Friday, August 21, 2015

Copyright Case Asks: What is a Cheerleading Uniform?; Wall Street Journal Law Blog, 8/19/15

Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal Law Blog; Copyright Case Asks: What is a Cheerleading Uniform? :
"The question before the appellate court was whether cheerleading uniforms are eligible for federal copyright protection.
Sixth Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, who wrote the opinion, framed the case more enigmatically: “Are cheerleading uniforms truly cheerleading uniforms without the stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and color blocks?”
The dispute — an infringement claim by a uniform designer accusing another company of ripping off its designs (pictured above) — is a good example of how tricky it can be for courts to decide what is copyrightable.
Federal law says that for a work to be copyrightable it has to have some originality and be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” such as a canvas, film, a computer disc or even human skin. But things get extra complicated in cases involving three-dimensional objects.
How to distinguish between the mechanical or utilitarian aspects of an object and its artistic features is an unsettled area in case law. Only the latter is copyrightable. So, in an example offered by the U.S. Copyright Office in its manuals, the design of a chair cannot be copyrighted but a carving on the back of a chair can be. A T-shirt isn’t copyrightable but artwork printed on it is.
Courts have struggled to set guidelines for how to distinguish the useful qualities of a work from its expressive features."

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