SCOTUS Upholds Cheerleading Uniform Copyrights
March 22, 2017
In a blow that will have ripple effects through the fashion and apparel industry, the Supreme Court this week upheld the copyright of cheerleaders’ uniform designs. In the 6-2 ruling, the Court found that Varsity Brands LLC’s use of lines, zigzags, and braids were conceptually separate from the uniform’s functional attributes, therefore making them eligible for copyright protection. The ruling will let Varsity pursue claims that smaller rival Star Athletica LLC copied five proprietary designs. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the uniform design met the test of being “able to exist as its own pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work” that is eligible for copyright protection when it is separated from the utilitarian article. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy. The ruling could give clothing designers “another means of protecting their ornamental designs that are affixed on useful articles like clothing,” Jeanne Gills, an intellectual property lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Chicago, told Bloomberg.
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