After we uncovered Nasty Gal’s ridiculously blatant copy of Givenchy’s Rottweiler tote, the online retailer has opted to remove the infringing bag from its site. Chances are, founder Sofia Amoruso, read up on the law or received a cease and desist letter from Givenchy. Unlike plain old design piracy (for which there is very little protection available via copyright law), there is protection for pictorial, sculptural and graphic works under U.S. copyright law. Nasty Gal’s insanely blatant imitation of Givenchy’s super-popular Rottweiler design is a perfect example.
Copyright law does not protect useful things, such as clothing and accessories, and so, it provides little protection for those things in their entirety. Elements of a garment, such as a print that covers it, may be protected but this does little to ward off copiers.
With that in mind, the Rottweiler print that appears on Nasty Gal’s bag debuted in Givenchy’s Fall/Winter 2011 menswear show. Assuming that it is an original print (the bar for originality is low in terms of copyright law) owned by Givenchy, it is automatically protectable by law. Because the image is “separable” from the bag, t-shirt or sweatshirt, etc. on which it appears (aka the t-shirt or bag can exist without the image and the image can exist without the t-shirt or bag), it is classified as a Pictorial, Graphic and Sculptural work – a term of art in copyright law, and protected by law. As such, Nasty Gal cannot legally reproduce it and market/sell bags bearing that copyright-protected image.