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Unicolors v. H&M- A Copyright Case in the Supreme Court

June 1, 2021 Copyright Law

After a battle spanning years, the copyright case between Unicolors, a pattern-making company and H&M, a fast fashion giant, is going before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case began in April of 2016 when Unicolors accused H&M of infringing on one of its geometric patterns.

The Supreme Court will be considering only one question- “Did the Ninth Circuit err in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration?”

This comes after a December 2017 jury verdict which found that H&M had willfully infringed Unicolors’s copyright-protected pattern, and awarded the company $846,720 in attorney’s fees, damages, and costs. This spurred H&M to appeal to the Ninth Circuit. H&M argued that Unicolors did not have a valid copyright registration for the fabric in question because the copyright application had false information in it. The individual patterns were published together as a “single unit” for one collective copyright application. However, H&M argued that Unicolors had sold some of the patterns separately and at different times.

On May 29th, 2020, the Ninth Circuit reversed the jury verdict and decided that the “knowing” inclusion of inaccurate information in the Copyright application was enough to warrant invalidation. This ruling sends a clear message to copyright registration-seeking parties to avoid submitting inaccurate combined filings in an attempt to curtail costs.

Thus, Unicolors filed a petition with the Supreme Court in January 2021. We shall see how this plays out and what implications it has for the future of copyright law and fashion law.

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