Our topic today delves into the legal world of intellectual property rights. What exactly is intellectual property? What is cultural intellectual property? And, how does this pertain to artisans, fashion designers and consumers? It’s a big topic and not necessarily the easiest to understand. Monica Moisin, a fashion attorney and advocate of cultural intellectual property rights, guides us through the complex legal, economic and cultural issues around the intellectual intellectual property framework.
Through her work in the fashion industry, Monica realised that clothing designers and brands often looked to traditional cultural designs and patterns for inspiration.
But, first some background information. The concept of intellectual property as a legal instrument first came about in the late 17th century. With the advent of the printing press, authors wished to protect their intellectual property – their ideas, concepts and creative work – from being used without consent and without compensation. As a result, the British Parliament enacted the Statute of Anne in 1709. This was the first legal statute protecting authorship, and paved the way for intellectual property rights in legal, commercial and academic practice.
Since then intellectual property rights have expanded to include all creations of the mind, including art, industrial design, inventions and trademarks. What about all the ideas, concepts, designs – creations of the mind by cultures and civilizations long before 1709? Well, these were regarded as “public domain”, free to be used by anyone at any time.
Through her work in the fashion industry, Monica realised that clothing designers and brands often looked to traditional cultural designs and patterns for inspiration. She also noticed that this intersection between fashion and indigenous cultural knowledge was more of a slippery slope. From the pinnacle of inspiration it was a quick and uneven descent into the realm of outright copying and exploitation.
Monica started CIPRI as a platform to encourage the recognition of rights for the custodians of traditional garments, traditional designs and traditional manufacturing techniques. CIPRI also acts as a mediator, bringing fashion and indigenous groups together to create collaborative and equitable working relationships. Additionally, CIPRI offers a best practices tool kit built around the 3Cs Rule: consent, credit and compensation. Following the 3Cs Rule ensures that collaborations are healthy and mutually beneficial.
Highlights from the episode
In this episode, you’ll hear Monica say “the fashion system is based on a textile ecosystem.” What does this mean?
Fashion is generally viewed as a modern and western construct—as if the clothes we wear were just invented. Of course, the industrial manufacturing of clothe—the streamlined factory process is new, but what Monica is trying to point out is that fashion is rooted in textiles, in the cultivation of fibers and dyes, in spinning and weaving, in cutting and sewing: methods that have existed long before the term “fashion” was applied to the process. In this regard, it can be argued that “fashion” has existed for as long as humans started covering themselves with fibres.
Colonialism inaugurated a production system that is inherently inequitable and exaggerates disparities.
Monica also underlines that the modern fashion industry is rooted in colonial constructs. Colonialism inaugurated a production system that is inherently inequitable and exaggerates disparities. Making of garments in less developed countries at lower costs and sold in more developed countries for higher costs. This type of production system has created an imbalance between craftspeople and labourers and owners of factories and brands for the past 100 to 150 years. And, it sits somewhere between being borderline and outright exploitation. In addition to the economic consequences, there are also emotional and cultural consequences associated with “cultural appropriation”, particularly when indigenous designs, motifs and processes are used without regard to their cultural context.
This episode is the first in a three part series. We’ll begin with Monica who gives us an overview on her work and the mission of the Cultural Intellectual Property Rights Initiative. The next two episodes will focus on the experiences of the Oma ethnic group in Laos and block-print artisans in Bagru, India. Our intention in presenting this three part series is to demonstrate how inspiration and copying can quickly devolve into exploitation, and the best practices and models for creating healthy collaborations in the fashion space.
Learn more about CIPRI: www.culturalintellectualproperty.com
Connect with CIPRI: @culturalintellectualproperty
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