Posted on

Copyrightability Clarified for Designs of “Useful” Articles

On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., ruling that decorative designs of cheerleading uniforms may be eligible for copyright protection.[1]  In so deciding, the Court clarified the application of the copyright laws to designs of “useful” articles. Previously, as has been my experience in the registration and enforcement of designs of “useful” articles, the “useful” nature of an item has been broadly cited as excluding, or severely limiting, the protection of copyright laws to the design/ornamentation of such an item.  However, the Supreme Court has now clarified that the shadow of utility does not limit the otherwise available statutory scope of protectable expression. By the example of the Star Athletica case, while the overall “cut” of a uniform is utilitarian (useful as clothing) and not protectable expression, protection is available to decorative works on that uniform, even if bounded by that…

Read more