Essay  |  Volume 166

The Sum is More Public Domain than its Parts?: US Copyright Protection for Works of Applied Art Under Star Athletica’s Imagination Test

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166 U. Pa. L. Rev. Online 83 (2017)

Posted on Oct. 25, 2017

Essay - The Sum is More Public Domain than its Parts?: US Copyright Protection for Works of Applied Art Under <i>Star Athletica</i>’s Imagination Test










In Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve confusion in the lower courts regarding the “separability” predicate to copyright protection of decorative features of useful articles. Adopting the Gordian imagery evoked by other appellate courts, the Sixth Circuit in Varsity Brands lamented “[c]ourts have twisted themselves into knots trying to create a test to effectively ascertain whether the artistic aspects of a useful article can be identified separately from and exist independently of the article’s utilitarian function.” Star Athletica involved the “surface decorations” of stripes, chevrons, and color blocks applied to cheerleader uniforms. While the Supreme Court clarified the meaning and application of the “separability” standard for decorative elements of the kind at issue in that case, the decision leaves the knots as tangled as ever when a claim of copyright concerns the entire form of a useful article.


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