On 22 March 22 2017, in the case of Star Athletica LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., et al, No. 15-866, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in a 6-2 decision, that design elements of a cheerleading uniform may be protected under copyright law, even though the uniform has a utilitarian function.

It is a well-known tenet under United States copyright law that apparel is outside the scope of the Copyright Act of 1976, which bars protection for works of authorship that possess utilitarian functions.  However, §101 of the Copyright Act carves out a limited exception, namely that “pictorial, graphic or sculptural features” of the design of a useful article are entitled to copyright protection if they “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.”

Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands involves copyright infringement of cheerleading uniforms designed by Varsity Brands, considered to be the leader in the market, copied by its rival, Star Athletica.  The majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas, sided with Varsity Brands, and ruled that the two-dimensional pictorial design, consisting of chevron, zigzags, stripes and colorful shapes, applied to Varsity Brands’ uniforms was deserving of copyright protection under §101 of the Copyright Act.

This case has elicited microscopic scrutiny by the fashion industry. Continue Reading Supreme Court of the United States: Cheerleading Uniforms Can be Copyrightable: Star Athletic LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc.

Michael Jordan, the legendary NBA star, has finally established his rights in his Chinese name after 5 years of intensive administrative and appeal proceedings in China.
In China, Michael Jordan is more commonly known and addressed by the Chinese name “乔丹” (pronounced as “Qiao Dan” in Mandarin) which resembles the pronunciation of his last name “Jordan”. The present case is another typical example of a foreign brand owner’s name being hijacked by a local Chinese entity. The hijacker used both “乔丹” and “QIAODAN” as trademarks on shirts, sport shoes and apparel manufactured and sold in China since 2000. Michael Jordan had a long and hard fight to get his name back. He is now half way through recovering his Chinese name “乔丹” trademark, whilst the transliteration of his Chinese name “QIAODAN” is still in the hands of third parties. Continue Reading Michael Jordan: “Qiao Dan” is Me! Michael Jordan’s trademark fight in China over his Name Rights

The question of whether a sequence of exercises, such as yoga poses or dance moves, can be copyrighted has occupied the attention of international courts, scholars and copyright offices for some time. In late 2015, the issue received some media attention when yoga guru Bikram Choudhur tried to gain a US copyright in a signature sequence of yoga poses but failed before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Curcuit. Despite the effort of international copyright conventions, the question of copyrightability essentially remains a matter of national law. Continue Reading The Copyrightability of Yoga Poses, Dance Moves and Exercise Routines

The Olympic Games 2016 which take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 5 to 21 August are supported by a huge volume of marketing and advertising campaigns. As many countries have done before, Brazil enacted special legislation to protect the Olympic symbols and expressions specific to the games hosted in Rio. The protection offered in these Olympic-special legislations often can go beyond what would normally be available under trademark or copyright protection laws. For example, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 created a sui generis right of association to prevent the use of any representation that is likely to suggest an association between the London Olympics and goods or services. Continue Reading The Brazilian Olympics and Intellectual Property

On 16 June 2016, the General Court of the European Union rejected an opposition by Fútbol Club Barcelona to the wordmark “KULE” (T‑614/14). The opposition was based on an alleged infringement of the club’s Spanish wordmark “CULE,” the term culé being a Spanish variation of the Catalan word cul and used as a nickname for supporters of the club. Apparently, this is not the only negative experience Fútbol Club Barcelona has had with the General Court in recent years. In 2015, the General Court dismissed an action brought by the club seeking registration of the outline of its crest as a Community trademark (T-615/14). Continue Reading EU General Court: FC Barcelona Loses Dispute Over Its “CULE” Trademark

On 11 April 2016, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced that the German League Association (Ligaverband) and the German Football League (Deutsche Fußball Liga, DFL) have committed that no single pay-TV buyer can win exclusive live broadcasting rights to Bundesliga league games for the 2017/2018–2020/2021 seasons. The FCO made this “No Single Buyer” rule a precondition to green-light the proposed tendering model. Currently Sky Deutschland holds all domestic live broadcasting rights for Germany’s top football leagues until the end of the 2016/2017 season, having won the last tender in 2012. Continue Reading German Federal Cartel Office: “No Single Buyer” for Football Broadcast Rights

The right to televise sporting events is one of the most valuable commodities in the broadcasting sector. When reports surfaced that live-streaming apps, such as Periscope and Meerkat, had been used to transmit live streams of the “fight of the century” between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao on 2 May 2015, they raised the issue of the copyright implications of these kinds of applications. Continue Reading Live-Streaming Apps and Sporting Events – Copyright Law Concerns