Brexit to threaten LFW, cut copyright protection for UK-designed fashion

The higher end of the UK fashion sector could be hit hard come Brexit as leaving the EU will wipe out a major chunk of copyright protection for British designers and could even endanger London Fashion Week.


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That’s according to experts who have studied the rules around design protection. At the moment, ‘EU unregistered community design rights’ mean designs first shown within the EU can’t be copied by companies also in the giant trading bloc for three years.

But if collections are shown first at LFW after Britain quits the EU, that protection wouldn’t apply.

The threat to LFW comes as designers could be forced to show their designs first in a country that’s still part of the EU, the Mail on Sunday reported. Whether that means designers would decamp to Paris or Milan instead of London is open to question. Some wouldn’t be able to afford to do so, although big names such as Burberry certainly could. And the giant international names like Armani and Hilfiger that have also chosen London for one-off shows might not be so keen to do so.

Other fashion weeks such as Berlin and Copenhagen could get a boost from labels showing there, as could European tradeshows or showroom events, as labels seek cost-effective ways of airing their designs within the EU first.

With UK fashion exports adding up to over £9 billion annually (and supporting 177,000 jobs), and the EU being Britain’s biggest trading partner, the removal of an important layer of protection from a lot of British-designed goods is a major concern.

The Mail on Sunday reported copyright law expert Lord Clement-Jones saying that the loss of protections for unregistered ready-to-wear designs could be a “massive” blow to Britain’s GDP and also to fashion firms.

Meanwhile, Ewan Grist, an intellectual property expert at law firm Bird and Bird, said: “This could leave some designs completely unprotected in the UK after Brexit and sitting ducks for copying or counterfeits.”

The British Fashion Council had earlier warned, in a report sent to the Parliamentary Culture Committee, that loss of copyright protection could “effectively close down London Fashion Week as a platform to promote British businesses.”

BFC chief executive Caroline Rush said: “What we are going to be seeking with Government is to understand how legally you can show as part of London Fashion Week but be seen to disclose those designs maybe digitally within the EU so that those rights are protected and they are recognised on both sides.”

A UK government spokesman has said that the UK "will establish new schemes” to protect rights like these as part of the Brexit process.

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