How to Copyright A T Shirt Design for Legal Protection

A significant part of being a professional artist is being able to sustain your work through commercial success. Skillfully managing the business of art is going to enable you to continue doing what you love. Whether you draw comic books, paint portraits, or create new t-shirt designs, you need to take the steps necessary to protect your work through copyright.

What is Copyright?

To protect their work from theft, unauthorized reproduction, unauthorized use, and alteration, an artist should apply for a copyright. An artist – referred to as an author in the legal code is – “the creator of the original expression in a work” and is the “owner of copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher”. These definitions come straight from the U. S. Copyright Office and apply to original writing, visual art, motion pictures, audio recordings and other original works. As a t-shirt artist, a copyright will help identify the work you create as yours. It will help you earn profits from your creation. Perhaps most importantly, a copyright will give you legal protection in case someone else chooses to claim the work as their own or attempts to sell shirts with your design instead of something they made themselves.

Why Should I Apply for a Copyright?

If having a copyrighted design is so important, why doesn’t everyone do it? Many people are under the impression that a copyright is hard to get. While the copyrighting process will take a little time and effort, your work is valuable and deserves to be protected. It doesn’t make sense to spend months and even years perfecting a design and then not make the effort to protect it from unauthorized use. The uniqueness of your work can be significantly diminished if anyone can create an identical or nearly-identical design. An artist makes their living by creating something new and never seen before.

Sounds Good – How do I Start?

There are three ways you can complete the copyrighting process: Bar code form CO; paper form VA; or online registration. Online registration is perhaps the most convenient way to submit your copyright. Everything can be done online at The website will lead you through each step until you’re ready to submit the completed forms. You will also be asked to pay an application fee at the time of submission, so prepare for this.

Registering your copyright online has several advantages. The fee you’re required to pay will actually be lower when you register online; you’ll also have the option of paying by credit card, debit card, electronic check, or through a Copyright Office deposit account. The online status tracker allows you to keep an eye on the progress of your application.

A paper form VA is the application used by people submitting a copyright of a visual creation; VA stands for visual arts. The form can be downloaded and printed from the Copyright Office website. You can also request a form be sent to you in the mail. This form is essentially the same as the online format though requires a slightly higher filing fee.

A bar code form CO is a form that can be filled out on your computer then printed out. The only portion of the form that needs any handwriting is the space left blank for your signature. The bar code form is notable because it is individually distinguished by a unique bar code on each page. The information that you type into the document is encoded; once you're finished completing a page of the form, a bar code will automatically appear. This is a very quick way of completing the application portion of the copyrighting process.

What Else Needs Sent?

When copyrighting visual works, such as the t-shirt design you've created, you'll be required to submit a high quality copy of your design. If you intend to submit a paper application, then you'll have to include a photograph. To protect the photo while it's being shipped, package it in a box instead of in an envelope. If you're submitting your application online you'll be prompted to include a high resolution photograph of your image; if the image you're submitting was created with illustration software then simply attach a high resolution copy of the graphic itself.

If you choose to submit a photograph of your work along with your paper application, keep in mind that your photograph will not be returned. It has to remain on record as part of your copyright holding. If you discover someone using your work without your permission, claiming it as their own, or reproducing unauthorized versions of your image that are not significantly different then this photo will be a key to establishing your ownership over the disputed image.

How Long Does My Copyright Last?

How long your copyright lasts actually depends on several factors. In most cases, however, an author's copyright lasts their entire lifetime and extends seventy years past their death. At that time if there is no other holder of the copyright, then the work passes into the public domain; it can then be used by anyone but can never be claimed as the legal property of an individual.

The copyrighting process may seem intimidating from the outset, though once you get started you'll see how straightforward it actually is. Copyrighting your work keeps it safe and firmly under your ownership. If your holding is ever threatened, you'll have a legal standing to support you should you ever have to go to court. As an artist, your unique creation will remain associated with you; this is essential to creating a body of professional work and earning money from it. Once the application process has been successfully completed, your work will belong to you for life.

**This is not intending to be legal advice. Consult an attorney for official help and information on copyrighting and the legal defense of your work.**