Noteworthy #075: Supreme Court Weighs in on Fashion Design Copyrights

Remember a few months back when Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer’s comment on fashion — “The clothes on the hanger do nothing. The clothes on the woman do everything. And that is, I think, what fashion is about.” — went viral? Well, the verdict from the case that made that quote famous is in, and fashion insiders are having a field day with what it means for creative property in design.

The case, Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, focused on copyrighting patterns on cheerleading uniforms, like chevrons and stripes, and spurred many fantastic debates on fashion within the confines of The Supreme Court. In the end, the court ruled in favor of Varsity Brands, allowing copyright law to protect elements of design in the cheerleading company’s garments.

Supreme Court

So, what does this mean for fashion? According to Voguethis ruling is major for a couple reasons. For starters, copyright law is generally complicated, and many fashion designers create pieces that are much more complex in design than cheerleading uniforms. Setting a precedent where designers/brands can have rights to merely an element of design (shape, color, texture, etc.) means that it could at some point be possible for a couture/high fashion brand to have leverage in a case against a fast fashion retailer. Or, it could also be possible for fashion industry creatives to get picky about what constitutes as one persons design and what is just, well, design.

A lot of other creative industries have dealt with copyright issues, but this is new territory for fashion. However things move forward after this, it will be important for designers to consider their legal options when they’re wronged, and, obviously, not copy anybody else’s work…

What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court verdict? Share your thoughts in the comment section! 

Emma Klug started The Style Note in the fall of 2012. Her writing has been featured in DBusiness Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Nothing Major, The Working Wardrobe, Chicago Talks, Inexpensive Chic, and The Wayne State University student paper: The South End. When she’s not writing you can find her eating pizza, binge-watching Netflix and working her day job as a magazine editor.


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