The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case, Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, that asks whether a cheerleader’s uniform is copyrightable. More specifically, the court must determine where the functional design of a uniform ends and the creative design begins. In other words, are clothing designs eligible to be protected by copyrights?
Varsity Brands, one of the largest cheerleader uniform companies, claims that its colorful patterns of chevrons and stripes can be copyrighted just the same as other uniforms, like the one Mickey Mouse wears. Star Athletica is a start-up company trying to get its big start in the cheerleading uniform business argues that its designs are an inseparable part of a uniform since they identify the person wearing it as a cheerleader. The district court ruled in favor of Star Athletica, but the Sixth Circuit overruled the decision. The Sixth Circuit held that Varsity’s designs were unique and copyrightable.
The Supreme Court is tasked with creating a clear legal test that can be used to determine when the design of clothing can be protected by a copyright. If the design is central to the use of the garment, it won’t be copyrightable. However, if the design has original aspects that are not part of the function of the clothing, the designer may have the ability to claim a copyright. Finding a way to draw a line between these two has been difficult for the courts.
The cheerleading uniform case is one of two copyright cases the Supreme Court will be hearing next term. The other case is a patent case regarding adult diapers. In the adult diapers case, the issue is whether the patent infringement lawsuit was unduly delayed in being filed.
If you are interested in learning more about copyrights or how we can assist you with your business-related needs, contact the knowledgeable lawyers at The Swenson Law Firm to schedule an appointment.