Varsity Brands, the leader in cheerleading uniforms and apparel, took it down the Supreme Court and scored a decisive 6-2 win in favor of copyrighting its uniform designs. A fashion industry trade group cheered the decisive win from the stands.
In Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, Varsity Brands squared off against Star Athletica, alleging its competitor had copied its uniforms’ design and that those designs should be afforded copyright protection. Star Athletica, which was founded by a former Varsity employee, disagreed. Per CNNMoney, Star Athletica argued that the designs should not be covered by copyright because they are part of the function of the uniforms.
Bloomberg breaks it down: Federal law states that a design can only be copyrighted if that design can be separated from a product’s utilitarian aspects. A federal appeals court had previously ruled that because Varsity’s designs — lines, zigzags and braids — were conceptually separate from the uniforms’ functional attributes, they were eligible for copyright protection. The Supreme Court agreed, finding that the uniform design had, indeed, met the test of being “able to exist as its own pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work.”
Varsity’s Founder and Chairman Jeff Webb told CNNMoney:
“The designs are original art created by designers. No matter what medium you put it on it’s art and has nothing to do with the silhouette, neckline or function.”
Ars Technica noted that while Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, with Justices Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Chief Justice John Roberts signing on, Justice Ruth Ginsburg agreed but filed a separate opinion that found a “separability inquiry” was not necessary at all because Varsity’s designs are “standalone pictorial and graphic works.”
Also per Ars, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a trade group representing 500 fashion designers, was pleased with the win as it had filed an amicus brief. In an emailed statement to the publication, Fashion lawyer Helene Freeman said:
“The fashion industry can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Not only did the Court uphold the Sixth Circuit’s judgment that the designs of the cheerleading uniforms were separable, it greatly simplified and expanded the two- and three-dimensional features of useful articles that can qualify for copyright protection.”