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USA to mirror UK in Copyright Law update

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In a conclusion reached earlier this year, the US Supreme Court, in the case Star Athletica LLC v Varsity Brands Inc, has stated that the ‘arrangement of colours, shapes, stripes and chevrons’ present on the cheerleader uniforms designed and manufactured by Varsity Brands are separable from the actual uniforms themselves and can therefore be protected under copyright law.

This represents an important update to US copyright law, where articles with mainly utilitarian functions (known as ‘useful articles’) such as clothing have not received copyright protection, as opposed to the design features on such useful articles which can benefit from copyright protection should they contain a graphical, sculptural or pictoral feature that a) can be identified separately from and b) is capable of existing independently of the utilitarian aspects of the item.

In the case of Varsity Brands uniforms, the Court did not decide on whether the designs being used are sufficiently original to benefit from copyright protection. This will now be decided by a lower Court now the guidance has been handed down.

This decision means that US copyright law is now in line with the extant position in the UK, where artistic works – including patterns used on clothing and other items – are protected. The biggest difference is that in the UK, such copyright applies automatically with no need for the originator to register their designs.

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