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Old June 13th, 2005 -   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: T Shirt Design Copyright Info

Hi Vince,

I'm not a lawyer, and you would probably get better information talking to an intellectual property rights attorney, but...

The main source for finding out copyright information would be the US Copyright office:

They have a lot of main copyright questions answered in their FAQ:

All artwork is copyrighted at the time it is created. Registering a copyright usually only helps you to prove that you created the artwork first in case you want to go after another party for infringement (in which case you would need to hire a lawyer to prosecute the offenders).

In the Speaker City situation would probably fall under a "trademark". If there is a business that has the "Speaker City" name trademarked, they would have the most recourse in going after people using their name in t-shirt designs.

Unless you can prove you have the original copyright for a design, it can be come difficult to prove which design came first.

This part of the copyright site explains what can and can't be copyrighted:

I believe the cost to register a copyright is around $20 for each work.

I've read that some people put all of their designs in a book format and copyright the whole book as one work.

If you are really worried, you may want to copyright each design separately.

The real test is how well your registration will hold up in a court of law in the event someone has stolen your copyrighted design. I don't know of any cases where this has been tested.

Some slogan based designs can and are trademarked. If your design is more slogan/text based, you may want to look into registering a trademark instead. Keep in mind that not all t-shirt slogans can be trademarked, as trademarked are usually reserved to protect "brands" rather than protecting a "slogan". If you can prove your slogan is your brand, I think you may have a better chance at securing a trademark.

Also, if a t shirt site doesnt explicity state that their artwork is copyrighted, who's to stop the guy next door from copying their art and selling their own shirts with that art
All work is copyrighted at the time it is created. Registering the copyright only helps to prove that you originated the artwork first, but it doesn't necessarily stop someone from using your design.

That's where lawyers and courts come in. Whether you have an official copyright, trademark, or whatever, if someone steals your design, you'll most likely need to hire an intellectual property rights attorney to protect your rights.

So if you have the money to hire an attorney to go after people who have stolen your design, then you probably have the money to hire an attorney to handle the copyright/trademark registration process.

I've gone through the trademark registration process and it can be an expensive and looong journey.

In some cases, it can be well worth the investment, but for small t-shirt companies just starting out, I've found that most are just fine by focusing their energies on creating unique designs and marketing those designs to the best of their abilities. After it takes off or starts to head in that direction, that's when I see most t-shirt companies start to protect certain designs or their overall brand. That way they aren't spending money on trying to protect something that may never sell well or even need protecting

But if you're a big corporation and/or you have the money for it and have confidence in your design and brand, why not go ahead and go through the steps beforehand to protect your design? I'm sure that's how companies like No Fear and Vulcom did it.

Even larger companies like "threadless" don't seem to have an official trademark registered (although American Apparel *does* have an official trademark).

Sorry for the rambling post. I hope this helps I plan to write an article about this in the upcoming weeks that's a bit more concise.
Rodney Blackwell
PrinterListings.com: Find a company to print your t-shirts - list your own t-shirt printing company.
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