How to Copyright My Clothing Designs and Protect My Brand
You don’t need to be a legal guru to know that protecting intellectual property rights is a big deal. Mega corporations, like Disney, go to great lengths to protect their intellectual property. Though you aren’t earning billions selling customized wholesale t-shirts emblazoned with your own designs, you should still take steps to protect your intellectual property.
If you create your own designs rather than purchasing them from someone else, copyrighting your artwork is a crucial step in protecting your brand. While there is some conflicting information out there on whether you can copyright fashion designs, there definitely are options for safeguarding your creations.
Understand What Can Be Copyrighted
Before we dive into the process, it’s important to understand what can and cannot be copyrighted in terms of fashion design. Unfortunately, you cannot copyright a color or a particular color scheme. You also can’t copyright how various pieces of fabric are cut and stitched together. In other words, people who design clothing from scratch can’t prevent other designers from making clothing in the exact same shape and dimensions.
As someone who creates custom clothing featuring your own artwork, though, you are free to copyright original sketches of your designs, as well as the graphic designs applied to the surface of your clothing. As long as your design showcases a reasonable amount of creative expression, you can copyright any design imprinted in or on fabric. And if you need some inspiration, there are tons of t-shirt decorating ideas available.
Do Designs Need to be Copyrighted?
When you apply your own artwork to blank hoodies, t-shirts, etc., it instantly becomes copyrighted. You do not need to attach a copyright notice or register the copyright with the copyright office in order to receive protection. From the moment you apply your artwork to a tangible object, the copyright belongs to you for your entire lifetime plus an additional 70 years.
While registration is not required, however, registering your design with the U.S. Copyright Office provides numerous benefits. Doing so creates a record of copyright ownership and allows you to sue someone for copyright infringement if they use your design. Also, registering your copyright could make you eligible for legal fees and statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Registering Your Copyright
Registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is a straightforward process. You need to submit a completed application form, a non-refundable filing fee and a non-refundable “deposit” in the form of a copy of the artwork being registered. Registering online is the fastest, easiest and most affordable option. The fees may vary, but in general, you should expect to pay a registration fee of $45 to $65 when filing electronically.
After the Copyright Office has received and processed your application, a registration certificate is issued. This certificate establishes the date of registration as the date on which all required elements were received in an acceptable form. You do not need to receive this form prior to printing your design on apparel. However, you are not able to file a claim for copyright infringement until the Copyright Office has acted on your application.
How Copyright Protects Your Brand
As an artist, the designs you create are a huge part of your personal and professional brand. You likely have a unique style your customers and fans have come to associate with you. If someone else steals your artwork and uses it on products they sell, it dilutes your brand. When people can find your artwork in more than just one location, your style is no longer distinctly your own. Would the iconic Disney font be nearly as iconic and instantly recognizable if everyone were allowed to use it?
Copyrighting your designs ensures you have legal recourse if someone else steals them. With registered copyrights, you can sue for copyright infringement, recover damages and force the other person or business to stop using your intellectual property for their own gain.
The Bottom Line
Registering the copyright for your clothing designs is a smart idea. The process is relatively straightforward, affordable and is a crucial step in ensuring your rights will be preserved if another individual or business steals your artwork. As an artist and clothing designer, you face enough challenges without having to worry about someone else profiting off your creativity. By registering the copyrights for your original designs, you can rest assured knowing you’ll have legal recourse if your rights are violated.