personal blog

identically dressed twins. Photo by Alex Montandon.As a sometime knitting pattern designer, I get really annoyed when people talk about clothing as if it can be copyrighted. For example, when a pattern comes with a stipulation that you cannot make the item to sell, or when I sell a pattern and the publisher wants me to sign off that the work is "original".

Any time copyright infringment has gone to court in a clothing-related case, the verdict always comes back that clothing is not subject to copyright, since it is a functional garment (specifically, a "useful article"). Only aspects that have nothing to do with being a garment are subject to copyright law - specifically, a graphic printed on a T-shirt may be copyrighted, but the idea of making a T-shirt in a certain color cannot.

Here's the relevant text from the law

(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:

(1) literary works;

(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;

(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;

(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;

(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;

(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;

(7) sound recordings; and

(8) architectural works.

(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

I've heard people claim that clothing might fall under (5) as a sculptural work. But that's not true:

the design of a useful article, as defined in this section [defining what falls into section (5)], shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.

So, clothing is not copyrightable. What is interesting about the Trovata v. Forever 21 lawsuit that is heading to trial is that they aren't claiming copyright infringement, but rather "trade dress" - that somebody would see a striped shirt and think "oh, that's a Trovata shirt" when it's really Forever 21.

The case doesn't sound terribly strong to me, but I'm not a lawyer. Why should Trovata have a monopoly on shirts with a certain striping pattern? They shouldn't. We'll see what the judge thinks, but this case has no bearing on copyright law.

However, this is a little more worrying (from the same article):

Although U.S. copyright laws do not protect a garment’s basic design, silhouette or form, legislation is pending in Congress — supported by the Council of Fashion Designers of America — to expand copyright laws to the “appearance as a whole of an article” of clothing. The Design Piracy Prohibition Act has stalled in committee. Critics contend its provisions are too sweeping and would stifle competition and commerce in the apparel industry.

Yes, it would stifle competition and commerce. It would also seem to let designers sue home knitters or sewists who make their own clothing that is similar to famous designs. Since the fashion industry as we know it survives on copying the "appearance as a whole of an article," what are those of us who can't afford the original supposed to wear? The wording might mean that changing a few details doesn't get you off the hook, if you haven't changed the "appearance as a whole" - you choose different colors for the stripes of your polo shirt, but it still looks like a multicolored-striped shirt. Can Trovata come after you then? We really, really don't need to create another RIAA-like opportunity, whether it's targeting individuals or other clothing companies.

Then the originality aspect would come into play, I guess. Copyrightable works must be original, which is no problem since I won't accidentally write the exact text of Harry Potter from scratch. But if some big-name designer decides that a red sheath dress with a flared hem is their property ... what happens when I independently decide I'd like to make a red dress and the "appearance as a whole" is similar? What happens to the pattern company that makes a sewing pattern for a sheath dress that can be made in any color?

Clothing is not currently copyrightable under US law. It also shouldn't be. Seriously. That would just be stupid.
1. Archer Farms "Indian-inspired" meals from Target. I never thought I would stoop to buying groceries from Target, but look! For $4 you get rice, curry sauce, a side dish, and some over-sweet chutney. It feeds two people heartily. (We add our own meat or veggies to the curry sauce, and cook extra rice, but the total cost is no more than $8 for dinner for two.)

2. High-waisted skirts like this one. I don't know what suddenly made me stop hating this style and start loving it. Maybe the fact that it looks AWESOME on me. (I made my own with Vogue 8425.)

3. Text adventure games! I never liked these as a kid because I could never guess what to do next. Well, either my brain grew or they started writing 'em better, because I devoured three of these things recently and found them intriguing and intelligent and not impossible to play.

First I played Everybody Dies, which starts out all "go east"/"go west"/"it's boring here" but gets interesting after you die the first time. As far as I can tell there's only one ending, but the puzzles are fun and I found the story stuck in my head for hours afterwards, which I think means it's a good story.

Since Everybody Dies was the 3rd-place winner in the Interactive Fiction Awards, I then went and played the first-place entry, Violet. This is an awesome game for procrastination from your nanowrimo novel and/or paid writing projects. In it, the major puzzle is battling procrastination so you can write, because bad things will happen if you don't. (I played this game while waiting for a call back from someone I was interviewing for an article, which is the freelance writer equivalent of "my code is compiling").

4. You see where this is going. After playing about three games in two days I was flooded with ideas for text games I could write. Like one based on my nano novel! Or one where you don't move in space but you can travel through time! or one where you're asleep and have to destroy your alarm clock so you can get back to the quest in your dream where you need to get to the airport that is also a mcdonald's!

Want to play along with the Beth's Craziness game? (the metaphorical one, not the inevitable text adventure) Just apt-get install frotz inform inform-doc. Tell me how yours comes out.

[psst zcode linux ... just trying to help out the googlers]
new shoes: Nike Free

If the Vibram FiveFingers fit my long toes better, I'd run in those. But since they don't, I bought a pair of these.

I've had trouble with arch pain (NOT plantar fasciitis, something else) with every pair of running shoes I've ever owned, except the Nike Air Presto and - so far - these.

Having eliminated most of the other possibilities, I realize that my arches, being a complex and flexible part of my body, just want to do their job. They can't do that in shoes that have soles like bricks. I went looking for extremely flexible running shoes, and found the Nike Free 5.0 (The 3.0 sounds like more my style, but I couldn't find it anywhere.)

So I had a nice pain-free run today, a 5K route plus I was feeling so good at the end I tacked on another half-mile jog and some hill sprints.

My thoughts on the Free: I love love love the flexible sole, though I think they should have made it more flexible. And why make the heel so thick while the forefoot is nice and thin? Nike, you perplex me.

Overall they feel almost exactly like my old Prestos! The shoe that was billed as "a T-shirt for your feet" and derided by the few real runners that bothered to express an opinion. The only running shoe that ever really sorta worked for me.

Here's hoping every run is as good as the one I had today.
vibram fivefingers

Yes, I did get used to walking in them. It takes time for your feet to get stronger - a few weeks. At the same time you learn how to place your feet for maximum comfort. Experiment and you will see.

I wear them everywhere, including hikes in the woods and walks around town. I wear them kayaking and gardening and shopping.

EVERYONE notices, and asks where I got them. Then I have to explain about VibramFiveFingers.com. I sound like a commercial.

After walking in the FiveFingers, I'm no longer afraid of going barefoot. Gravel on the driveway? Whatever. I just step carefully.

I have a greater appreciation of soft ground like dirt, moss, grass, and playground padding. Mmm.

The Flow is good in cold weather, but doesn't keep you dry. FiveFingers in the rain = waterlogged. I wonder if the R&D people are looking into gore-tex?
It seems I am drawn to weird footwear. High heeled sneakers, say - I've owned more than one pair. Saddle shoes. Dance shoes of all different kinds. And don't forget the shoes with wheels on the bottom, or knife edges on the bottom, for skating on various surfaces. I've even owned the Air Rift.

This one is even weirder than all of those. It even comes with a nutty ideology that, I suspect, is grounded in truth: your feet work fine without any shoes. Better, in fact.

So, here they are: shoes to walk barefoot in.

vibram fivefingers

A recent New Yorker article entitled "You Walk Wrong" put words to a suspicion I've been having for a while: even though I "need" running shoes that correct my overpronating gait, there is probably nothing actually wrong with my feet.

Normal running shoes make my feet hurt in one way. Special shoes make my feet hurt less, but differently.

Yet, no matter how my feet hurt - whether after a run or a day in dress shoes - taking the shoes off always returns me to normal. If running shoes really corrected some problem with the way I naturally use my feet, wouldn't I feel better with the shoes and worse without?

The You Walk Wrong" article suggests that most people's barefoot stride is just fine, and supportive or extra-cushioned shoes might do more harm than good.

But enough about me. What about these shoes?

They're called the Vibram FiveFingers. They have a very thin but tough rubber sole, individual toes, and my version has some velcro closures to adjust the fit.

It's almost not right to call them shoes (the first time I stepped onto a gravel driveway was my wake-up call). Think of them like a strap-on callus for your bare feet.

In shoes, I (and, probably, you) slam my heel on the ground pretty hard. The heels of my shoes are always the first part to wear out. I took the Fivefingers for a trip to the store. On parking lots, sidewalks, and hard floors, my heels hurt.

But then, what about those times at Alfred when Amy and I took our shoes off and walked across campus? We avoided gravel driveways, for one thing. And when we got to a grassy field, I'd put my foot down to enjoy the feel of it. I did not put my foot down heel first.

In fact, when I step on unknown grass, or a kibble-strewn floor like the ones in my house, I step with the flat or the ball of my foot first. I land softly. Barefoot hikers call this fox walking.

Now, I have two problems. One is re-learning how to walk, since I drop into my heel-slamming habits whenever I'm outdoors. The other is strengthening the muscles in my feet. After a few hours in the Fivefingers, my arches and toes feel tired! This is normal in the beginning, they say.

Will I one day be able to run without running shoes? Hike without hiking boots? Here's hoping.

vibram fivefingers - view of toes

Halloween is coming up! We females have a wide range of costumes to choose from! Well, actually, a lot of costume catalogs sound like lists of words that really, really don't need to appear after "Sexy". For example...

There's also a Beth costume but I don't think they got me right at all. "Beth’s costume features her big blonde wig, with a black dress and dark sunglasses. The costume also includes handcuffs, a necklace, and a knife with leg strap."

Best of all: Lydia the Tattooed Lady. I don't see that they remembered the ships on her hips though.

brown saddle shoesSince I'm an internet celebrity and all, I've decided to put my influence to the test: I am BRINGING BACK SADDLE SHOES. (Please don't ask "where did they go?".) This guy is also some sort of internet celebrity, and he singlehandedly got 14,000 people to start wearing saddle shoes. That means there are only about 6x109 of you losers still holding out.

reverse saddlesYou don't want to be left out of the latest development in fashion and overall coolness, so of course you will purchase and obsessively wear a pair of saddle shoes. Got it? If you prefer to wear some other type of snazzy spectator-style shoe, that's fine too. Saddle shoes are unisex and appropriate for all ages, so nobody with feet has an excuse for not wearing them.

the high societyI got some saddles from Payless.com, but I don't recommend them. They're tight and stiff and made of cheap vinyl. Instead, try Muffy's, which has saddle shoes with red soles, white soles, black soles, rubber grippy soles, leather dancing soles, and even high heels. They've got brown-and-white, black-and-white, red-and-white, white-on-black, and some weird color combos involving browns and greys and beiges. You have no excuse, people.