Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC

Docket Number: 14-5237
Judge: Karen Nelson Moore
Opinion Date: August 19, 2015

Varsity manufactures cheerleading and athletic apparel. Its designers sketch concepts: “original combinations, positionings, and arrangements of elements which include V’s (chevrons), lines, curves, stripes, angles, diagonals, inverted V’s, coloring, and shapes,” but do not consider functionality or the ease of actually producing a uniform. Varsity decides whether to implement the completed design concept. Varsity advertises in catalogs and online, inviting customers to choose a design concept before selecting the shape, colors, and braiding for the uniform. Varsity received copyright registration for “two-dimensional artwork” for some designs. Star sells sports and cheerleading uniforms and advertised cheerleading uniforms that looked similar to five of Varsity’s registered designs. Varsity sued, alleging violation of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101. The court entered summary judgment in Star’s favor, concluding that Varsity’s designs were not copyrightable because their graphic elements are not physically or conceptually separable from the utilitarian function of a uniform because the “colors, stripes, chevrons, and similar designs” make the garment “recognizable as a cheerleading uniform.” The court did not address whether Varsity’s designs were unprotectable as unoriginal. The Sixth circuit reversed, finding that the graphic features of Varsity’s designs are more like fabric design than dress design, and are protectable subject matter under the Copyright Act View “Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, LLC” on Justia Law

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