Cheerleader Uniform Case Tests Copyright Protection for Designs

By | May 3, 2016

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to use a clash between rival makers of cheerleading outfits to clarify the scope of federal copyright protection for pictures and graphic designs.

The justices on Monday said they will hear an appeal from Star Athletica LLC, which is seeking to fend off a lawsuit by Varsity Brands LLC, the world’s largest cheerleading-apparel company. Varsity says Star copied five proprietary designs.

The case will test the limits of federal copyright protection for clothing, furniture and other items that can have both functional and distinctive ornamental aspects.

Under federal law, a design can be copyrighted if it is separable from a product’s utilitarian aspects. In the cheerleading dispute, a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court said Varsity’s lines, zigzags and braids were conceptually separate from the uniforms’ functional attributes, making the designs eligible for copyright protection.

The Supreme Court, which has been shorthanded since the Feb. 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia, will hear arguments in the nine-month term that starts in October.

The case is Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, 15-866.

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