France: Legal Protections for Fashion

France enjoys the most extensive and longstanding legal rights in connection with fashion designs. It copyright system extends protection to any “original work of the mind.” The French system covers any work of the mind and does not consider what kind or the form of expression that embodies the work. The French copyright requirement differs from the United States, which requires “an original work fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” The United States does not include garment or fashion designs in its list of copyrightable subject matter. (Hahn Law).


The French national system of protection design dates back to the 15th century, when protection was granted to “the fabrication of textiles.” (WIPO). French copyright law has since filled in many of the gaps in terms of protecting actual designs. For instance, the Decree of 19-24 July 1793, “confirmed the recognition of the literary and artistic property right by national law,” and thereby, protected designs as "pure art.” (J. H. Reichman). This was followed by “protection afforded by the special design law of 1806,” and the design law of July 14, 1909, which “further refined the advantages conferred by sui generis legislation.” (Id.).

Current Form of French Copyright Law

The most current form of copyright law in France comes in the form of Article L. 112-2.73 in the Code de la Propriete Intellectuelle. (WIPO). The Code lists “the creations of the seasonal industries of dress and articles of” as a protected subject matter, and “uniform protection is given to original fashion designs automatically on the date of creation, regardless of registration, unlike different protection schemes given to registered and unregistered designs under the European Union regulations.” (WIPO). French copyright law grants “originators of all creations of form, even the most modest, a generous bundle of economic and moral rights for a term of life plus fifty years from creation,” and has allowed for the protection of an array of original designs of Parisian houses against copyists. (J. H. Reichman).

Over the past several years, two key cases have been filed against Zara in France. Designer Vanessa Bruno filed suit against the Spanish fast fashion giant for copying an original dress design. (CA Paris, Oct. 17, 2012, Vanessa Bruno v. Zara France (Fr.)). Similarly, Paris-based design house Céline filed suit against Zara for copying a shirt design. (CA Paris, Feb. 27, 2013, Céline v. Zara France (Fr.)).