Copyright law protects decorative features on cheerleading uniform, SCOTUS rules

  • Copyright law protects decorative features on cheerleading uniform, SCOTUS rules

Copyright law protects decorative features on cheerleading uniform, SCOTUS rules

Star Athletica, which was sued by Varsity, argued that its competitor's copyrights were invalid because the designs were necessary to the uniforms' essential function of identifying the wearer as a cheerleader. The design is inseparable from the utility, in other words.

In a 6-2 decision handed down today, the court backed Varsity Brands in its dispute with clothing company Star Athletica. "The Sixth Circuit reversed, ruling that Varsity Brands" colors, shapes and stripes were not "inextricably intertwined" but "conceptually separable" from the utilitarian aspects of the uniforms and may therefore qualify for copyright protection.

Justices Breyer and Kennedy dissented, explaining that while they agreed with much in the court's opinion, they didn't agree that the designs Varsity Brands had submitted to the US Copyright Office are eligible for copyright protection.

Second, that the feature would qualify as a protectable work-either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression-if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated.

"Failing to protect that art would create an anomaly: It would extend protection to two-dimensional designs that cover a part of a useful article but would not protect the same design if it covered the entire article", Thomas wrote. Congress has declined to provide broad copyright protection to the fashion industry, though textile designs are eligible, he said.

The showdown erupted after Varsity Spirit Corp. accused competing uniform maker Star Athletica of infringing on its designs. "But with that cut and arrangement, the resulting pictures on which Varsity seeks protection do not simply depict designs". He said that, if a design were etched or painted on a guitar and then used for an album cover, it would still look like a guitar "but the image on the cover does not "replicate" the guitar as a useful article". [SCOTUSblog materials] in favor of Varsity Brands in a patent infringement lawsuit concerning patterns typically fit for cheerleading uniforms.

Ginsburg said she would affirm on the basis that "the designs are themselves copyrightable pictorial or graphic works reproduced on useful articles".