A copyright protects one’s expression of a work of authorship, such as a Tiffany heart-shaped pendant design, and grants a right to exclude others from copying, selling, performing, displaying or making derivative versions of the work.
Copyright registration issues approximately three to six months after filing. A copyright's duration is the life of the author plus 70 years, or for works made for hire (owned by the company, not the individual inventor), 95 years from publication or 125 years from creation, whichever is shorter. After that time, the material is in the public domain and anyone may freely use it.
Currently, there is no protection for “fashion design.” There is pending legislation named the “Design Piracy Prohibition Act” that seeks to implement “fashion design” protection, but it is not yet law.
- Someone is selling a shirt using a fabric design that is similar to my copyrighted design. He says he has the rights because of minor changes. What do I do? An owner of a copyright may, under appropriate circumstances, have the right to require persons of businesses infringing the copyright to take down and remove any tangible items that are causing the infringement. To ensure that such a remedy would be available to a copyright owner under a given set of circumstances (whether one seeks to force another to take down offending artwork, or whether one receives a takedown notice), it is important to consult with an attorney to understand the rights of the parties.
- Why should I register my copyright? There are three (3) key reasons why you should get a copyright registration: to establish a public record; to be able to file an infringement lawsuit in federal court; and to simplify enforcing your copyright and obtaining higher damages.
- He stole my idea! Can I sue him? Ideas are not copyrightable. Only the tangible expression of ideas can be copyrighted. For example, the concept of a “unicorn” is not copyrightable, but a unicorn print design for t-shirts is copyrightable.
- Is my copyright good in other countries? The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, each country honors each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States please either contact us or view the U.S. Copyright Office for Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.
- Who owns the copyright to something I made at work, my company or me? Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle; the exception is a “work made for hire”. Work made for hire is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or a work specially ordered or commissioned (as opposed to being paid for an already existing piece of work) from an independent contractor. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer, or commissioning party, is considered to be the author.
- If I live outside the United States, can I register my works with the U.S. Copyright Office? Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which we have a copyright treaty (see Circular 38a for the status of specific countries), or that are created by a citizen or legal resident of a country with which we have a copyright treaty, are also protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.