Can you copyright costumes? And do people still dress up as Power Rangers?
Apparently they do, which is why we're even contemplating the first question. SCG Power Rangers LLC, owner of all intellectual property rights associated with the Power Rangers franchise, has sued MyPartyShirt.com on these grounds.
It believes that the website's unofficial Power Rangers costumes constitute both copyright and trademark infringement.
It's indisputable that SCG owns the copyrights and trademarks in the designs and artwork that appear on the Power Rangers uniforms.
But how do those rights translate into the uniforms themselves?
Technically, one cannot copyright costumes or uniforms. The Copyright Act does not protect "useful articles," which are defined as "articles having an intrinsic utilitarian function." Clothing falls into this category.
However, some attorneys, and at least one appellate court, have suggested that parts of costumes can be copyrightable. Individual design elements, such as a flower pattern or the Power Rangers diamonds, may have protection.
Still, these elements would have to have no real utilitarian function. They'd have to be present for appearances only.
For these reasons, SCG will probably fare much better with its trademark claim. The website is branding its costumes with the name Power Rangers. When combined with the look and feel of the costumes, there's little doubt that an ordinary consumer would believe them to be officially sanctioned.
Such confusion, and dilution, is what trademark law is designed to prevent.
So while it may not be possible to entirely copyright costumes, it is still possible to develop a costume that infringes on another's rights.