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How to Copyright T-shirt Designs and Stop Copycats

If you have a new, unique T-shirt design that you don’t want others to use without your permission, you need to legally protect it by copyrighting.

This will permanently prevent others from using your design illegally and profiting from your concept. In countries such as the United States, a copyright is established as soon as you create your T-shirt design. So, you don’t have to do anything to copyright the item’s original design.

However, you cannot launch an infringement suit in a U.S. court with this “default” (unregistered) copyright. To really protect your design and be able to sue anyone who uses it illegally, you have to register a copyright through the united states Copyright Office.

If you want to copyright your T-shirt design, you need to be aware of how copyright works and how it can relate to the various elements you may have on a shirt. However, you must bear in mind that you can only get copyright protection for a photograph—assuming it’s yours and not someone else’s—or a design. But you cannot copyright a short phrase, motto, brief quote, or the like.

Similarly, you cannot copyright a mere idea for a shirt because ideas are not protected by copyright. And you cannot copyright a method for creating or printing T-shirts, since this would already be protected by a patent. Now, you may already know some, but here are the advantages of registering a copyright for your T-shirt design:

5 Benefits of Obtaining a Copyright for your T-shirt Design

  • It establishes a public record of copyright claim
  • It allows the general public to confirm the owner of a copyright, thereby helping those seeking to purchase or license the copyright from you find you as the appropriate owner
  • It helps you meet the registration requirement necessary to file an infringement suit (for works in the United States)
  • It establishes first-sight evidence of the validity of your copyright
  • It entitles you to statutory damages and attorney’s fees in court actions (otherwise, you get only an award of actual damages and profits–which is fine, too)

3 Sure Ways to Copyright your T-shirt Designs and Stop Copycats

You can register copyright for your T-shirt design by submitting the proper application form and a non-refundable fee to the copyright agency in your state or country. In the United States, the United States Copyright Agency is in charge of copyright registrations.

There are three ways you can submit your application for a copyright: electronically through eCO, electronically through a Barcode Form CO, and manually through paper form VA.

a. The eCO eService

The U.S. Copyright Office has a new electronic system for registering copyright, called the eCo eService. You should use this option to register your basic claims copyright if possible, even if your design is not available in digital format. To register online, visit the website of the Copyright Office ( and click on the eCO icon.

You will need to set up an account the first time you register online. You can then start your application; you will get necessary guidelines and instructions from the application form.

If you have a copy of your design in electronic form, you may submit it right away. But if you don’t, or if you wish to submit physical copies of your T-shirt design, you will be given a bar coded form that you will send back via mail along with the copy of your design. Presently, online applications cost $35 per registration.

b. Barcode Form CO

The fill-in Form CO is the next best option for registering your design. You can find the form at the website of the United States Copyright Office. You will fill it online, and then print it out before mailing it to the Copyright Office—alongside the filing fee and deposit copies of your design.

As you fill the form, a barcode is generated on each page of the form. This barcode is necessary for timely and efficient processing of your application. Do not write anything on the Form CO, other than to sign in the space provided. Presently, submitting a Form CO application costs $50.

c. Paper Form

While the Copyright Office still accepts copyright registration through paper forms for the time being, this option is discouraged because it dramatically increased the processing time and it no longer makes the form available online. The fee for submitting an application using the old paper form is $65 per registration.

In conclusion, you must bear in mind that the guidelines in this article apply mostly to the United States. If you are in another country, you need to contact the appropriate local agency or a professional to find out how to go about the T-shirt copyright protection process.