How to Register a Copyright for Clothing


Copyright law protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic and artistic works. Copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce or distribute copies of the work, make derivative works based on those copies and perform or display the work publicly.

Requirements for Copyright Protection

A work must meet several requirements to be eligible for federal copyright protection:

  • The work must be original. It cannot be copied from someone else’s work or idea.
  • The work must be fixed in a tangible medium (a photograph, drawing, painting) or recorded onto film or tape.
  • The author(s) must be identified on copies of the work.

What are the Benefits of Federal Registration?

There are several benefits to registering your copyright with the Copyright Office. First, if someone infringes on your work, you can sue them in federal court instead of state court. Second, you must register with the Copyright Office within three months of publishing or else you will not be able to recover damages for infringement. When registering a copyright with the Copyright Office, you also have to include a copy of the work being registered (or make arrangements for delivery). This requirement does not apply if filing online through eCO (electronic Copyright Office).

If you choose to use symbols such as “©” or “℗” on your clothing items that have been copyrighted under federal law, they have no legal significance unless they are used in connection with registration of a work before it was published (see Section 104(b)).

What Works are Protected by Copyright Law?

Copyright law protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyrightable works include the following categories:

  • Literary works (including computer programs, but not including an idea or procedure), including any accompanying music, sound recording, or motion picture.
  • Musical works, including any accompanying lyrics.
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music.
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works.
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works (such as paintings and sculpture) especially 2-D artworks such as drawings and oil paintings; 3-D artwork such as sculptures or architectural plans; photographs taken by a photographer—these are called “copyrighted photographs” because they’re subject to different rules than other types of copyrighted material.

How do I Register my Copyright?

There are two ways to register your copyright: online or by mail. If you decide to file by mail, be sure to complete all forms and include the proper fee (check the US Copyright Office’s fee schedule for more information). The US Copyright Office has instructions on how to register online or by mail.

When Should I Register my Copyright?

The best time to register your copyright is as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes and the less likely it is that a court will award damages if someone steals your work. The U.S. Copyright Office recommends registering at least two months before an infringement takes place because that gives you enough time to recover any damages (e.g., profits made off of your design).

 Cost of Registering a Copyright

The cost of registering a copyright for clothing is based on the number of items and the length of time your work will be protected.

The fees for registering clothing are per item, not per design. So, if you have an outfit with three pieces (a dress, shoes and purse), that is one item. You will pay one fee regardless of how many designs are in that item or how long you want your copyright to last (three years or five years).

The fees range from $35 to $45 per item and last three years. They range from $50 to $60 per item and last five years.

Every Designer Should Protect Their Designs

Every designer should protect their designs with a federal registration. It’s easy and inexpensive, and registration provides many benefits. In fact, it’s the only way you can get statutory damages or attorneys fees if your design is infringed.

For many years, fashion designers were forced to rely on common law trademark rights for protection of their designs. This means that if another designer copied one of your dresses and sold it under his or her name, there was no legal recourse for you unless you could prove that your customer would be confused about who made the dress (i.e., “this is a Vera Wang knockoff”). You’d also need to prove that people were actually buying from the copycat seller thinking they were buying from you (or at least knew where they bought from). It’s no surprise that this system isn’t very effective–it puts all the burden on copyright owners like us.


If you have a clothing line, you should really protect your designs. You can do this by registering them as soon as possible with the U.S. Copyright Office.

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