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Tempest in a Tube

All the world's a reality TV show, and all the men and women merely players -- or so it would seem from recent message boards.

The previews following Project Runway's Season 3 opener piqued the interest of fashionable viewers nationwide when it suggested that one of the designer contestants had behaved in a manner unbecoming to television and would be asked to leave.  But who?  And what was the infraction?

And could it have anything to do with copying?

The obsessively perceptive "Viktor Rolf" posted the following on a Television Without Pity forum:

I believe Keith will be ask to leave since he copied runway images from several different designers and used it as his own. He used runway pics from Giambattisa Valli, Lacoste and possible Marni for his book. I noticed the Valli pic right away, but really didn't make anything of it. Passing other designers work as your own is so not cool. Say adios to the poor man's Jude Law.

Elsewhere, "The Hepburn" promptly and most resourcefully juxtaposed screencaps from Keith Michael's sketchbook portfolio, submitted as part of his application to become a PR contestant,  with photos of the original outfits in their respective runway shows (also here): 

L-Keith R-Giambattista Valli Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Giambattista Valli, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Lacoste, Spring 2006

Keith (left) v. Marni, Spring 2006

Interested parties in the blogosphere did not react kindly, but Keith sent the following explanation/defense to Blogging Project Runway:

for the record, i submitted 5 portfolios for the judges review. the one you seem to be focusing on was a research assignment i did for a client in which i reviewed key fashion trends. i'm very proud of all the work that i do. the panel of judges that reviewed my work had many years of experience behind them. i found them neither ignorant, uninformed or in any way confused about their own profession.

Although quite a few commenters were skeptical of the explanation, Counterfeit Chic prefers to withhold judgment pending more information.  From a sociological perspective, however, it is interesting to note the negative response of fashionisti to the alleged copying of others' garments.  The practice may be legal, albeit not within the rules of a competition, but that doesn't make it respectable.  A designer's credibility and status are based on his/her production of original, creative work.

There's another potential legal issue here, however.  Keith is not alleged to have copied the actual garments, merely the runway photographs of the garments -- right down to the poses in which the models were captured on film.  Those photographs are protected by copyright.  Yes, the copies are sketches of the photos rather than exact, mechanical reproductions of the photos themselves, but despite the change in medium they are still quite literal.  Moreover, Keith claims to have produced the copies for a commercial purpose, thus actually competing with the market for the photos.  It's possible that Keith licensed the images, but if not, they may violate copyright law.

Is it odd that U.S. copyright law protects the two-dimensional images of a garment, but intellectual property law does not protect the actual designs?  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."

Viewers will soon learn whether the same is true for reality TV.


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