A French Farce Finds Itself the Center of International Litigation:

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Shortly after the Chanel show ended in March of 2003, three photographers busily scurrying to meet a deadline for their publisher were arrested outside an office located on Rue de Fauboug Saint Honoré in Paris. It turned out that Chanel, among others, had instigated their incarceration, having determined that the trio worked for an Internet website that illegally posted photos of each piece of a collection – in violation of French law.

That original suit was making its way through the Gallic judicial system, which at times resembles a very slow snail, when Vogue Homme’s Editor-in-Chief, Richard Buckley, took the liberty of inserting a CD ROM in the September 2003 issue. That silvery disk was impregnated with photographs of every piece of the Spring / Summer 2004 men’s collections shown the previous July in Paris. According to sources at Jean Paul Gaultier, a second lawsuit was filed against Vogue Hommes, which resulted in the recall of numerous copies of the magazine.

In France, life moves at a leisurely pace, and so it is not surprising that in March of 2004, style.com continues to publish, with impressive speed, a photo of each piece presented on the Paris Prêt-à-Porter runway.

But just behind the scenes, in the pit, a nervous air of anxiety has fallen over the ranks, that myriad of photographers who speak quietly in hushed tones. The word on the street – a class action lawsuit is imminent, launched by the respective legal departments of Chanel, Dior and Gaultier (among others) and citing this time, not only the person behind the camera, but the entity itself.

How can this be? Well, the answer is really such a farce that only the French could have the imagination to invent it.

Sources close to the investigation say, off the record, that French Houses are themselves to blame. The legal advisors of these Houses complain bitterly to the Fédération Française de la Couture, the governing board headed by a farcical character, Didier Grumbach, that they are victims of a scheme that launches their collections into cyberspace, only to be copied by unscrupulous agents. Mr. Grumbach responds in kind by issuing the most stringent guidelines: each Internet site accredited by the Fédération must have their photographer sign a pledge that he or she will abide by the rules set forth by the governing board, notably limiting 7 maximum shots per show. Furthermore, Mr. Grumbach continues to denounce the Internet as a source of evil that allows French fashion to be copied by Asian sweatshops.

The rub: the Fédération does not officially accredit Condé Nast, in all of its various entities, including American Vogue and style.com, and so is at a loss to crack down on the prime offender.

The legal departments of the same fashion houses which are set to launch litigation, do not speak directly with the press officers who routinely send invitations to the photographers in question, namely those that work obliquely for style.com

In a comedy of errors, the situation has continued unencumbered season after season. But if sources prove accurate, that is soon to change, as the long arm of justice is about to reach right across the Atlantic to 4 Times Square.



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

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