Sports Uniforms and Copyright: Implications for Applied Art Educators from the Star Athletica Decision

Sara R. Benson


In the course of one decision, Star Athletica, the Supreme Court selected the appropriate test to delineate the line between copyrightable creative expression and non-copyrightable functional work, reversed a long-standing rule about the inability to copyright fashion, and changed the game for graphic and industrial designers wishing to protect the more pragmatic pieces of their art. This article proceeds with a brief history of the Star Athletica case, including the lower court judgments, a discussion of the Supreme Court holding in the case, the applicability of the Supreme Court holding to fashion, graphic design, and industrial design industries going forward, and concludes with some final thoughts about the implications of the outcome of the case.

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Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ (2012).

Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

Fertig, R., U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Separability Analysis in its Ruling on Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., Copyright: Creativity at Work Blog, Library of Congress (April 6, 2017), available at

Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201 (1954).

Pivot Point Int’l, Inc. v. Charlene Prods., Inc., 372 F.3d 913 (7th Cir. 2004).

Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 1002 (2017).

Transcript of Oral Argument, Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., No. 15-866 (Oct. 31, 2016), available at

Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, L.L.C., No. 10-2508, 2014 WL 819422 (W.D. Tenn. 2015).

Varsity Brands, Inc. v. Star Athletica, L.L.C., 799 F.3d 468 (6th Cir. 2015).



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