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An Unbearable Copyright: Coverage For Clothes

Much as designers may like, the U.S. Copyright Office won't issue copyrights for useful articles. High on the list of useful articles is clothing.

For one company, copyrighting clothing is very important - for stuffed bears.

How do they avoid the "useful article" designation? Well, most people don't consider toys "useful," so presumably, clothing for toys isn't "useful" either.

At least that's the determination made by Judge Christopher Conner in the Boyd's bears lawsuit against one of its competitors, The Bearington Collection. According to Boyd's, Bearington was copying the clothing designs used on the Boyd's bears. Bearington argued that since the USPTO wouldn't issue copyrights for clothing, it could copy the clothes used on Boyd's bears.

Judge Conner disagreed (for a second time), ruling in favor of Boyd's, and against Bearington. But the ruling isn't one that everyone can rely on. Judge Conner said we'd have to look at whether clothing was useful on a "case-by-case" basis. As he said at the very end of his opinion, "clothing for copyrighted bears doesn't ... serve any useful purpose ... it is not a useful article."

Just don't tell Barbie. She's wearing Benneton this year.

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Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, May 12, 2005


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