New Delhi: Designer duo Hemant-Nandita`s hearts sink when they spot replicas of their clothes selling in markets like Chandni Chowk in the old quarter of Delhi, usually at half the original price. But they prefer to remain mum.
"It really hurts to see people selling the imitations of our designs so freely, but then how much can one curb the practice?" Nandita asked reporters.
The more the fashion weeks, the more the exposure, the more the chances of designs being copied. But Indian designers are quite nonchalant about seeking copyright protection as they feel it will cost too much time and money.
"There are so many fashion weeks these days, the designs are all available online within moments of the garments going on the ramp...and with each collection consisting of 185-190 different designs, who has the time and money to get them registered?" asked Nandita.
Designer imitations cost at least 50-70 percent less than the original cost of a garment. Which means, if an original designer outfit costs Rs.20,000, its imitation would be a steal at Rs.6,000 to Rs.8,000 in a market like Chandni Chowk. Some popular sari stores in upmarket places like Connaught Place and South Extension also house imitations.
Senior designer Leena Singh of Ashima-Leena says the process of getting a copyright and then justifying copyright infringement is tedious in India.
"It takes a lot of time for the procedure, and it is very difficult. If I have a print of a carnation flower without a stick on my dress, and someone makes a stick with the flower, I won`t be able to claim copyright even if all the other things are the same as in my original garment. So no one wants to waste time," said Leena, who is also a qualified lawyer.
A copyright can cost a designer Rs.800-Rs.1,000 per design, and it is required to be renewed after every two years.
Safir Anand, senior partner of law firm Anand and Anand, points out "it is important that designers take appropriate action rather than maintain silence and construe copying as flattery".
"Unfortunately, there is no transparent law to clearly outline how far inspiration can be allowed. Many designers and shop-owners are of the view that if they slightly change certain structures or patterns, then they can get away with it and in many cases they do. This is the problem," said Anand.
In India, at least 10 fashion weeks are held annually, with each getting massive print, TV and online media coverage. So Leena and many other designers hope the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), India`s apex fashion body, will demand a positive change in the court of law.
"I wish a bill is passed whereby a design, which is even close to an FDCI-registered designer`s creation, must be viable for copyright protection. If such laws come through, we are sure designers will not cringe about spending money to protect some exclusive designs," said Leena.
Jai of designer duo Parvesh-Jai had accused designer Riyaz Gangji of plagiarism last year.
"It was very difficult for us to fight as there was no clear guidance and support from anyone, including senior designers and fashion bodies. There should be a proper body helping designers with copyright laws and there should be proper lawyers associated with this to get things copyrighted and to fight for it," said Jai.
But FDCI`s president Sunil Sethi says its hands are tied.
"FDCI is only a platform for designers to meet and help them get together to act in a democratic way, to make peace between designers, but an effective decision can only come through a court of law," Sethi told reporters.
"FDCI is in no position to offer any punishment. This requires an expert investigation to get into the roots of the authentication of designs of the person who is claiming his designs are copied."
"The legal process in India is so long that everyone gives up. So what is required is fair, friendly and immediate justice from the authorities," Sethi told reporters.
Anand suggests that designers should resort to a mechanism such as a caution notice in the paper educating the prospective consumers of the stores which sell their original designs.
Leena suggests "make your designs and embroideries so difficult and exclusive that nobody even thinks of copying it."