No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. On the left, Diane von Furstenberg's "Cerisier" dress. On the right, Forever 21's "Sabrina" dress. And connecting the two, the lastest lawsuit filed by DVF in her comprehensive campaign against copying.
But since dresses aren't subject to copyright protection, on what grounds does the designer make her claims? The solution is in the details...of the fabric. While the Copyright Office does not accept registrations for garments, it does register textile patterns. In the case of the Cerisier dress, DVF holds not one but two copyrights, the first for the "Flower Lace Border" design and the second for the "Small Dentelle" design. Together, they add up to a substantial claim for protection. For good measure, the complaint also throws in federal and state unfair competition claims.
If these were little black dresses, this lawsuit would never have been filed. The same goes for ordinary polka dots, gingham checks, or any other fabric design in the public domain -- even if the dress design had been extremely complex and original. But ever since U.S. courts finally realized that the distinction between ink on paper and dye on fabric was untenable, textile patterns have been part of the subject matter of copyright.
So while the current resurgence of prints in fashionable spring wardrobes may not be the direct result of intellectual property protection, the trend certainly has fans among legal types. Who knows? Perhaps paisley-print business suits are next.
Kudos to the New York Post for its well-illustrated article, and to both Will Tennant and Debra Rivera for passing it on.