Saree is well-known Indian attire worn by women not only in India but around the world. It has captivated audiences since time immemorial due to its sensuality and versatility. A saree can be draped in numerous ways that highlight its versatility, culture, tradition, community, occasion, and beauty. Saree is an imperative part of the Indian tradition and culture. Whether it’s Madisari, a saree-draping style that was traditionally worn by women after their marriage in the Iyengar and Iyer culture of Tamil Nadu, or the Atpoure Shari, the saree draping style of West Bengal or Kappulu a saree draping style of the older women in Andhra Pradesh or the Nauvari worn like a dhoti in Maharashtra, the draping or tying style of an unstitched garment or 3.5 to 9-yard saree, varies by region, community, functionality, and, on occasion. In a world full of ever-changing fashion trends and fast fashion, Indian sarees and the traditional draping style remain constant. India has a treasure trove of saree styles and different ways of draping them that have even inspired the international fashion world.

Despite this India lacks a law regime to protect the saree draping styles. The Indian Trademark Act 1999 can protect the brands selling sarees while the prints and designs can be protected under the Copyright Act 1957 under original artistic work or the Designs Act 2000 for the designs aesthetically appealing. However, one may think to protect saree draping under ‘any other work of artistic craftsmanship’ under the Copyright Act 1957[1], but issues related to calculating the time, originality, and who to attribute the authorship arise. While the most obvious branch of IP the mind associates to saree is Geographical Indications, however, registered GIs under the Geographical Indication Act 199 like Bhagalpuri silks, Kanchipuram silks, Mysore, and Muga silks, which are world-famous as fabrics associated primarily with sarees.  Further, saree draping is fundamentally considered a process or an activity, which may lead one to the domain of patent protection but due to the activity being in the public domain since time immemorial protection under the Indian Patent Act 1970 is not possible for saree draping.

It can thus be concluded the present IP regime in India including trademarks, copyrights, patents, designs, and even GIs mainly protect the brand name and logo, the weave and fabric, the manufacturing process, the unique designs, or a combination of all of these, and the community for protecting/maintaining the standards and nurturing the culture and tradition as GIs. But neither of the above talk or provide protection to saree draping.  

How can India protect Saree Draping?

It is certain that the current IP regime in India cannot provide the much-needed protection to the myriad of saree draping styles prevalent in a culturally rich country like India. In such a scenario, India can develop the lesser-known branch of Intellectual Property Rights known as Traditional Knowledge which further incorporates Traditional Cultural Expressions. Saree draping styles perfectly fit under the WIPO definition for Traditional Cultural Expressions[2], as tangible forms of expression – folk costumes. Saree draping styles can be envisaged as folk / traditional costumes worn by when and women of communities. Thus, a well-codified law to protect such traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions which are passed from generation to generation could help to protect saree draping styles in India. However, locating the owner of the traditional cultural expressions and the fact that sarees are commonly worn in Nepal and Bangladesh, proprietor and territory issues may be common.

However, India can adopt the economic right ‘Domaine Public Payant’ to protect traditional cultural expressions such as saree draping styles.  According to this right, when the work enters the public domain after the normal period of protection expires, it cannot be used freely as in the case of normal free public domain. On contrary, it requires a royalty to be paid for the commercial use of the work.[3] Thus, any non-Indian who commercially exploits Indian saree draping styles would be required to pay a royalty or prescribed fee to the collecting society or equivalent. Till date, only 5-6 countries have adopted and incorporated this right and could be a feasible option for India to adopt to protect saree draping styles as Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expression. Saree is a prominent part of the Indian culture and a source of inspiration to fashion trends across the world. Protecting the different traditional ways of draping a saree is in fact an essential way to protect the diverse culture and traditions in India.

[1] Section 2 (c)(iii)



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