U-P-D-A-T-E! On May 2, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the question: “What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under § 101 of the Copyright Act?”. The answer to this question may have far-reaching implications for the retail and fashion industries – stay tuned for future u-p-d-a-t-e-s!

Group of Cheerleaders in a Row

Originally published September 10, 2015

A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit highlights the ongoing significance of copyright law for the retail and garment industries. On August 19, 2015, the Sixth Circuit, in reversing the lower court’s decision, held that the “stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and colorblocks” on Varsity Brands’ cheerleading uniforms are protectable by copyright. In Varsity Brands et al v. Star Athletica, the Sixth Circuit dipped into the murky waters of copyright protection for fashion design, reiterating the need for greater legislative or judicial guidance when it comes to fashion design and copyright law. Nonetheless, the Court ultimately found, as other Circuits have, that “fabric design”, unlike “dress design”, is protectable.

At the district court level in Tennessee, Varsity Brands sued Star Athletica for infringing its registered copyrighted designs for cheerleader uniforms. On summary judgment, the district court determined that a cheerleading uniform cannot exist without the hallmark “stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and colorblocks,” and therefore found Varsity’s copyrights of such designs invalid as inseparable from the utilitarian aspect of a cheerleading uniform.


Continue Reading UPDATE: R-E-V-E-R-S-A-L Spells Reversal! The Sixth Circuit Holds Varsity Brands’ Cheerleading Uniform Designs to be Copyrightable.

Group of Cheerleaders in a Row

A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit highlights the ongoing significance of copyright law for the retail and garment industries. On August 19, 2015, the Sixth Circuit, in reversing the lower court’s decision, held that the “stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and colorblocks” on Varsity Brands’ cheerleading uniforms are protectable by copyright. In Varsity Brands et al v. Star Athletica, the Sixth Circuit dipped into the murky waters of copyright protection for fashion design, reiterating the need for greater legislative or judicial guidance when it comes to fashion design and copyright law. Nonetheless, the Court ultimately found, as other Circuits have, that “fabric design”, unlike “dress design”, is protectable.

At the district court level in Tennessee, Varsity Brands sued Star Athletica for infringing its registered copyrighted designs for cheerleader uniforms. On summary judgment, the district court determined that a cheerleading uniform cannot exist without the hallmark “stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and colorblocks,” and therefore found Varsity’s copyrights of such designs invalid as inseparable from the utilitarian aspect of a cheerleading uniform.

In a 2-1 decision,
Continue Reading R-E-V-E-R-S-A-L Spells Reversal! The Sixth Circuit Holds Varsity Brands’ Cheerleading Uniform Designs to be Copyrightable.

Current United States Copyright Law does not protect the overall appearance of fashion design.  However, if the sponsors of a pending Senate bill have their way, that might change in the near future.

Copyright law protects original works of authorship but expressly does not protect what are known as “useful articles.”   Unfortunately for fashion designers, the definition of  “useful articles” includes much of what is thought of as fashion design.  As a result, while it is sometimes possible to obtain copyright protection for a discrete, original and non-useful design that is sewn onto a dress, it typically is not possible to protect the appearance of the dress itself.  This has had a profound effect upon the fashion and retail industry because it effectively precludes copyright protection for the appearance of designer clothing, handbags, shoes and the like.  While this situation is bad for designers it is beneficial to many retail stores that are able to sell popular new designs without fear of becoming a defendant in a copyright infringement suit.


Continue Reading Proposed Fashion Design Copyright Legislation In Congress