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By Keenan Thompson

When is a cheerleading uniform a uniform?

If you have seen one cheerleading uniform or bought one for your little girl you have seen them all. In Varsity v. Star Athletica, LLC (Plaintiffs Varsity Brands, Inc., Varsity Spirit Corporation, and Varsity Spirit Fashions & Supplies, Inc. (collectively “Varsity”)) “have registered copyrights for multiple graphic designs that appear on the cheerleading uniforms and warm-ups they sell.”  “Varsity sought and received copyright registration for ‘two-dimensional artwork’ for many of its designs.”

Varsity filed this lawsuit against Star Athletica, LLC, (Star) after seeing Star’s “marketing materials and noticing that Star was advertising cheerleading uniforms that closely resembled Varsity’s five registered designs.”

So, are all uniforms the same? Should purchasers buy uniforms without clarity of the designer? Varsity unquestionably disagrees.  

Varsity “alleges five claims of copyright infringement for ‘selling, distributing, and advertising goods bearing the designs that are copied similar to five of Varsity’s designs in violation of Copyright Act’”. “Star violated Tennessee’s laws against unfair competition, inducement of breach of contract, inducement of breach of fiduciary duties, and civil conspiracy.” “Star denied liability and counter sued claiming that Varsity made fraudulent representations to the Copyright Office.”

Both companies filed for summary judgment on the matter of whether Varsity has a valid copyright on the designs being separate and functional.

Varsity proved to the court that “(1) it owned a valid copyright in the designs and (2) that Star “copied protectable elements of the work.” The court reversed the district court’s judgment and enters partial summary judgment for Varsity with respect to whether Varsity’s designs are “copyrightable pictorial, graphic or sculptural works, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.”

Furthermore, I agree with the appeals court. This case is a difficult case and both companies made valid claims. However, the purpose of the law is to decide difficult matters similar to the instant case. Although fashion designs are not held copyrightable, in the instant case the “fabric design” in Varsity is copyrightable.  

Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica

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