Fashion Plagiarism: Inspirational or Blatant Copying?

plagiarism cross over to inspiration

Plagiarism in its own right is an illegal act of presenting someone else’s work as your own without acknowledging the original source. The big question is, how should plagiarism be dealt with in creative spaces such as fashion design?

Social media has made it easy for designers, magazine fashion editors, bloggers and influencers to instantly share to the public pieces on the runway during fashion weeks and core show casing, fashion spaces. Fashion enthusiasts can easily spot similarities and differences between fashion creations. But where do we draw the line between inspiration and copying of designs?

"In the world of creation, it is almost impossible to come out with a piece that is completely free of inspiration from prior work" - Helena Richardson

Helena Richardson of Bulace magazine argued that “in the world of creation, it is almost impossible to come out with a piece that is completely free of inspiration from prior work”. It has become evident that fashion designers, prominent and emerging, draw inspiration for their garments from early designers of eras like the Elizabethan Era for example. Inspirations like the one presented above are considered legal in courts of law as argued by Mel Cuevas on

However, duplication of designs from recent fashion shows and presenting them as one’s own is plain copying. This is mostly done by fast fashion brands, which is big dilemma that designers face. It is at this point that designers may approach the court of law for infringement cases in order to claim originality of designs. Conversely, claim of originality in the court of law can be a complicated process.

Mel, of posited that designers implicated of such acts may argue for their designs as interpretations of recent trends. Consequently, it becomes increasingly difficult for designers to report copyright infringement in the court of law. However, designers are at a greater advantage of winning cases of trademark and logo suits according to

Personally, I do believe that there is lots of talent in South Africa when it comes to fashion. The law should try harder to protect designs of hard working designers from infringement as much as they protect intellectual property of those in the corporate space.

For information’s sake, below is a brief overview of the various legal forms of protection for the fashion industry and what those legal mechanisms cover.


A garment design is protected under copyright law if it can be deemed as a two-dimensional work or an expressive work of textile art that one could display.
Elements such as the cut preventing of a garment are yet to be protected.


In addition to providing legal protection of ‘product-configuration’ trade dress (distinguished from ‘product design’ trade dress) , trademark law provides protection of logos and other symptoms of source.


This is another protective tool for securing guard of ornamental or decorative aspects of fashion designs. It affords the patent holder the grounds to prevent others from recreating, using or trading (copying) the design elements.

– By Precious Mohale