The internet age has exacerbated many of the legal issues that creators and fashion companies encounter, fueling the necessity for specific legal advice and protection.
For example, design piracy and copycat litigation have grown in recent years, prompting new legislation that provides legal protection for fashion designs.
We decided to get in touch with a legal expert to shed light on these issues and others facing those involved in the creator economy.
Ashley N. Cloud, Esq., MBA is the Founder and Principal Attorney of The Cloud Law Firm, PLLC based in Brooklyn, New York.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
My mother was the first person to suggest I become a lawyer. My mom was super strict, so I was always advocating for myself to hang out with my friends on the weekends for longer than 2 hours at a time. We would have full-on debates and I’d write her letters with carefully crafted arguments. I was relentless.
Although I was very convincing, most of the time, my mom’s answer was usually still “no,” but she figured I would be able to help others with my talents. Once my mom gave me the idea of being a lawyer, it just made sense. I’ve never been one to accept the status quo. I’ve always been quick to point out unfairness and injustices and I never shy away from the opportunity to help those in need.
Black women only make up 2% of the legal profession. The road has not been easy, but it has been more than worth it. Representation matters and I know the work that I do greatly impacts my community. It brings me so much joy to be a voice for the voiceless and to empower and educate people who look like me.
I am so thankful and honored to do this work. I have so many ideas of how I can continue to be a positive force in this world and I am just getting started!
What should creators include in brand partnership agreements?
Usually, creators are presented with brand partnership agreements, so there are a few clauses they should always be on the lookout for. They include but are not limited to Compensation, Deliverables, Exclusivity, Termination, and Disclosures.
Compensation is important for obvious reasons – you want to make sure you are aware of what you will be paid, any conditions associated with payment, and when you should expect your payment. With respect to deliverables, you want to make sure you understand what the brand expects to see from you and make sure what you create is aligned with their requirements. There will likely be an approval process that you will want to make sure you are compliant with as well.
Oftentimes, brands will require you to work with them exclusively for their respective industry. For example, if you work with one shoe company, you may be restricted from working with other shoe companies during the term of your agreement. Pay attention to the length of the agreement and under what conditions you or the brand may terminate the agreement; including any morality clauses.
If you are a content creator, you’ll also want to pay attention to any disclosure requirements, as the Federal Trade Commission requires you to disclose your relationship with any brands you promote. You can check out some helpful guidance on the FTC’s guidelines here.
Kim Kardashian was recently ordered to pay over $1 million for violating the FTC’s rules, so you’re going to want to pay attention to this!
In any case, you will want to read your contract, ask questions if you don’t understand something, and remember to know your worth! Advocate for what you want if you are unhappy with the terms of your agreement.
If you are unsure if the partnership is right for you or if you still don’t understand the implications of the terms of your agreement, I suggest you reach out to an attorney you trust to assist you.
What are some common misconceptions in fashion law?
One of the biggest misconceptions about fashion law is that it’s all about intellectual property. Sure, intellectual property is one exciting facet of fashion law, but there is so much more to fashion law than just intellectual property.
Fashion is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It can be glamorous, but like any other industry, fashion is a business. Aside from intellectual property, fashion law includes, business law, contract law, labor and employment law, real estate law, international law, e-commerce law, privacy law, supply chain law, technology law, consumer protection law, environmental law, and so much more! The law really touches every aspect of a fashion business.
As the creator economy grows, what types of legal matters do you foresee arising?
There are more and more creators entering the marketplace now that the barrier to entry is lower and consumers are more accessible. The major legal matter I can see growing in popularity is the world of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), blockchain, and the Metaverse.
Because the law hasn’t quite caught up with this facet of fintech and intellectual property, I am interested to see what types of precedents are established to help further guide creators and attorneys in this space.
What are some recent lawsuits in the fashion world that you find interesting? That designers can learn from?
Recently, Skechers USA Inc. filed a lawsuit against Hermès International and Hermès of Paris, Inc. for patent infringement in relation to its Massage Fit sole technology. This case excited me because it is the perfect example of properly policing and enforcing your intellectual property rights.
Skechers has gone after brands for a similar infringement. With the popularity of the thicker, chunky shoe sole emerging in recent years, it will be up to the courts to decide if Hermès infringed on Skechers’ patents or if the company is simply hopping on a popular trend not originated by Skechers.
Another case that stands out and is not fashion-related but falls more within the realm of entertainment, is the lawsuit recently lodged by, Goldenvoice, the company responsible for the popular U.S. music festival, Coachella, against Afrochella, a popular Ghanaian music festival. Allegedly, Afrochella has infringed on Coachella’s trademark and goodwill in the promotion of Afrochella.
There are arguments on both sides on whether Afrochella should be held liable for infringing on Coachella’s trademark. One argument is that Afrochella specifically identified its own festival as being inspired by Coachella, which some say creates an unauthorized affiliation between the brands.
Another argument is that Afrochella is only held in Ghana and should be permitted to use its name since the company does not currently host its festival in the United States. I am interested to see how the courts decide this case or if the brands will be able to come to an amicable settlement.
How can smaller designers protect their work from being copied?
Formal intellectual property protections of fashion designs (i.e. the shape, style, or cut of a garment) are virtually unprotected. However, there are a few ways you can protect certain aspects of your work as a fashion designer. One way is that you can protect an original print, pattern, or sculptural adornment that is included on a garment through copyright protection. You can also protect certain types of creations through a design or utility patent.
Additionally, you should protect your brand through trademark and trade dress protection. Another way of protecting your designs is through the contracts you draft and sign in partnership with others. For example, you can require the manufacturer of your designs to sign a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement so they don’t disclose your design to another brand or try to replicate your design by creating a knock-off of their own. If they do, you may be able to recover damages for violating your contract and the sales associated with doing so.
I also suggest designers use the power of their communities to fill in the gaps where the law falls short. When you see another designer or brand copy your design, let it be known via social media. It’s a lot less expensive and you may be able to resolve the dispute a lot quicker than suing in court.