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The Secret Disclosures of Fashion Copyright

July 20, 2011

The campaign to enact copyright protection for fashion is looking more and more like a rat’s nest of corruption.

After my research on plagiarism led to the discovery that a charitable foundation was, possibly illegally, funding the CFDA’s lobbying effort to the tune of at least $250,000, I decided to look up which other groups were paying to get Congress to pass a fashion copyright bill.

The surprise answer is none, not even the CFDA.

At least that is what the lobbyists would have us believe. I am not an expert on lobbying disclosure law, but from what I can tell, federal law requires a lobbyist for a bill to disclose the client and any third party organizations paying for the lobbying activity. The press for the bill says that the CFDA is sponsoring the IDPPPA lobbying campaign, but the lobbyists’ filings for the fashion copyright legislation say that a different client is paying the bills.

That client is Coblence and Associates. The CFDA and the Geoffrey Beene Foundation, despite the public statements saying that they are paying for the lobbying campaign, are nowhere to be found in the lobbying disclosures required by federal law.

Recent disclosures don’t say much, but Coblence and Associates does have a revealing Google trail. It is the law firm of Alain Coblence, an attorney who, big surprise, represents leading luxury goods, fashion and cosmetics companies. His online bio describes him as the proponent and author of the fashion copyright bill, and the disclosures state that he has paid more than $1.5 million for the lobbying campaign.

Who does Coblence represent? What are the fashion copyright lobbyists hiding? The archived disclosures of Jon Baumgarten, a copyright lawyer no longer with the fashion bill’s lobbying campaign, do not include the CFDA as an affiliated organization. Instead, Baumgarten’s old disclosure lists Coblence as representing two foreign clients: the French Federation of Couture and the Italian Trade Commission.

If this is true, it could be a big problem for Coblence and the IDPPPA’s present registered lobbyists, Liz Robbins Associates, TwinLogic Strategies and Moore Consulting. As far as I have been able to find, the federal filings by these lobbyists going back to 2005 only list Coblence as the responsible party. The disclosures specifically aver that no other organizations are funding the lobbying effort and that no foreign organizations are involved.

Once again, a reporter or scholar with a greater interest in these issues may want to look into this matter further. It sure does seem like that the lobbying campaign for fashion copyright is using Coblence to launder money from other organizations and maybe even a foreign government. Jeannie Suk and Scott Hemphill may not be the only ones with sources to hide.

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