Is Fashion Subject To Copyright?

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It’s somewhat crazy to imagine a world without knock-offs. Watches, shoes, handbags, dresses, sports jerseys, etc. have had fake alternatives made for decades to allure consumers away from the real, more expensive alternative. Though these counterfeit replicas definitely infringe upon some of the most stylish designs in modernity for profit, there hasn’t been any way in which to combat the near-black-market industry.

Finally, there may actually be a chance of that becoming a reality. In a recent lawsuit between Star Athletica and Varsity Brands, the two rival companies are fighting over copyrighted designs in regards to cheerleading uniforms.

Varsity Brands, suing Star Athletica, is claiming that their competitor is marketing a uniform version comparable to one of their own. This case, while minute in many ways, holds a much broader importance when applied to the rest of the fashion world.

“You’re killing knockoffs with copyright,” stated Justice Sonia Sotomayor during the proceedings. “You haven’t been able to do it with trademark law. You haven’t been able to do it with patent designs. We are now going to use copyright law to kill the knockoff industry.”

She added “I don’t know that that’s bad. I’m just saying.”

A lawyer representing Star Athletica, John J. Bursch, noted the ability to protect designs given their lack of added utilitarian function to the clothing they’re applied to.

“Let’s say that I’ve got a T-shirt with a happy face on it, and maybe that makes me look better because I appear happier,” stated Bursch. “Well, that design has the same effect whether I’m wearing it on my shirt, my pants, my hat, or carrying it on my notebook.”

It’s sound logic, even branching further into a more general sense across all of fashion. This would open the door for brands, labels and designers themselves to establish discernible designs to be copyrighted, essentially giving the same individuals a platform to stop others from undercutting their profits.

The fact that this case is occurring in the first place already stands as a precedent for progress in the matter. Hopefully, this and the outcome will cement the concept of fashion designs holding the same rights against copyright infringement that is already held by almost every other production industry worldwide.

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