Why a cheerleader’s uniform had the power to change the law of the land
By Peter Lemire
Anyone who works in the fashion or the arts is likely aware of the difficulty of protecting your designs, with the constant battle with knock-offs and copycat products. While brand names and distinctive elements can be protected under trademark law, smaller designers and brands often find themselves without recourse if their ideas are replicated.
While clothing designs could possibly be safeguarded under a patent, such protection would be exceedingly expensive and would often take longer to procure than the average lifespan of the garment in question. Additionally, courts have long held that the look and feel of a particular product design is not copyrightable under federal law, given that copyright protection does not extend to the functional or useful aspects of an article.
Courts have also said that generally the design of clothing cannot be separated from its functional and utilitarian purpose of covering the human body. While patterns (the print or decorative design of the fabric used to make the clothes) or graphical images that appear on apparel may be copyrightable, the overall look of the garment is not. Bills are introduced in Congress on an annual basis to extend copyright protection to clothing design, however such efforts have been unsuccessful to date.