for less”. But certain retailers have taken this idea one step further and started selling copycat items just hours after celebrities are pictured wearing their high-end counterparts.
Kardashian has mentioned this issue before, though it is hard to judge whether this was a tongue-in-cheek comment or a genuine grievance. “Found this gold look that Kanye made for me for my Miami trip last summer,” she wrote on Twitter in February. “P.S. fast fashion brands, can you please wait until I wear this in real life before you knock it off?”
But now she has successfully sued fashion retailer Missguided USA for using her name without permission and creating knock-offs of pieces she has worn. Kardashian won $2.7 million in a lawsuit against the British fashion brand, which taunted her on social media in relation to the issue.
Soon after Kardashian posted the image of herself in the gold dress, Missguided responded: "The devil works hard but Missguided works harder." Tagging Kardashian in the post, they added: "You've only got a few days before this drops online." The post was deleted a few hours later.
"Like other 'fast fashion' companies, Missguided ... has become notorious for 'knocking off' the clothing worn by celebrities like Kardashian,” the lawsuit, which was filed in February, stated. "Missguided does not merely replicate the looks of these celebrities as seen on red carpets, in paparazzi photos, and in social media posts."
"Missguided systematically uses the names and images of Kardashian and other celebrities to advertise and spark interest in its website and clothing," the suit adds. A successful claim, Kardashian was awarded a further $59,000 to cover legal fees.
Furthermore, Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the US District Court for the Central District of California ruled that the company should cease using any of Kardashian’s trademarks "in connection with the sale, marketing, or distribution of its products".
However, intellectual property laws in fashion are more nuanced than this case would have you believe. Clothing is judged to be too “utilitarian” (too functional) for one particular individual or company to lay claim over a certain style or cut.
“The genius is really in curating things from the past and reviving them in the present,” explains Johanna Blakley, managing director of research institute the Norman Lear Center, in her TEDTalk. “In the fashion industry, there’s very little intellectual property protection. They have trademark protection but no copyright protection and no patent protection to speak of. All they have really is trademark protection.”
“So it means that anybody could copy any garment on any person in this room and sell it as their own design,” Blakley adds. “The only thing that they can’t copy is the actual trademark label within the piece of apparel. That’s one reason that you see logos splattered all over these pieces - because it’s a lot harder for knock-off artists to knock-off these designs.”
While certain items can be protected, the design has to be notably nonfunctional. However, overall, clothing sits within an odd part of the law whereby it is largely exempt from intellectual ownership. The legal issue, in this case, is that Missguided were using Kardashian’s name to drive revenues without having asked her permission.
Brands are increasingly eager to be funny on social media. But deliberately courting controversy with such a cheeky response to Kim Kardashian’s plea not to rip off the outfit her husband designed for her seems to have been a misstep for Missguided.