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“Cheerleader Uniform Case” Prompts Shapeways and Other Organizations to Demand Supreme Court Clarify Intellectual Property Law

by • July 27, 2016 • No Comments

images (1)Full disclosure: intellectual property and copyright issues are not my favourite subjects. The whole area is messy, murky, confusing, and frequently seemingly arbitrary, and that is preceding you actually open up the can of worms that is digital create and 3D printing. I’m not the just one who feels that intellectual property law is a convoluted mess, yet, and several prominent organizations have not long ago banded together to ask the Supreme Court to please manufacture up its mind on what constitutes IP violation.

It all stems of a case entitled Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, in that the former was accutilized by the latter of copyright violation. Star Athletica, createer of cheerleading uniforms, released a create that was really much like to one generated by Varsity Brands’ subsidiary Varsity Spirit, who cried foul. Star Athletica replied that Varsity Brands’ zigzagging create mayn’t be copyrighted, for the reason it’s a basic create that marks a cheerleading uniform as being a cheerleading uniform, somewhat than any ordinary skirt and top. So, said Star, the create is additional functional than decorative.

Why does that matter? Functional or utilitarian objects cannot be protected under copyright, while decorative objects can. The issues for courts lie in determining whether an item is utilitarian or decorative, and what to do of items that have both utilitarian and decorative components. (See why I hate this?) When Shapeways got wind of Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands last year, they began following the case with interest, as alyet it has nothing immediately obvious to do with 3D printing, it’s an great example of the issues that so commjust arise around 3D printing and intellectual property.

cheerleading_sixth_circuit

For example: say you create a quite basic 3D printable coat hanger and begin selling it online. Later, you see that another site is selling a basic 3D printable coat hanger that appears quite much like to yours. Screaming “copyright violation” is ridiculous, for the reason it’s a coat hanger. I have dozens of them, of various manufacturers, and they all appear somewhat much the same: a triangular frame that holds clothes and ends in a hook that goes over the closet rod. That basic shape is required for the hanger to assist its createated function.

But, if you create a fancy coat hanger with a hook shaped like an articulated swan head with embossed feathers, and you see that create being sold on another site, and so you have a case. A swan head is not necessary to the function of a coat hanger, and thus is considered an artistic element, that can be copyrighted – yet the hanger itself can’t. Fun, yes?

The decision that the courts finally reached was based on a concept known as severability, that is the thought that the decorative aspects of an object can be separated of the utilitarian part and protected separately. Shapeways wrote an great rundown of the case, but to put it as succinctly as possible: Varsity Brands claimed that their creates were severable of the utilitarian cheerleading uniforms and may thus be copyrighted, while Star Athletica said nope, these zigzags and things are what manufacture it a cheerleading uniform, so it’s yet utilitarian and can’t be.

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Yay Varsity Spirit! [Image: Varsity Spirit]

The court ultimately ruled in favor of Varsity Brands, stating that the color blocking, zigzags, and chevrons on the uniforms may be seen as independent of the uniform itself, and that “conveying information” (i.e., conveying that yes, this is a cheerleader uniform) does not count as functionality. The court utilized a five-part test it createed itself to come to its final conclusion, but, Shapeways points out, there are of ten various tests already being utilized to determine severability, and they all say a thing a bit various.

Enough is adequate, Shapeways said; it’s complex adequate to navigate tricky intellectual property issues without the courts being inconsistent. In February, they approached the Supreme Court and urged them to come up with a single, clear test for determining what can and can’t be copyrighted, citing Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands as an example of the necessity of doing so. In May, the Supreme Court agreed to take a appear at the case.

This week, Shapeways revealed that they have signed on to a brief written by Charles Duan and Meredith Rose of Public Knowledge, along with several other organizations that regularly deal with intellectual property issues, including:

The International Costumers’ GuildThe Open Source Hardware AssociationFormlabsThe American Library AssociationThe Association of Research LibrariesThe Association of College and Research Libraries

The brief manufactures a easy request – pick one test, one that is easy and clear adequate for the general public to know, and stick with it. According to Shapeways, the court can schedule oral arguments over the following few months, with a decision hopefully reached by sometime following year. You can read the full brief here. Discuss additional in the Cheerleading Copyrighting Case forum over at 3DPB.com.