The increase and advancement of fashion industry is apparent from the switch of garments doing a mere practical function to the artistic creation of the garment. Apparel and garments have gone past performing mere social and cultural roles to an illustration of art and aesthetics. Clothes today are more artistic than functional in character and distinction since it is used massively in fashion shows and various other significant events. The progression of intellectual property in the 20th century, particularly copyright law and the incentives afforded to artistic works which aided as a ray of hope to fashion designers to safeguard their artistic works in their apparel designs. Currently, the intellectual property rights protecting fashion designs are the Design right and a Copyright- bestowed and claimed in respect of fashion or garments rests with the actual fabric design. Designers may prefer to protect their three-dimensional designs- i.e., the actual object constituting the cut, slope and pattern under the law of designs. A design right grants protection for a maximum period of 15 years but is limited to original, novel designs that have not been revealed to the public whether in India or across the globe, substantially distinct from any known designs or combination of designs.

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Copyright law as its name suggests is the simple law that indicates that if you create something you own it and only you get to decide what happens next with it (whether you want to display it, distribute it, commercialize it etc.). In India, law associated with copyright is regulated by the Copyright Act, 1957. The objective of this copyright law is primarily twofold:

  • Firstly, to assure authors, composers, artists, designers and other creative people, who risk their capital in putting their works before the public, the right of their original expression,
  • And secondly, to inspire others creative minds out there to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work and be given due credit.

Thus, a copyright is granted in respect of original artistic works. Hence, for the intention of safeguarding a copyright protection it would be important to distinguish the practical or utilitarian elements from the artistic exterior and artistic components of the object.

Copyright protection is one of the legal protection models utilized by the fashion designers to shield their creative works. In India, the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 lays down the law relating to copyright. From the viewpoint of protection of design in general and fashion design in particular, Section 15 of the Copyright Act is relevant. 

Further, a fashion design which is capable of being registered as “design” under the Designs Act, 2000 but not so registered will get copyright protection under the Copyright Act, 1957.

Copyright in fashion design, in this context, will exist up to fiftieth reproduction by an industrial process of the article to which design has been applied. And at the end, a fashion design which is an original artistic work and hence not capable of being registered as “design” under the Designs Act, 2000 will get copyright protection in the form of copyright in original artistic work under the Copyright Act, 1957.

It is evident, from the above discussion, that protection offered to fashion design as an original artistic work is stronger than the protection offered to it as a design capable of being registered under the Designs Act, 2000. In other words, a fashion design is well protected as an “artistic work” under the Copyright Act, 1957 than as a ‘design’ under the Designs Act, 2000. Because of this reason, fashion designers in India always have a tendency to term their creative works i.e. fashion designs as artistic works and to control like the same. However, courts in India have built jurisprudence, through a string of their judgments, to ascertain when a design is an ‘artistic work’ and when it is a ‘design’ in the sense of Designs Act, 2000.Nevertheless, the extent of this protection is limited and not meaningful for large number of fashion designers as it facilitates the designers to protect only their tailoring lines wherein only limited fragments of an exclusive garment are created.


Even though it is not compulsory to register your work as copyright, it is better to do so in order to help your case in the court of law in case of any infringement from the opposition party. The copyright certificate will be an evidence to prove that the creative original work is indeed yours and your moral, economic and various other rights are at stake due to the copy done by the defendants. Thus, the process of registration is as under Chapter X of the Act.


The recent landmark case of the United States – Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. – is likely to have an impact on the fashion industry in the United States. It was held by the Court that only design features that can be separated from a garment or other utilitarian or useful item, so to speak, qualify for copyright protection in the United States. The entire issue has been a major cause of frustration for designers in the United States for some time as it means that only certain aspects of their garments, and not the garment as a whole, are protect-able.

Again, in India, in the case of Rajesh Masrani v. Tahiliani Design Pct. Ltd, the question was about fashion and apparels and its copyright ability. The Honorable Court, after analyzing the relevant provisions of the Designs Act, 2000 and the Copyright Act, 1957, held that the plaintiffs’ work was entitled for protection under Section 2(c) of the Copyright Act and was an original artistic work. Since the work was an ‘artistic work’ which was not covered under Section 2(d) of the Designs Act, 2000, it was not capable of being registered under the Designs Act and the provisions of Section 15(2) was not applicable.


Fashion industry in the world has evolved over the past years drastically and with the evolvement of this, there is a dire need of protection laws to the creators and the stakeholders of this sector. Laws regarding intellectual property rights have been in the picture since a long time, however, fashion industry got accustomed to it only recently when there were various questions raised regarding the protection of these creative minds who bring out the best designs for the world to wear. Thus, all the IPR laws work together harmoniously to ensure that all moral and economic rights of the creators are protected in any way possible. In the article I specifically focused on the role of copyright law in the fashion industry and landmark cases from an international perspective as well.

Name of Author:
Natasha K,  4th year BA.LLB (Hons.) student at CMR University, School of Legal Studies, Bangalore.


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