Cheerleading Uniforms: Copyright Protection or Not?

The Sixth Circuit ruled on August 19, 2015 that decorative designs on cheerleading uniforms could be protected by copyright. This ruling seems unusual as clothing is generally a “useful item” that has typically been ineligible for copyright protection. The Sixth Circuit, though split 2-1, found that stripes, chevrons and other graphic elements on uniforms warranted copyright protection in favor of Varsity Brands Inc. Further, the Sixth Circuit’s majority states that the Varsity uniforms are “conceptually separable” from the clothing itself reasoning why the designs are eligible for copyright protection.

On September 16, 2015, Star Athletica LLC filed an en banc rehearing arguing that the Sixth Circuit’s decisions would have “immense practical implications” for the apparel industry. Dissenter, U.S. Circuit Judge David McKeague, rejected the majority’s claim stating “without stripes, braids, and chevrons, we are left with a blank white pleated skirt and crop top.” Regardless, on October 7, 2015, Star Athelica’s en banc hearing request was denied. On October 30, 2015, The Sixth Circuit agreed to a stay, allowing Star Athletica to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The final ruling in this case from the Supreme Court level as this will potentially and significantly affect clothing and apparel designers.

Additional Reading:

  • http://www.law360.com/articles/704033/6th-circ-urged-to-nix-cheerleader-uniform-copyright-ruling
  • http://www.law360.com/articles/721352/cheerleader-copyright-ruling-paused-for-high-court-appeal
  • http://www.law360.com/cases/4d6c2510fc3c194cca000006

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