“The Book of the Week”

Each week, FashionLab’s editors pick a must have book for your bookshelf.

The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation” by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman is all about copying and how copying and creativity can co-exist.

The Knockoff Economy is a book about copying, and specifically about how copying, copyright, and creativity mix in a set of somewhat unusual industries—from fashion to food to football. Though the book main focus is copyright, it also tackle patent and other forms of intellectual property.

Fashion is all about trends, and trends are all about copying

Autors Kal Raustiala (Professor of Law at UCLA and the author of Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?) and Christopher Sprigman (Class of 1963 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law) have some good news: copying and creativity can co-exist. Using extensive industry case studies of fashion, fonts, jokes, recipes, and other sectors, Raustiala and Springman gently remind us that a coherent intellectual property policy inherently involves trading off protection and imitation. And if they think that intellectual property laws are necessary, the interesting and important question asked in this work is how much intellectual property protection is necessary to spur creativity and innovation. 


Words from the authors :

“First, fashion is an intensely status-based enterprise, and so the freedom to copy—which allows designs to filter into the broader marketplace more swiftly—also means that designs become popular more swiftly. That in turn induces those who value standing out to seek a new design. Copying helps trends get started more quickly. And it kills them more quickly as well, as the fashion-forward move away from designs that have become overexposed. And as they do, designers have to be ready with new designs. In short, copying acts as a turbo-charger on the fashion cycle.

Second, fashion is all about trends, and trends are all about copying. This is implicit in what we just wrote. But copy-driven trendmaking has another feature. Trends are what help the trend-seeking to know what to wear to remain in style. Trends, in other words, help organize and anchor the fashion industry’s output into identifiable categories. This anchoring spurs sales, since for many consumers they don’t want to stand out, but instead to fit in.  Copying helps lowers consumers’ information costs regarding what’s in style at any given moment.

As a result of these phenomena, the freedom to copy that exists in fashion is not a drag on innovation—it is spur for it. That has implications for the occasional efforts in Congress to extend some form of copyright to fashion. But it also has larger implications, in particular for the notion that IP is a necessary element in spurring creative work.

And as we explain in the book, this pattern of copying coexisting with creativity is not unique to fashion. In the coming days we’ll post about some of the other industries we explore, and also discuss some of the broader questions that emerge from our study.”


  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (September 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195399781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195399783


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