Supreme Court Review 2016/2017 TERM
SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2017
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Issue:  Copyrightability

Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands

15-866

QUESTION(S) PRESENTED

Under the Copyright Act, a “useful article” such as a chair, a dress, or a uniform cannot be copyrighted. 17 U.S.C. § 101. The article’s component features or elements cannot be copyrighted either, unless capable of being “identified separately from, and ... existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” Id. Circuit courts, the Copyright Office, and academics have proposed at least nine different tests to analyze this separability. The Sixth Circuit rejected them all and created a tenth. The first question is:

What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under § 101 of the Copyright Act?

DECISION

Decided March 22, 2017 HOLDING

A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature (1) can be perceived as a twoor 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. That test is satisfied here.

Agree image Justice Kagan
Agree Kagan
Agree image Justice Alito
Agree Alito
Concur Author image Justice Ginsburg
Concur Author Ginsburg
Agree w/ Breyer image Justice Kennedy
Agree w/ Breyer Kennedy
Agree image Chief Justice Roberts
Agree Roberts
Author image Justice Thomas
Author Thomas
Dissent Author image Justice Breyer
Dissent Author Breyer
Agree image Justice Sotomayor
Agree Sotomayor
Recused image Justice Gorsuch
Recused Gorsuch

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY, J., joined.

Text of Opinion
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ORAL ARGUMENT

Argued October 31, 2016

Appearences
On Behalf of Petitioner Star Athletica, L.L.C.
John J. Bursch, Esq.
On Behalf of Respondent Varsity Brands, Inc., et al.
William M. Jay, Esq.
On Behalf of United States as amiĀ­ cus curiae supporting Respondent
Eric J. Feigin, Assistant to the Solicitor General
Transcript
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Audio
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Merit Briefs
Brief for Petitioner (pdf download)
Brief for Respondents (pdf download)
Reply Brief for Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Curiae Briefs
Brief for American Intellectual Property Law Association in Support of Neither Party (pdf download)
Brief for Chicago Intellectual Property Law Association in Support of Neither Party (pdf download)
Brief for Chosun International, Inc in Support of Respondents (pdf download)
Brief for Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc in Support of Respondent; Amicus Brief for Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc in Support of Respondent (pdf download)
Brief for Fashion Law Institute Et Al in Support of Respondents (pdf download)
Brief for Intellectual Property Owners Association in Support of Respondent (pdf download)
Brief for Intellectual Property Professors in Support of Petitioner (pdf download)
Brief for New York Intellectual Property Law Association in Support of Neither Party (pdf download)
Brief for Professors Christopher Buccafusco and Jeanne Fromer in Support of Petitioner (pdf download)
Brief for Professors Jeannie Suk Gersen and C Scott Hemphill in Support of Respondents (pdf download)
Brief for Public Knowledge, et al in Support of Petitioner (pdf download)
Brief for the Royal Manticoran Navy- The Official Honor Harrington Fan Association, Inc in Support of Petitioner (pdf download)
Brief for United States in Support of Respondent (pdf download)

PROCEEDING BELOW

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Decided August 19, 2015
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