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You might have come up with a brilliant t-shirt design that is bound to leave your customers impressed, but what happens when someone else copies your designs and tries to pass them as their own?
With the freedom to create and sell through an e-commerce store online, comes potential legal risks.
Copyright can protect your t-shirt designs and in turn your business. In this article, we discuss:
The first step of copyrighting your t-shirt designs is to ensure that you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s copyright.
While there is nothing wrong in being inspired by others, you cannot directly use other copyrighted elements and artworks without the prior permission of the owner as it can quickly land you in troubled waters.
Here are the elements that you shouldn’t use without prior permission of the owner in order to avoid copyright infringements.
To start with, you are free to use flags, national symbols, and even coat of arms on your t-shirt designs. That is because these types of images are not protected by any trademark or copyright and you won’t get sued for it. Though, keep a note that you can’t use any artwork that uses flags and national symbols as that artwork itself might be copyrighted.
There is an entire collection of creative work to which rules of exclusive intellectual property do not apply called the public domain.
Copyrighted work isn’t protected forever. The exclusivity of copyright only lasts about 50-70 years after the death of the author (The exact length can differ according to local jurisdiction).
According to the copyright laws of the US, any work that was created after January 1, 1978, is copyrighted for the life of the author who created the work plus 70 years after their death.
After the copyright period expires, the work comes under the public domain and it is free to be used.
Also important to note that the public domain isn’t just filled with old works of authors that passed away a long time ago. There are a lot of creators who willingly put their work under the public domain.
Creative Commons is a non-profit with the goal of increasing the total number of creatives available for using, building, and sharing legally. The licenses under Creative Commons allow creators to specify the rights to their work.
While some works in creative commons allow you to use them for commercial purposes, others don’t.
Here are the different types of creative commons licenses:
It is important to note that Creative Commons licenses aren’t a replacement for copyright law. They just offer flexibility to creators and artists to easily specify the type of copyright they want to add to their work.
Also important to know that the Copyright Act has a few exceptions where you can use copyrighted material without the consent of the author, and this includes parodies and satire. So the new t-shirt design you create must ridicule or make fun of the original copyrighted work in some way. The parody should also have very clear differences from the original work.
There are many benefits for copyrighting t-shirt designs, including:
The exact fees and process for copyright registration can differ according to the country you are located in. Although, if you are filing for copyright in a country that is part of the Berne Convention, then your copyright protection will stay valid in over 180 countries with just a single filing.
If you are filing for copyright in the US, the registration fee will be between $35-55, depending on the case. Here’s how you can copyright your t-shirt designs.
1- Go to the US Copyright Office website and select Register a Copyright
2- Next, choose the Visual Arts category
3- Create an account by entering the relevant details. You will also have to upload a copy of the design for their records
4- Fill out the application and pay the fee
5- Submit the application online or mail the application to the copyright office
It takes around 3-11 months for online applications to get processed. Mail applications can take up to two years for processing.
While copyright allows you to protect your unique designs and creations, trademark helps protect your brand name, logo, colors, and even phrases.
Also, while you can trademark phrases and slogans, it doesn’t mean that you can trademark just about any slogan you want. A quote can only be trademarked if it’s a part of your brand’s name or a part of the slogan for your products.
For instance, almost every clothing brand has some version of the basic black t-shirt, but only Nike can create black t-shirts with their trademark ‘swoosh’ logo on the t-shirts. Similarly, Nike has also trademarked their slogan ‘Just do it.’ That means no one else can use this phrase on their clothing, without prior permission from Nike.
Send a legal notice to infringers: When you find someone copying your t-shirt designs and infringing on your copyright, you can directly reach out to them and send them a legal notice in the form of a cease and desist letter. You should make sure to inform the infringers that if they don’t take down the counterfeit listings of your products, you will be forced to take strict action against them.
Take down counterfeit listings yourself: There can be times when you reach out to fake sellers and they don’t respond to you. In cases like that, you can report the counterfeit product listings to the relevant marketplace platforms and take them down by proving that you own the copyright to the designs. You can follow the Red points’ how-to guides to take down counterfeit listings on Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, and others platforms.
Take steps to protect your brand: While you need to take action when someone infringes on your copyright, you also need to proactively protect your brand to take down fake listings as soon as they show up. After all, the longer the fake listings stay active, the more they can affect your business revenue and reputation.
Red Points can help you find, track, and remove fake product listings automatically with its Brand Protection Software. It uses advanced intelligence tools to detect infringements 24/7 and take them down automatically.
Even if you are in the early stages of your business, you should start filing relevant copyrights, trademarks, patents. The only way to protect your business is to protect your intellectual property effectively.