October 30, 2011 12:07pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Power Rangers Halloween Costumes Morph Into Lawsuit
This Halloween, the most legally hot costume might be a Power Rangers uniform. The company that owns the rights to the Power Rangers television series, brand and related products is suing a website that's selling the color-coded outfits.
SCG Power Rangers LLC has filed a lawsuit against Underdog Endeavors, operators of MyPartyShirt.com, alleging that its Power Ranger costumes infringe copyrights and trademarks.
The plaintiff says it sent the website several cease and desist letters about the sale of T-shirts in various Power Rangers colors, but to no avail. So now the company wants an injunction and further compensation.
Can costumes be copyrighted?
The fashion industry has lobbied extensively in recent years to expand copyright protection to clothing design, but for now, the Copyright Act doesn't permit a "useful article" such as clothing to be copyrighted, insofar as the item in question "has an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information."
However, the copyrighting of "pictorial, graphic, or sculptural" is permitted, which leads some attorneys to conclude that garments may include protected individual design elements.
Does the following costume, taken from MyPartyShirt, denote some graphical originality? If so, maybe other Hollywood costume protectors will become litigious. According to a study of Google trends, some of the more popular Halloween costumes this season are costumes from Harry Potter, Captain America, and the Green Lantern. Obviously, if a costume is packaged or promoted using a trademarked name, that's actionable. And reproducing a copyrighted character (like with a Harry Potter or Green Lantern mask) likely would be a violation of derivative rights in a copyright. But what about costumes that merely look like famous characters?
Also showing up on the list is a Nicki Minaj costume. We're still waiting for a celebrity to allege a publicity rights violation on a Halloween costume for sale in the marketplace. The closest recent lawsuit we've got to that -- a dispute involving an Albert Einstein costume -- was quietly settled on confidential terms earlier this year.