In 2010 in U.S., Star Athletica had published its first catalog of cheerleading uniforms and immediately was sued. On the other hand, Varsity Brands, the world’s greatest producer of cheerleading and dance-team uniforms purported that Star Athletica’s uniform has violated Varsity’s copyrighted designs. At this moment, the battle emerged between the two cheerleader uniform suppliers, questing whether cheerleaders’ uniforms can claim for copyright protection.
The battle between the suppliers instantaneously reflected in the fashion world and afar. A trio of 3D printing companies began suing an amicus brief demanding the High Court to look for transparency on how to separate creative, copyrightable designs from utilitarian objects that were not subjected to copyright. The case highlighted art and function as two separate classifications under U.S. copyright law. As indicated by the District Judges, in the lights of the case Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC, it was impossible to severe the Varisty’s designs from the utilitarian function of the resulting cheerleading uniforms. Contrasting the two cheerleaders’ uniform, without bearing team colors, stripes, chevrons and similar designs, were not distinguishable as a cheerleading uniform. At immediate, the appeals panel failed to consider, as both the uniform held the same patterns. Soon afterward, the 3D companies filed amicus brief and requested the Supreme Court to take the matter so as to provide clarity on where to adhere to a meaningful boundary on “conceptual separability” between what is and isn’t copyrightable. The brief stated that 3D printing is a “revolutionary process” that is transforming industry. While some objects were clearly copyrightable and others were not, there exists lots of grey area and the tests were not clear. It also stated that printing objects were “purely ornamental and non-functional” for example sculptures and jewelry, thus they were given copyright protection. Designs that were “purely functional” for example wrenches were not therefore provided with copyright protection. However, in lieu of 3D printing it involved a combination of utilitarian and artistic elements; therefore, the Supreme Court had to come out with a proper legitimate test to verify what their obligation was. Meanwhile, the Sixth Circuit had already laid out a multi – part test to figure out whether the designs were protectable or not, claiming:
- Is the design a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work?
- If it so, then is it a design of a useful article – “an article having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information”? (i.e., is the design useful?)
- What are the utilitarian aspects of the useful article?
- Can the viewer of the design identify pictorial, graphic or sculptural features separate from the utilitarian aspects of the article?
- Can “the pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of the design of the useful article exist independently of the utilitarian aspects of the useful article?
Since the case involved several crux in terms of creativity on designs and cloth materials, etc. the Sixth Circuit extended its decision, seeking clarity which elements of clothing may be protected under the Copyright Act. It advocated that a person could obtain copyright for sweater as it had squirrel design, thus it still functions without having designs. But in case of creative arrangement of sequins, beads, etc. was not eligible for copyright protection as each of these components all serve to clothe the body.
Thus litigation over cheerleader uniforms began so that court can turn out with a legitimate test for deciding when the design elements of items such as clothing are eligible for copyright protection.
At last, to end the battle over cheerleaders’ uniform, the U.S. Supreme Court under Federal law affirmed that stripes, zigzags, chevrons and colors on uniforms worn by cheerleaders across the nation are protected under copyright law. The decision passed on the ground that design being an element which is liable to copyright only if it is substantially separate from the product to which it is attached, whether it is clothing or different things, for example, furniture. However, the case is at a hearing stage and the court is prone to hear the contentions and settle on in end of June 2017