Copyright Report, #11 – Cheerleading and copyright office reform

Only two real pieces of news, but they’re fairly major.

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands (PDF), determining that cheer uniforms are copyrightable – or at least, the designs incorporated within the uniform are, if they would qualify for protection if they were -not- part of the uniform.

This case can be a little confusing for people who are not deeply nerdy about copyright – it can come as a surprise that most clothing items, considered useful articles, are not copyrightable under United States law. Some of the arguments in this case have focused on whether some of the decorative elements in the cheer uniforms were equally functional parts of the garment design. The Supreme Court has not reviewed much in the way of cases about clothing copyright before this, which is another reason why the case is more complicated; there’s precedent, but not a whole lot of -binding- precedent.

Although copyrightability of clothing decorations may not seem very related to research, scholarship, or education, the underlying issues of copyrightability of functional objects, and the boundaries of separation between functional objects and creative works are definitely of interest to these areas of work and study. ALA, ARL, and ACRL signed on to an amicus brief filed by Public Knowledge (PDF), which argued that expanding copyrightability of the -appearance- of useful articles could hinder technology research and development, especially in fields such as 3D printing. The brief also argued that the correct area of protection for visual designs in useful articles is design patent; having extensive personal experience dealing with the fallout of overlapping copyright and patent protections for software produced in academic environments, I’m definitely not thrilled about any expansion of overlaps. (Although design patent already had some odd overlaps, before.)

For more on this ruling:

The other major copyright news item of late is that a bill to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Despite bipartisan support from congressional political parties, this is a strongly politicized topic – many news stories report as fact that Google has control over the current Librarian of Congress, or that library activities and the “protections” of copyright are inherently in conflict, when neither is clearly true. (See my previous coverage here.) A couple of the stories linked below have pretty strong biases, but I think they’re pretty obvious.

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