When Cultural Inspiration Crosses The Line

By Nicole Rowlands

In late October, the Fashion Institute at Fordham Law School sponsored an event that addressed the issue of cultural appropriation (or rather, misappropriation) in the fashion industry. More specifically, the event advertisement asked the following: “When it comes to culture, the world’s closets are filled with borrowed and reimagined finery – but when does inspiration shade into cultural appropriation?  And at what point should counsel comment?” The discussion was held at the De Buck Gallery in Chelsea, which showcased exhibitions of Zevs, a popular street artist similar to the infamous Banksy.

The gallery was cozy, so capacity was limited. Only New York’s best dressed “fashion attorneys” and a few lucky law students attended. The reception welcomed the small crowd with an assortment of sweets and a spot of bubbly champagne.

After some chit-chat and a drink (or two), everyone sat down to listen to the speakers – Professor Susan Scafidi, Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham; Katrin Zimmermann, designer of Ex Ovo jewelry; and Katherine E. Lewis, Attorney Advisor for the Smithsonian Institute.

First to speak was Ms. Zimmermann who described her jewelry line as, “modern high-end ‘bridge’ jewelry sold in museums of modern art in the U.S. and worldwide.”  Ms. Zimmermann discussed the cultural inspiration she uses in her jewelry making. Perhaps most enticing was Ms. Zimmermann’s answer to the question, “When searching the world for inspiration, where do you draw the line?” She responded, “There shouldn’t be a line,” and clarified that there was a stark difference between “inspiration and misappropriation.”

Next up was Professor Scafidi, who examined the controversy surrounding cultural inspiration and the fashion industry, and offered examples of the extreme cultural misappropriation that we often see on runways and product lines. For instance, Matthew Williamson’s Summer 2008 Collection included two Ethiopian dresses that were so similar to Ethiopia’s traditional national dress that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to investigating the matter.  But nothing came of the case after Mr. Williamson issued a formal apology and an explanation that the appropriation came from a deep “admiration… for the traditional dress of the Ethiopian people.”

In November 2012, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show featured one of its models in a Native American-style headdress, leopard print underwear, and high heels. After the outfit was condemned by many as a display of ignorance toward tribal culture and history, Victoria’s Secret publicly apologized and assured the public that it would not include the outfit in the show’s television broadcast or in any marketing materials.

It wasn’t even a year earlier that Urban Outfitters was in the soup over the same kind of transgression. But that time, a public apology was not enough to save the company from harsh criticism — and even a lawsuit.



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Taylor Swift’s “Next of Kin” Doesn’t Fly

By Asher Hawkins 

A small plane piloted by a Canadian amateur aviator crashed at a Nashville airport in late October. That, in itself, was not national news.  But when word spread that Michael Callan, the 45 year old pilot, had listed songstress Taylor Swift as his “next of kin” in documents on file with his flying club, media across the globe became interested, fast.

According to The Tennessean, which has spearheaded media coverage of the story, Ms. Swift has denied even a passing acquaintance with Mr. Callan. The fatal crash made for great press fodder due to unanswered questions surrounding the pilot’s possible criminal record, and his unusual flight path across half of middle-America. Unwittingly, journalists covering the story also touched on another mystery: the precise meaning of the phrase “next of kin.”

As LASIS will explain, the phrase “next of kin” is a whole lot more than just the title of Patrick Swayze’s most underrated action film—it’s also an important term of art in trusts and estates law, with complex connotations regarding how a person’s assets are divvied up upon his death, and how much red tape is in store for those who stand to receive a portion of those assets.



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Cheating Website Double Crosses Customers

By Andrew Beauclerc

There are dating sites for Jews, Christians, vegetarians, and recently, even married folks. That’s right, AshleyMadison.com is an online “dating” service for married folk looking to have an affair.

And Doriana Silva is suing Ashley Madison, claiming she suffered a wrist injury while working for the website. Ms. Silva didn’t injure her wrist satisfying customers; it was all the typing she did when creating hundreds of fake profiles of sexy women. She asserts that she was paid $34,000 to create these bogus profiles to lure men to the Ashley Madison site in Brazil, and is seeking $20 million in damages. Luckily for Ms. Silva, it doesn’t appear that her wrist has stopped her from enjoying life or riding a jet ski, at least, not according to her Facebook pictures.

LASIS wondered whether Ms. Silva’s claims opened the door for further lawsuits against the website. Could a married man who paid membership fees sue over these fake profiles?



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ADHD: A Diagnosis In High Demand

By Halina Schiffman-Shilo and Courtney Weinstein

Tylenol. Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin. These four drugs are all commonly found at schools. But which one of these things is not like the others? The first (Tylenol) is an over-the-counter medication recommended for minor pains. The other three (Concerta, Adderall, and Ritalin) are for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the American Psychiatric Association, only three to seven percent of school-aged children have ADHD. However, the Association concedes that, “studies have estimated higher rates in community samples.”

If those communities are high school, college, and beyond, I believe it.

Common symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. And while most of us have experienced these things at some point in our lives, ADHD is not a myth.

Have you ever read a page in a book and thought: “I don’t have a clue what I just read?” If that happens consistently, despite your best efforts to concentrate, it could be a sign of ADHD. The frustrations and disadvantages that come with not being able to focus, stay alert, or finish things on time, are real, and can be debilitating.

So as not to punish students for their disabilities, most schools allow students with ADHD to take extra time to complete an exam or a homework assignment. Some schools will also designate private rooms to students with ADHD so they can complete their exams with minimal distractions. And even College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, allows students who have been diagnosed with ADHD (and who request an accommodation for their disability) to take extra time—up to double the allotted time—for their exam.

And get this. A school does not, and indeed, cannot, inform potential employers when a 4.0 GPA and 2300 SAT was earned by a student who was granted such an accommodation. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, schools are required to keep this information confidential unless the student consents to such a disclosure.

So what if a company hired such a student, only to learn that she needs double the time to complete her work?  Could the employer fire the new hire?  And could the employee sue if she were fired, even though she’d been hired, practically speaking, under false pretenses?

LASIS investigates.



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Paradise Lost: A Debate on Puerto Rico

By José I. Ortiz

With the government shutdown and the looming debt-ceiling debacle threatening to disrupt the global economy, it’s pretty safe to say that the average American is probably not thinking about Puerto Rico. Why would he?

But I’m not the average American. I am from Puerto Rico and much of my family still lives there. And one day I hope to go back and somehow help make a difference. So I looked forward to attending the Puerto Rico Status Forum, held at New York Law School as part of the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s series on Civil and Human Rights in Puerto Rico. As a student member of the PRBA, I’m on the bar association’s email list but I’m not sure how else someone interested in the topic would have known about it. Judging by the empty seats in a room that probably fits about 100 people, I would say that a few more of the 4.7 million Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (of which 52% live in the Northeast) would have been interested in an event like this. Or, maybe because it was an unseasonably warm October evening, most of my compatriots decided it would be better to daydream about our Caribbean homeland while taking in the outdoors.

As a poor law student, I thought I’d save my appetite for the cornucopia of free food that I was sure to find at this event. Puerto Ricans love to eat. What I found, however, were a few sweets and a whole lot of wine. Well, wine’s good, too.

After welcoming remarks from the PRBA’s president, Elba Galvan, in which she thanked all the pertinent participants and duly highlighted her bar association’s standing as the oldest ethnic bar association in New York City, the floor was given to New York City Council member Rosie Mendez. Apologizing in advance for possibly having to run out during the forum to participate in negotiations with the Bloomberg administration regarding her district, Councilwoman Mendez opened by discussing developments such as the National Lawyers Guild’s involvement in human rights issues including Puerto Rican political prisoners and the U.S. Navy bombings of the island of Vieques which, despite the mostly jacket-and-tie clad audience members in the room, made me feel like this would turn out to be a real conversation and not just a lot of fluff.



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