Journalism Team Wins Top Paper Award at Conference

Paper on fashion design copyright law honored at AEJMC Colloquium

2018 SMU Undergraduate Research Day. Photo by Jennifer Ebinger, coordinator for SMU Big iDeas and staff member, SMU Engaged Learning.

Is fashion design art or utility?

This is the question tackled by two SMU Meadows journalism professors and three students that led to award-winning research over summer 2017. The team’s resulting paper, “Give Me a ©,” refers to a recent Supreme Court decision on Star Athletica vs. Varsity—two cheerleading uniform manufacturers—on whether Varsity’s rights were infringed when Star appeared to copy its designs. The paper was presented at the 2018 AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) Southeast Colloquium, held at the University of Alabama March 10-12. “Give Me a ©” won Top Paper in the Law and Policy category.

Dr. Camille Kraeplin and Dr. Jared Schroeder served as sponsoring faculty to Anna Grace Carey (B.A. Journalism, B.A. Fashion Media, B.A. Political Science ’19) and Lauren Hawkins (B.A. Journalism, B.A. English ’19) and Kylie Madry (B.A. Journalism, B.A. Political Science '18).

“The paper competition for the Colloquium typically includes faculty and graduate students from research institutions around the country,” says Schroeder. “Two of our undergraduate researchers—Lauren and Anna Grace—were able to come to the conference and were the only undergraduates there. We presented to a room of faculty and grad students who study communication law. They received priceless advice from senior faculty members who run graduate programs and inside information from grad students.”

According to Schroeder, Kraeplin’s section of the paper—about fashion as a business, its history as an industry, and its place in society—was singled out as a highlight of the paper by those who reviewed and critiqued the work. Kraeplin, director of the SMU Meadows Division of Journalism fashion media major, says ,“This was a unique opportunity for Jared and me to merge our research interests and for three of our students to work on a project that combined their interests in media, law, fashion and culture.”

Funded research for undergraduates

To help fund the research activity, the three students each submitted a proposal to the office of SMU Undergraduate Research and were granted a Summer Research Assistantship. Madry was also awarded the designation of Summer Research Fellow based on her analysis report about the conducted research, and was the presenting speaker at a recent SMU Research Day event.

“I originally got into this project because I was interested in delving into the legal side of the project,” says Madry. “But I quickly found myself engrossed in learning more about fashion, its history and why it's important to protect designs legally. I had never fully considered fashion as being on an equal playing field with other forms of art, but that view began to shift as I dug into the subject more.”

Carey is interested in pursuing a career in copyright law. “My top takeaways from the conference were: Copyright law is vague, the fashion industry is massive and designers need protection from copycats,” she says. “Working on this project was incredible. Not only did I learn about the intricacies of the fashion industry and American copyright law, but I also worked with wonderful people. I can definitely see myself working in this field in the future.”

Hawkins says that working on the project gave her a sense of what working with a team should be like. “I feel like we all worked well together while writing the paper and we continued to work well together going into the AEJMC conference,” she says. “My top takeaway from the conference was that most academic scholars do not have ‘better-than-thou’ attitudes. Instead, they were all very welcoming and supportive of us as undergraduate students. I really enjoyed getting to know some of them.”

The paper delves into several aspects of the fashion design copyright issue, including the intricacies of the 1950s-era “separability test” as it appears in the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act and which works to define an object as “art” or “utility”; definitions of fashion; exploration of fashion history and intellectual property cases; and more. Overall, the paper proposes “... an alternative approach to how the courts can conceptualize copyright protections for fashion designs, one that remains relatively closely aligned with the Court’s opinion in Star Athleticaand with traditional interpretations of federal law, while at the same time providing simplicity and clarity to an area of creative expression that has, thus far, received little protection.” In its conclusion, the paper says copyright issues for fashion “can only be resolved by conceptualizing them as a form of art that is often applied to useful objects, an understanding that is more associated with Section 106 of the Copyright Act, which allows copyright holders to control how their works are used, including extending the right of creating derivative works.”

Read more about SMU Meadows Division of Journalism, the B.A. in Fashion Media, Dr. Camille Kraeplin, Dr. Jared Schroeder and SMU undergraduate research.

Kylie Madry, left, with Lauren Hawkins at SMU Research Day presentation.
Anna Grace Carey at SMU Research Day presentation.