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Hawaiian Shirt-Maker Sues for Copyright Infringement

Aloha shirt firm
Sues competitor Zara,
Claims shirts infringe rights

Rube P. Hoffman, a California textile company founded in 1924 and known for its Hawaiian print fabrics and “aloha” shirts, has sued Zara USA, Inc. for copyright infringement.

Zara is one of the world’s largest fashion chains, with more than 2000 stores around the world.

Hoffman claims that two of Zara’s shirts are too similar to Hoffman designs.

Specifically, Hoffman is suing over its “Orchid Design,” for which the copyright was registered in 1983, and the “Island Silkie Design,” for which copyright was registered in 1999.

The Orchid design was somewhat famously worn by actor Tom Selleck on the Magnum PI TV series.

For works created on or after January 1, 1978 for which a corporation is deemed the author, the term of copyright protection is the shorter of 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years after creation.

In order to prevail, Hoffman will have to show either direct evidence of Zara’s copying or that Zara had access to Hoffman’s designs (which were available in the marketplace) and that the two designs are substantially similar.

Zara’s response to the complaint asserts that Hoffman’s copyright registrations are fraudulent, improper, or invalid and that, among other things, the designs at issue were already in the public domain. Zara also asserted that any actual copying was minimal and thus not a violation of Hoffman’s copyright.

As we discussed in this previous blog, As a general rule, you can’t get a copyright for a “useful article,” and clothes in general are treated as “useful articles.”

However, the Copyright Office is willing to register copyrights for certain aspects of useful objects:

Thus, a useful article may have both copyrightable and uncopyrightable features. For example, a carving on the back of a chair or a floral relief design on silver flatware could be protected by copyright, but the design of the chair or flatware itself could not.

In this case, while a shirt is a “useful object” and thus not protected by copyright law, the fabric design can be the subject of copyright protection.

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