Supreme Court: Varsity Wins!

Cheerleaders cheering

It's a big win for the fashion industry!

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Star Athletica v. Varsity is truly historic, slashing through the thicket of tests that had grown up around design copyright. Echoing the Fashion Law Institute’s amicus brief, the Court found that the language of the statute already set the parameters for a standard:

Supreme Court's standard for copyrightability in Star Athletica opinion

The Court’s approach is consistent with its recent copyright jurisprudence, particularly in the years since the late Justice Scalia was appointed. This is why our amicus took a different path from devising a novel ad hoc test; the Court has for decades demurred from adding judicially-created rules when the statute established an identifiable standard. When in doubt, just read the statute!

In this instance, the policy embodied in previous Court precedent and the statute itself was clear: copyright is an adaptive, medium-agnostic legal category, extending to creative work susceptible to cross-platform replication. As applied, this standard is at once expansive and bounded: per the opinion, even as the statute gives copyright protection to a broad spectrum of creative works, it also excludes elements that can be reduced to utilitarian function outside of conveying information or portraying appearance.

As a result, the status quo is preserved without sacrificing the standard’s fundamental elasticity; what courts define as utilitarian and limited to specific media now could grow in interesting ways in years to come.

For now, fashion designers can continue to rely on copyright protection for their original fabric prints and jewelry. Let’s hear it for SCOTUS!

Congratulations to everyone on team copyright, and thanks to everyone who was part of the Fashion Law Institute's amicus brief: industry signatories Jeffrey Banks, Maria Cornejo and Marysia Woroniecka of Zero + Maria Cornejo, Nathalie Doucet of Arts of Fashion Foundation, Keanan Duffty, Barry Kieselstein-Kord, Melissa Joy Manning, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez, and Professor Susan Scafidi; our counsel of record, Michelle Marsh of Arent Fox; and our co-authors, Susan Scafidi, Jeff Trexler, Mary Kate Brennan (Fashion Law LL.M. expected '17), and Jackie Lefebvre (J.D. expected '17)!