Fashion Bytes — Victoire pour Louis Vuitton!

On 18 April, Louis Vuitton won what is being referred to as a landmark copyright infringement case in the United States. The ruling will protect Louis Vuitton from “large-scale international counterfeiting” by penalizing those found to be “facilitating” the sale and distribution of counterfeit items — including popular websites such as Paypal or eBay.  According to Valerie Sonnier, the global intellectual property director for Louis Vuitton, “Preservation of creativity is of the utmost importance to Louis Vuitton … We will continue to protect our brand and customers, and to preserve the rights of designers, artists and brands.” The ruling is considered a landmark because other brands who have filed similar suits in the last two years, such as Polo Ralph Lauren and True Religion, were not awarded such vast protections.

Louis Vuitton revolutionized the luggage industry when he changed the shape of steamer trunks to make them stackable. The irony is that the very fabric he commisioned to distinguish his products from his imitators — the signature LV monogram — is now the very thing that is so coveted and copied.

Is Louis Vuitton more likely to be copied than other luxury brands precisely because it has such a distinctive mark, or because of the prestige Louis Vuitton carries? Do the luxury brands still carry the distinction that originally inspired the counterfeit industry? Do you think that true luxury products, such as Louis Vuitton, are more likely to be counterfeited? Do the imitations add to or detract from the brand’s reputation? What precisely makes a brand a luxury brand, and what gives certain products such value? Workmanship? Tradition? History? All of the above? Ms Sonnier mentioned the preservation of creativity as a priority for Louis Vuitton in this lawsuit. Fashion Bytes discussed the relationship between copyright laws and infringement and art and fashion in a previous post;  that post cited a TED Talk by Johanna Blakley on the way in which the openness and lack of copyright fosters creativity in the fashion world. Is Blakley wrong, do copyright laws actually inspire creativity? Or does copyright protection only become a priority when your design’s distinction comes from its monogram? Will this ruling have any affect on other brands that are counterfeited as well? Do you think this ruling — and the intended enforcement of it — will have an affect on counterfeiting?  What other ways can designers and design houses protect their designs?

Please share your thoughts.


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  • JPaper May 01, 2012 06.40 am

    I think the Louis Vuitton logo has become a bit like the Playboy logo, or the Rolling Stones lips, or the British flag. It’s so often used as a design feature that I think a lot of people don’t even connect it to the brand anymore. It’s just a popular design. That said, I definitely agree with the court ruling- every crappy market stall has fake Louis Vuitton bags, and I’d love to see them got rid of.

  • Cassidy May 01, 2012 09.19 pm

    I’m torn on this issue. On one end, I completely understand a company’s desire to protect their distinctive logo and design. On the other hand, I’m not sure that these imitations affect the brand’s capitalism? The counterfeits are incredibly inexpensive and bought by people who could never afford an authentic LV creation. The brand is so utterly exclusive that I understand the desire of people–from across the economic spectrum–to align themselves with a luxury brand, even if they cannot afford the real thing. What’s wrong with that?

  • jacqueline May 01, 2012 10.54 pm

    So many meaty questions raised in this post! Where to begin?

    First, to address your question of luxury, I think all the points you listed play a part, but so does a high price and exclusivity. After all, Eddie Bauer has both history and tradition and is known for a particular level of quality, but is certainly not hard to get or very pricey.

    I’ve never quite been able to define where I believe the copyright line should be drawn for fashion. Certainly silhouettes or a particular combination of construction techniques should not be able to be copyrighted, but to recreate an entire piece without changing anything is not right. It harms smaller designers just as much, if not more, than the big fashion houses.

    Also I don’t agree with the argument that a lack of copyright is what motivates creativity in fashion. With no copyright laws in place currently, you can go to any mall in the United States and witness banal designs. What motivates fashion designers to be innovative and creative is the fact that the industry is built on change — without something “new” there is no such thing as fashion. Fashion relies on evolving change. And don’t discount consumers either. The market creates demand for originality.

  • Joy D. May 02, 2012 01.56 am

    I will not repeat some of the great things already said but I will say that I am disheartened at how difficult and time consuming it is to file these suits in the first place. Recently there have been several shoes ripped off by Steve Madden and Jeffrey Campbell as well as jewelry rip offs at Topshop. When you make it difficult for entrenched big companies like Polo, who’s ruling I disagree with, it makes it seem pointless for smaller designers to file. Independent designers continually have a smaller voice and less say in their branding and that is the real shame. I am happy for LV but I hope this is only the beginning in won fights.
    We have a long way to go and I think fashion studies scholars are the ones to put these ideas and issues to the forefront. We have an opportunity to but pressure on government, global or otherwise, to protect brands and creativity. Recently I did a blog post about

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