Sublimated Uniforms and the Supreme Court

A case involving cheerleading uniforms could impact sublimated uniforms

Some of you may be aware of the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involving Varsity Brands and its interest in protecting, by copyright law, the designs of its cheerleading uniforms from competitors, in this case, Star Athletica. Varsity is the number one player and brand in the cheerleading uniform space, by far, and this case can be seen, on some level, as Goliath swatting away a David-like upstart.  The case was heard a few week ago and a ruling is expected in spring of 2017.

Stars and stripes mean business

Specifically, Varsity is arguing that their cheerleading uniforms’ stars, stripes and chevrons, and –more specifically- their arrangement on the base uniform pattern, are so unique in their application, that they are protectable under existing copyright law.  In short, they are accusing Star of “knocking off” (or stealing) their designs.  Star’s argument is, basically, that these decorative aspects (stars, chevrons, etc.) are the essential elements that make a cheerleading uniform a cheerleading uniform (as opposed to say “a little black dress”).

Who owns the Chevron pattern?

Varsity Brand on the left. On the right? NOT Star Athletica.

Sew what?

It a very intriguing case in and of itself (especially for me, team uniform guy), but it also got me to thinking:  How does Varsity’s argument hold when the decorative aspects are within the uniform itself, as is the case with sublimated uniforms?

Out with the old, in with the new school

Sublimated Uniforms, Old School Baseball JerseyCheerleading uniforms are still predominantly decorated by “old school” methods such as
embroidery and tackle twill sewing. Whereas other sports are light years ahead of cheer uniforms in performance fabrication and, increasingly, the use of sublimation (where all decorative aspects are dyed directly into the fabric). And Varsity are -most likely- the folks who will bring sublimation to the cheer party. Then what?

Sublimated uniforms are uniquely unique

How the court rules in Varsity vs. Star could most dramatically impact all sports’ sublimated uniforms.  At least their legally protectable status.  (When I say here “sublimated uniforms” I’m specifically referring to fully customized sublimated uniforms as opposed to the “picked from a template” palette versions)  It may take years for the Supreme Court to rule on a case devoted to sublimated uniforms, but when they do, it stands to reason that every fully customized team’s uniforms would become fully protected under copyright law.  Up to and including the South Wattawhashaw Chix with Stixx.  That means your team, too!

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