Drawings of Varsity's cheer uniforms which it argued were protected
24 March, 2017, 03:17
Varsity Brands had sued Star Athletica for infringing on five of its proprietary cheerleading uniform designs. The court held that a feature incorporated into a design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection if, separate from the useful article, the feature (1) can be perceived as a two or three dimensional work of art and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work on its own or in another tangible medium of expression.
The U.S. Supreme Courtupheld Varsity Brands' copyrights on its cheerleading outfits in a ruling that bolsters the legal protections for pictures and graphic designs.
In a 51-page majority opinion, justice Clarence Thomas wrote that since the uniforms - similar to a t-shirt, paper towels, car, or other useful real-world items - serve a function, they can not be copyrighted.
This case involved lines, chevrons, and colorful shapes on cheerleader uniforms.
Webb said that Star Athletica isn't really a major player in the industry but it was "virtually copying" its designs and saying they had a right to do that. Applying § 101 of the Copyright Act, the Court found that the decorations on the uniforms at issue could be identified as having pictorial, graphic, or sculptural qualities, and the arrangement of the decorations could be placed in another medium (e.g. placed on a painter's canvas) without replicating the uniforms themselves.
The ruling could have broad implications for the fashion industry because it gives designers "another means of protecting their ornamental designs that are affixed on useful articles like clothing", said Jeanne Gills, an intellectual property lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Chicago. The decorations are therefore separable from the uniforms and eligible for copyright protection.
After losing a 2010 lawsuit, Varsity Brands eventually got a favorable ruling Wednesday as the highest court of appeal said the designs were protected.
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