Court says Y-E-S! to cheerleader uniform design copyrights

Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:07pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday said the stripes, zigzags, chevrons and colors on uniforms worn by cheerleaders across the country can be copyrighted under federal law.

The 2-1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati revived a lawsuit by Varsity Brands Inc, one of the largest U.S. makers of cheerleader uniforms, that accused rival Star Athletica LLC of infringing five of its designs.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore said Varsity could try to copyright its graphic designs because they were separate from the uniforms' "utilitarian" aspects, including their ability to cover the body, draw away moisture, and let cheerleaders do jumps, kicks and flips.

"Indeed, nothing (save perhaps good taste) prevents Varsity from printing or painting its designs, framing them, and hanging the resulting prints on the wall as art," Moore wrote.

Wednesday's decision reversed a March 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Memphis, Tennessee.

The appeals court entered a judgment in Varsity's favor as to whether its designs were "copyrightable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works."

It also revived several state law claims, including whether Star violated Tennessee's unfair competition law. The case was returned to Cleland for further proceedings.

Circuit Judge David McKeague dissented and urged Congress or the Supreme Court to clarify copyright law with regard to garment design.   Continued...

 
The legs of cheerleaders supporting contestants are seen as they stand among confetti, while they wait for their turn during a parade at the Wells Fargo Center before the 23rd annual Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Makela