Fashion Copyrights Supreme Court Ruling Could Relieve and Restrict Designers

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The Supreme Court ruling on the first clothing design copyright battle came March 22, according to Vogue. The decision to uphold Varsity Brands’ claims to the chevron designs on cheerleading uniforms in the Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands could make a big impact on runway fashion, but exactly how remains to be seen.

The matter of dispute was whether Varsity Brands, which sells uniforms to over half of American cheerleaders, could copyright design elements like stripes, The New York Times reported. The contending Star Athletica brand argued that elements such as the chevrons featured on many cheerleading outfits did not qualify as unique graphic elements, but were a standard of that type of clothing.

Varsity has pursued other companies for similar copyright issues in the past, but its 6-2 Supreme Court win stamps a definitive change on fashion copyright debate.

And yet the decision that a chevron with a certain placement isn’t too generic for copyright protection leaves room for interpretation when it comes to other fashion cases, lawyer Joseph Mueller told Vogue. Copyrights can cover distinct design elements, but defining the distinctions is a case-by-case matter.

However, the ruling is potentially a major benefit to luxury fashion design labels, which have long had to combat outright fakes and imitators. The precedent to legally oppose companies that seize on the newest styles and mass produce cheaper versions offers designers a chance to protect their work’s concepts.

On the flip side, the conversation of fashion, where designers rejuvenate and reinterpret past styles, draw inspiration from peers, and take up fads, could be stilted under fears of copyright fashion. It could even change the way trends develop. Exactly what the ruling will mean longer-term will require more copyright cases and more decisions, according to Mueller.

Will the ruling prove to be as dramatic as a trend-stopper, or will it simply allow a few more designers relief from copies? Until there are more examples, the jury’s still out.

I'm a lover of words in all forms, sweatshirts in all conditions, and God in all circumstances. I particularly enjoy working collaboratively on the written word and wearing microfiber robes (preferably at the same time). Most of the time I don't get enough sleep, but I make a valiant effort.

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