After publishing on Irenebrination a piece on a possible infringement of copyright in Mary Katrantzou's S/S 17 collection, I got in touch with Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka who confirmed via email that he never collaborated with the London-based designer, so it seems that, yes, Katrantzou made copyright infringement on some of his works.
Yet maybe we shouldn't start pointing fingers and blaming the designer: we all like using specific contents for free and we like accessing everything instantly to then collage, paste and remix it. But we should all start to consider the difference between copying and pasting something for a commercial and non-commercial use and the legal consequences this may have.
You may indeed be infringing a copyright if you copied a famous Haute Couture design, miniaturized it and gave it to your daughter or niece for her doll, but you wouldn't incur in any serious legal problems as the dress would be a "not for sale" one off made as a home project. Yet, if you made that dress on a large scale for dolls or for grown-ups, well, you would be infringing the copyright of the designer who originally created it as you would be copying something that doesn't belong to you, making a profit out of it.
This is an obvious point, but, in the same way, it should be obvious that using an image for a personal research or for educational purposes (Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka highlights on his page that his images are copyrighted when it comes to commercial purposes, but educational or research use or modification is welcome) is extremely different from printing it on a garment and producing/selling the latter on a large scale.
The fashion industry has seen a transition from Takeji Hirakawa's "Fashion DJ" into a professional "Fashion Remixer" (a figure actually born with Miuccia Prada, but that has generated a younger generation of collagists such as J.W. Anderson).
But to be a great remixer, you must have an incredible knowledge and collection of music (or an incredible fashion knowledge if you're a "fashion remixer", and most contemporary fashion designers do not have it...), and anyway DJs and remixers do have to ask for permission and eventually pay for using someone else's samples.
In most cases of modern fashion copyright infringements, young designers or even established houses and brands focused on appropriating something (a pattern, shape, fabric combination and so on) without asking for permission.
So what should be the fastest solution to copyright infringing? Well, a first step would be improving the educational system integrating a discipline such as fashion law into design courses (in the USA there are entire courses dedicated only to this discipline and Fordham University launched a few years ago its own Fashion Law Institute) or offering short and updated courses about it that may provide the designers of the future with an insight on legal matters.
The "Mary Katrantzou S/S 17 Vs Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka" case is only the latest in a long history of misadventures in copyright issues that have seen embarrassing situations that in recent years have involved Chanel, Jeremy Scott at Moschino, KTZ and Isabel Marant among the others.
When such things happen interns and staff at designer houses are usually blamed; when students who are enrolled in a fashion university see "copy and paste" collections they start thinking that borrowing ideas without asking for permission or paying for their use is legitimate. Fashion-wise, this behaviour doesn't produce innovation, but a high number of derivative collections.
In a previous post we called for better copyright laws in fashion, but maybe now the time has come to sit, ponder, and then act quickly to turn fashion/copyright law into a key discipline of the fashion syllabus. It may be the best way to create a healthier fashion system with stronger designers on both the creative and legal levels.