Nicki Manaj and the Puff Ball Dress

This “Fashion Law Matters” article was originally posted on the Beale Street Chic blog on November 1, 2011.

A few months ago, Nicki Manaj attended New York Fashion Week in a colorful pom-pom covered dress. Usually, this would not be newsworthy considering Minaj’s interesting style of dress except a designer named Jessica Rodgers claimed that the “puff ball” design was hers. Rodgers explained that Minaj’s stylist requested copies of her designs, but she never heard from Minaj’s stylist again after she delivered the designs. The next thing Rodgers saw was Minaj posing for the camera in a near replica of Rodgers puff ball design.

Under intellectual property law, the creations of the mind such as inventions, literary works, symbols, images and designs are protected from nonpermissive use in commerce. Although the garments do bear strong similarities, Rodgers has little legal recourse under intellectual property law. In the United States, it is usually not illegal to copy a fashion design even in terms of how the final garment is cut and assembled. Therefore, two garments could be almost identical in appearance and leave a designer, such as Rodgers, without a remedy in a court of law.

Yet, intellectual property law does offer copyright protection for a tangible design rather than a mere “concept.” Thus, the “concept” to adhere pom-poms to a piece of clothing as a source of inspiration and design is not copyrightable. Instead, Rodgers may have secured copyright protection for a puff ball design that was actually printed on the fabric.

Without sufficient grounds for a copyright infringement lawsuit, Rodgers took her case to the court of public opinion. In that arena, Rodgers “proved” that the puff ball design was her creation not Minaj’s.  While Minaj has remained silent about the controversy, the stylist who requested Rodgers’ designs no longer works for Minaj. Maybe she is the real puff ball in this story.

Legal Disclaimer: Fashion Law Matters is not intended to serve as legal or other advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.




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