Gimme a “V” for Cheerleader Uniform Design Copyright Validity!

Are cheerleading uniforms truly cheerleading uniforms without the stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and color blocks? That is the question that strikes at the heart of this appeal.

(Opinion pdf page 2).

Varsity Brands and its affiliates registered a number of graphic design copyrights for designs appearing on the cheerleading uniforms and warm-ups they sell.  Varsity sued Star Athletica for copyright infringement for selling cheerleading gear with designs substantially similar to Varsity’s copyrighted designs.  Star Athletica argued that Varsity’s copyrights were invalid because they were unprotectable designs of useful articles.  The district court agreed with Star Athletica that Varsity’s copyright registrations were invalid, concluding that “a cheerleading uniform is not a cheerleading uniform without stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and colorblocks.”  The necessity of stripes, chevrons, zigzags and colorblocks meant that Varsity’s designs were for useful articles and not protectable by copyright.

The Sixth Circuit further refined its initial statement of the issue:    

When can the pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that are incorporated into the design of a useful article be identified separately from, and be capable of existing independently of the utilitarian aspects of the article?

(Opinion pdf page 2).

The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded.

Continue reading “Gimme a “V” for Cheerleader Uniform Design Copyright Validity!”

Smack Dab in the Middle of a Termination Rights Dispute!

This case addresses the standing required to challenge a copyright grant termination.  Standing is the legal ability to sue another person or entity in a particular court.  Ray Charles entered into agreements with his twelve adult children that he would set up irrevocable trusts for each of them and that that gift would be their entire inheritance from him.  Ray Charles’ will named The Ray Charles Foundation as the sole beneficiary to his estate.  The Foundation received Charles’ copyright royalties upon his death in 2004.  Later, seven of Charles’ children filed notices under 17 USC §§ 203 and 304(c) with the Copyright Office, terminating Charles’ copyright grants to Warner/Chappell.  The copyright termination rights provide authors with a second chance to exploit their works. My Power Point presentation Copyright Grant Termination Rights – Ghosts of Copyright Grants Past, Present and Future discusses copyright grant termination in detail.

The Foundation’s only source of funds is through Charles’ estate.  The Foundation challenged the Terminating Heirs’ termination notices.  The district court dismissed the Foundation’s complaint, ruling that the Foundation did not have standing to challenge the copyright grant terminations.  The Ninth Circuit overruled and remanded the case to district court.

Continue reading “Smack Dab in the Middle of a Termination Rights Dispute!”

Netflix Not Responsible for Nosy Friends and Family Viewing History and Queue

This case is interesting and significant because it is both a case of first impression in the Ninth Circuit and involves the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), which has entertaining historical roots.

Meghan Mollett is a Netflix subscriber, who, along with other Netflix subscribers, brought a class action claim against Netflix for violating the VPPA with the Netflix video streaming service.  For instant streaming subscribers, Netflix automatically displays a list of recently watched video titles, the subscriber’s queue and lists of recommended video titles on the subscriber’s home page.  Netflix appears on any Netflix-ready device without the need to log in.  The contents of the home page are therefore available for viewing by anyone who is present when a Netflix subscriber accesses her account through her Netflix-ready device, including family members, friends and guests.  The class action plaintiffs alleged that these disclosure violate the VPPA.

Netflix argued that the personal information disclosures are made to the subscribers themselves and are therefore permissible and that any disclosures to third parties were not knowingly made, so don’t violate the VPPA.  The district court granted Netflix’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

Continue reading “Netflix Not Responsible for Nosy Friends and Family Viewing History and Queue”