Go team! US top court to hear cheerleader uniform copyright case

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WASHINGTON, May 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether the stripes, zigzags, chevrons and colors on uniforms worn by cheerleaders across the country can be copyrighted under federal law.

The court will review an August 2015 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that revived a lawsuit by Varsity Brands Inc, one of the largest U.S. makers of cheerleader uniforms, accusing rival Star Athletica LLC of infringing on five of its designs.

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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. That decision reversed a March 2014 ruling in favor of Star by U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Varsity, based in Memphis, holds copyrights for various cheerleader uniform designs. It sued for copyright infringement when Star sought to enter the market in 2010.

Chesterfield, Missouri-based Star countered that the designs in question should not have been copyrighted.

Under copyright law, a design feature is only subject to copyright if it is substantially separate from the product to which it is attached, whether it be clothing or other items such as furniture. Star says the chevrons and other design embellishments are essential elements of cheerleader uniforms and therefore cannot be copyrighted.

The court is likely to hear arguments and decide the case in its next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2017.

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The case is Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands Inc, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 15-866. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Originally published