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Spying in Style

During World War II, propagandists on both sides turned to clothing and textiles to spread their messages.  From a jacket warning, "You never know who's listening," to scarves and posters reminding citizens to "keep it under your hat,"  anti-espionage themes were prominent.

Today, stylish spies like Mata Hari and James Bond are the stuff of history and fiction, but espionage is alive and well in the world of fashion.  In recent weeks I have heard tales from several different indie boutiques in New York, all of which have had experiences with not-so-subtle industry copyists.  The bored-looking man taking photos of dresses, the woman carefully examining the interior construction of a dress and taking notes, the imperious customer snatching up creative designs without regard to size and then paying with a corporate card -- any of these may be corporate spies.  Vendors displaying their newest designs at trade shows are particularly vulnerable, as the brave and passionate Knitgrrl Shannon Okey describes. 

Even the virtual world is crawling with copyists -- or copybots, as the case may be.  Not only do designs from the real world cross the digital divide, but virtual world designs (which sell for real money) are frequently copied.  Marty Schwimmer at The Trademark Blog has a brilliant report on the latest online design thief, a program named CopyBot has been released into SecondLife.  This program, which takes the onscreen form of a character, can copy anything within its proximity -- clothes, hairstyles, you name it.  A character who unsuspectingly approaches the CopyBot may thus find her outfit cloned or, as Marty puts it, "an avatar dress shop becomes as vulnerable to counterfeiting as any commercial enterprise."  Most interesting of all, it's been captured on video, morphing into various avatars as it approaches them -- the ultimate illicit intelligence-gathering, and a fascinating must-see

A creator may try to keep her newest ideas secret, at least long enough to sell her work or fashion an original avatar.  But it's tough to "keep it under your hat" when the hat itself is the target.