The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain elements of a cheerleading uniform are open to copyright protection, officially putting an end to a years-long battle between two uniform manufacturers.
The ruling hands a victory to uniform manufacturer Varsity Brands, which sued rival Star Athletica on allegations that it used several two-dimensional design elements like stripes and chevron patterns that belonged to Varsity through copyright.
While judges at the federal level came out split on whether such aspects of apparel — long considered a “useful article” immune to copyright — should be protected, the Justices ruled that as long as the two-dimensional aspects can be fully separated from an article and stand on their own as designs, they are subject to copyright protection.
The justices stuck to long-held legal principle that the uniform underneath the two-dimensional design is not subject to the same level of protection.
“The only feature of [Varsity Brands’] cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright is the two-dimensional applied art on the surface of the uniforms,” the justices said. “[Varsity Brands] may prohibit the reproduction only of the surface designs on a uniform or in any other medium of expression. [Varsity Brands] has no right to prevent anyone from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform that is identical in shape, cut or dimensions to the uniforms at issue here.”