A federal district court in California has added to the small body of case law addressing whether it’s permissible for one party to use another party’s trademark as a hashtag. The court held that, for several reasons, the 9th Circuit’s nominative fair use analysis did not cover one company’s use of another company’s trademarks

CheerUniformsDecisionImageOn March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court held in Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands that design elements of cheerleading uniforms may be protected under the Copyright Act. The 6-2 decision, written by Justice Thomas, clarified the scope of protection afforded to clothing designs and, more broadly, designs on useful articles.

Varsity Brands, Inc.—the country’s largest cheerleading supplier—owns more than 200 copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs consisting of combinations of chevrons, stripes, and other colorful shapes for its cheerleading uniforms. At issue in this case were the five pictured designs.

Varsity Brands sued Star Athletica, LLC, an upstart competitor, for copyright infringement. The District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted Star Athletica’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the designs could not be conceptually or physically separated from the uniforms, and they were therefore ineligible for copyright protection. The Copyright Act makes “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of the “design of a useful article” eligible for copyright protection as artistic works only if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” The Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that the graphics were “separately identifiable” and “capable of existing independently” of the uniforms.

In affirming, the Supreme Court laid out a two-part test for when a feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection: When the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article; and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. “To be clear, the only feature of the cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright in this case is the two-dimensional work of art,” the Court explained. “Respondents have no right to prohibit any person from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform of identical shape, cut, and dimensions to the ones on which the decorations in this case appear.”
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150728SociallyAware_Page_01The latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.

In this issue of Socially Aware, our Burton Award-winning guide to the law and business of social media, we present a “grand unifying theory” of today’s leading technologies and the legal challenges these technologies raise; we discuss whether hashtags can

hashtag_iStock_000047220610_Illustration_650pxHashtags have become ubiquitous in social media, but their status as intellectual property—particularly as trademarks—is still developing. First adopted by Twitter users to link user posts, hashtags are character strings preceded by the “#” symbol that generate a link to all other posts containing the same tag. Today, in addition to providing the search-related functionality

This is the famous Monkey Selfie.

When we last examined the intellectual property issues raised by a self-portrait taken by a talented female Indonesian crested black macaque—popularly known as the “Monkey Selfie”—we concluded that there was unlikely to be any copyright protection in the work, under either U.S. law or U.K.

Readers of our blog may remember Leonard Barshack as the co-founder of Bigfoot, a popular Internet mail forwarding service that launched in 1995. Barshack, a resident of Sun Valley, Idaho, recently became well-known once again for his role as plaintiff in Barshack v. Twitter, a suit filed in Idaho’s Blaine County District Court

Last year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) received over 1,900 applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including multiple applications for popular domains like .app, .inc, .art, .shop and .music. More than seven hundred applications have now passed an initial evaluation. If no further issues arise for those applications, ICANN anticipates

In the latest issue of Socially Aware, our Burton Award-winning guide to the law and business of social media, we look at recent First Amendment, intellectual property, labor and privacy law developments affecting corporate users of social media and the Internet. We also recap major events from 2012 that have had a substantial impact