Cheerleading uniform lawsuit could impact fashion industry

Donned in their plain black robes, the men and women of the U.S. Supreme Court spent an hour talking about stripes and zigzags on cheerleading uniforms. The case, argued on Halloween, could have big repercussions for the fashion industry.

Varsity Brands, the country's largest maker of cheerleading uniforms, wants to keep its patterns of zigzags and stripes copyrighted. But, a smaller company argues Varsity has no right to copyright the designs' use on clothes.

The issue is tricky because clothes are normally difficult to copyright because their design is directly tied to their function, and federal law doesn't allow designs to be copyrighted unless they can stand alone.

The smaller company, Star Athletics, in its brief, asks can "the stripes, chevrons, zigzags, and color blocks be recognized apart from a cheerleader uniform's utilitarian aspects? No." The company's attorneys say a "uniform, without the blocks and stripes, looks exactly like the ubiquitous little black dress."

However, Varsity Brands argues its stripes can be separated from the dress, and used on other clothes and objects.

The case could have major repercussions for both the $300 million cheerleading apparel market, and the even larger fashion industry. In fact, the Council of Fashion Designers of America filed an amicus brief supporting Varsity's right to copyright the uniforms.