Knockoff Sneakers Will Always Exist, They’re Legal

Knockoff fashion items and sneakers have always been a problem, and they will continue to be until laws change. U.S. laws allow the protection of songs, artworks, and films, but not fashion designs.

In Vox’s latest segment, Christopher Sprigman of NYU’s School of Law, weighs in on the difference between counterfeits and knockoffs. “‘Knockoffs mostly are not counterfeits,” says Sprigman in the video. “People tend to conflate them but they’re not the same.”

Counterfeits are designed to emulate the original product, sometimes one for one, and they use the symbols and logos of the brand that made the original. “Counterfeits are typically illegal,” continued Sprigman.

However, knockoffs are designed to resemble the original item but not copy it one for one. And that’s legal, because intellectual property laws in the United States only protect certain kinds of designs. According to Vox, the main battleground for fashion items is not trademarks or patents but copyright.

knockoff fashion vox christopher sprigman

“[Copyright] is the right exclusively to copy or to distribute an artistic or literary work that is original,” says Sprigman. The shape of shoes is not copyrightable, according to Sprigman, because fashion designs are typically thought of as useful articles. “Copyright doesn’t protect useful things, it only protects artistic or literary things,” continued Sprigman. The main problem is that fashion items have utility.

Sprigman believes that it is the ability to copy that actually promotes progress in designs and the industry. “Fashion designers take ‘inspiration’, as they put it, from existing designs and they do this with abandon,” says Sprigman in the video. “But this is what creates trends, and trends sell fashion. When the copying proceeds to a certain point, fashion forward people have had enough — they jump off. They jump on to the new trend that copying has helped to set.”

The video has much more information and is definitely worth the watch. Check it out above and leave a comment below to discuss.

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knockoff fashion vox

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Images courtesy of Vox


  1. Interesting. Knockoffs actually push fashion forward and allow them to sell their clothing at exorbitant prices. However, designers get angry because they’re designs are essentially not protected. Designers also probably not being compensated as much as high end fashion corporations. I’m kind of with the designers on this but it seems like it would mean an end to affordable clothing if they were able to patent their designs. Demand for high fashion will also go down because most people wouldn’t be able to afford it. It seems like the designers have more of a beef with the corporations than cheap knockoffs.

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