Give Us a 'C'! Killing Knock-offs with Copyright?
Varsity Brands, the leading manufacturer of cheerleading uniforms in the U.S., obtained copyright protection for certain designs of stripes, chevrons, color blocks and lines on cheerleading uniforms. Star Athletica, a newcomer in the field, used those designs in its own uniforms and was promptly sued by Varsity for copyright infringement. Star countered that cheerleading uniforms were useful articles and, as such, were excluded from copyright protection. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue of whether certain designs of or on a useful article were sufficiently separable from the article's utilitarian aspects. If they were separable, then they may be eligible for copyright protection. The outcome of the case could provide the more than $300 billion U.S. fashion industry with long sought protection from knock-offs.
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- 2017 HBS
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