Fashion : is an employed stylist also the author of the creations?

13/04/2021

The recognition of the quality of author for a salaried stylist in a fashion house is not always obvious, especially when several people intervene on the drawing or the making of the first prototype of the garment. The Court of Appeal of Paris had the opportunity to recall certain mechanisms in this matter on March 5, 2021.

The Court indeed returned to the question of the cumulation of the qualities of author and employee by following established case law, on the occasion of a case where an employee of a company specializing in ready-to-wear clothing and fashion accessories, claimed the creation, in September 2014, of a pair of vintage sneakers.
The employee claimed that he “created variations of this shoe, all with a leopard-inspired sole, and designed a box/bag for the packaging of these sneakers with a sketch of the model on it and laces coming out of it.”
After being put on notice, the company claimed that the copyright on this sneaker belonged to the art director and not to the employee stylist.
In this context, the employee brought an action against his employer in 2017 before the Paris high court for infringement of the economic and moral rights attached to his capacity as author of the pair of sneakers, its leopard sole, and its box/packaging bag.

Dismissed in first instance, the Paris Court of Appeal first recalled that “the existence of an employment contract is not exclusive of copyright protection and the employee is vested with the intangible property rights instituted for the benefit of the author provided that he has made a creative work while retaining his freedom and without the aesthetic choices made having been imposed on him by the employer. “

Even if the employee strategically defended his position by adding that he was “responsible for providing inspiration, nourishing a vision, ‘conceiving, designing and developing the lines of bags and shoes,'” the fact remains that he was “part of a creative team called upon to build the style (of the company), and under the direction and control of the style director, to whom he is attached and who assumes responsibility for the management of the style team as well as the stylistic responsibility for ready-to-wear and accessories”.

The Court concluded that the employee’s creative autonomy was limited and that he referred for approval not only to the artistic director but also, upstream, to the entire style team of the company. The employee therefore worked in collaboration with the company’s style team and under the subordination of its style director, which does not establish copyright ownership of the sneaker, the box/packaging bag, and the leopard sole created for this collection.

The Court of Appeal, without stating a new solution, thus recalls that an employee who takes part in a collective creative process under the supervision of an artistic director cannot be able to claim authorship if he does not justify that he had freedom of aesthetic and creative choice.

UGGC and its team of lawyers specialized in copyright law are at your disposal to assist you in protecting your legal and economic interests.

By the IP/IT team of UGGC Law Firm

Sources : Paris Court of Appeal, Pôle 5 – chamber 2, March 5, 2021, n° 19/17254

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