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U.S. Court Says Y-E-S! to Cheerleader Uniform Design Copyrights

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday said the stripes, zigzags, chevrons and colors on uniforms worn by cheerleaders across the country can be copyrighted under federal law.

The 2-1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit by Varsity Brands Inc, one of the largest U.S. makers of cheerleader uniforms, that accused rival Star Athletica LLC of infringing five of its designs.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore said Varsity could try to copyright its graphic designs because they were separate from the uniforms' "utilitarian" aspects, including their ability to cover the body, draw away moisture, and let cheerleaders do jumps, kicks and flips.

"Indeed, nothing (save perhaps good taste) prevents Varsity from printing or painting its designs, framing them, and hanging the resulting prints on the wall as art," Moore wrote.

Wednesday's decision reversed a March 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Memphis, Tennessee.

The appeals court entered a judgment in Varsity's favor as to whether its designs were "copyrightable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works."

It also revived several state law claims, including whether Star violated Tennessee's unfair competition law. The case was returned to Cleland for further proceedings.

Circuit Judge David McKeague dissented and urged Congress or the Supreme Court to clarify copyright law with regard to garment design.

"The law in this area is a mess - and it has been for a long time," he wrote.

Varsity is based in Memphis, and Star in Chesterfield, Missouri. Lawyers for both firms were not immediately available for comment.

The case is Varsity Brands Inc et al v. Star Athletica LLC, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-5237.