Can You Copyright a Halloween Costume?

Copyright law usually excludes basic items like clothes, silverware or furniture from copyright protection because they are strictly utilitarian items. If the law protected these types of things, the fear is that it would limit people’s options to obtain basic items since there would be numerous copyrights covering forks and spoons, for example. The law refers to them as “useful items.” A Halloween-themed lawsuit is seeking to test the limits of whether clothing can extend beyond just a useful item.

The lawsuit pits the company behind the Power Rangers against an online site that sold Power Ranger Halloween outfits. The plaintiff had sent several cease-and-desist letters to the operators of the site, but to no avail. The site continued to sell the Power Ranger outfits, so the company now seeks compensation and an injunction preventing the site from selling the outfits for future Halloweens.

The fashion industry has also been trying to expand the notion of copyright to cover clothing designs. The argument is that certain outfits and designs extend beyond mere usefulness to a pictorial and graphical design that should in fact merit copyright protection. The Power Ranger costume in this case is not just to have something to wear, the plaintiffs are arguing. It represents a particular character and TV show that the plaintiff owns, and people who buy the outfit do so because they recognize it as a Power Ranger one and not just clothing.

Do you think clothing should receive copyright protection? Where would you draw the line between useful clothing and clothing creative enough to merit protection?

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