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There is no additional need to copyright your t-shirt designs as the Copyright protection automatically applies to any original work from the moment it was created. The law mandates that there is no need to take any secure copyright protection action for publication, registration, or the use of notice.

That said, it has numerous advantages to register your work with the United States Copyright Office. Moreover, a work originated in the United States should be registered before filing an infringement suit.

  • Registration enables you to keep a public record of the copyright claim
  • It enables the public to take permit from the owner of the copyright and also for those willing to purchase or license the copyrights.
  • It is also necessary to file an infringement suit in the US.
  • If the owner registers within three months after publication of the work or before the infringement, the owner will avail statutory damages and attorney’s fees.


Registering Your Design

The owner have to register by submitting the application form and a filing fee to the United States Copyright Office along with a copy of the work. You can file the application electronically or by amil, but filing electronically will have lower processing fee and time.

There are new electronic system for registering known as the eCO eService. You can register online from the official Copyright Office website – www.copyright.gov. Here, you will have to set up an account and begin filling your application which the website will walk you through step by step. You can also submit the electronic for of your work during the process or you can skip it to submit physical copies later. However, submitting physical copy needs your to deposit a mandatory fee. The online application charges are nearly $40 per registration.

Filling the Form CO

To register your basic claims you can fill the Form CO. This form is meant for registering work of arts, visual arts, and literary works, motion picture, sound recordings etc. You may get the copy of the form from the official Copyright Office website – www.copyright.gov. Here, you will have to fill the form, print it out and mail it to the Copyright Office along with a the fee. The fee for Form CO application is $50 per registration. If you want to register using physical paper forms, it will cost your $65 per registration.

When Copyright Comes into Effect?

Registration becomes effective on the date the Copyright Officer receives all documents, irrespective of the time it took to process the application. In some states, the owner can sue for infringement only after receiving the certificate. However, expedited registration can be availed with an additional fee where owners can avail a registration certificate within 5 business days.

What You Can’t Claim to Be Yours?

  • Intellectual property of musical groups, artists and their lyrics or photos.
  • Intellectual property of sports team, universities, organization.
  • Comic book characters, video games character, movie and television show characters.
  • Company logos and their trademark names.
  • Caricature or artwork of a celebrity.


What Will It Cost If You Use a Copyright Design?

It can cost your thousands of dollars; it could be $1000 or $10,000, who knows? The owner would demand you the pay the profits you made by using their copyright material. However, it’s worth noting that they can charge you will a lot of money even if you have only a few buck in profits. Then, you have the option to settle or negotiate the damages with the owner or He/She will take you to the court in their state which will cost you over $10K, just to start with. Moreover, defending yourself will be very expensive and if you lose, you may more in legal fees and damage charges. You can expect to pay over $50K just for using a copyright desing.

What You Can Use for Designs on T-Shirts?

  • Royalty free images for commercial use
  • Images and designs in the public domain
  • 100% unique artwork created by you



For the most part, designer would usually trace an existing photo on illustrator and would claim it for themselves; little did they know that copyright laws prevent using any modified or inspired artwork of the original work. That said, there are freelance designers who can create a unique artwork for your t-shirt with a fee. However, the most iconic artworks are done by professional artists who can charge thousands of dollars for a quote.

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