A Copyright Commentary: Breaking it down for the Crafting Community - Part 3

Hi guys! Welcome to Part 3 of “A Copyright Commentary: Breaking it down for the Crafting Community.” I decided to break up my original post into 3 parts, simply because it’s a TON of information, and I don’t want it to get lost. In this post, I’m going to be talking to Designers about the copyright process, and how to file and upload designs to the copyright.gov website. I now draw about 20 designs at a time and submit them in PDF format as a group before they're published anywhere online (this includes all social media). I receive one copyright number for each group, which costs $55 at the time of registration. It is true that the copyright office will not upload the art in question online (as a sort of library), or send it to an infringer electronically if they ask to see it, but imagine if they did? The art could be available when anyone asks for it…which could also allow it to be stolen (if left un-watermarked). I don’t upload my designs with watermarks, and I’m pretty sure the copyright office wouldn’t want to spend time adding watermarks to my pdf files.

When submitting a group of designs and something is submitted within that group that is not original enough to be granted a number, they'll send a letter in the mail (or an email) which states that fact, however – it will NOT say which design isn’t protected, and they’ll still grant a number for the remaining designs. It's a guessing game to figure out which design may not have been included. They also say that if the designs were each filed separately (for $35 a piece), that you wouldn’t have this guessing game problem. ;)

A copyright number may take up to 8 months to receive in the mail, but remember – even if someone infringes on that design in the meantime - damages can be collected from the time the designs were filed vs. the date the number was issued. However, the copyright office won’t grant a copyright number on a design if it isn’t unique enough, and surely a federal lawsuit cannot be filed to win damages if a design isn't granted a number. That being said, if something is created from scratch and the copyright office deems it “un-copyrightable material,” you’d have to spend money to plead your case that it IS – in fact – original, and it’s worth a registration number.

Another thing to remember is that copyright does not always cover unique phrases, and when a design is submitted, you have to select if you’re protecting the design, photo, jewelry, poem, song, etc. All bases cannot be covered with one submission. To protect short phrases or words, a trademark must be filed, and the process is much different. Trademark law is very specific (trademarks represent brands), so before you dive in and try to trademark a phrase, I recommend that an attorney is consulted.

A few things to remember:
  • A registration number is needed to file a suit and possibly win up to $150K in damages.
  • Filing in groups ($55) is permitted as long as the designs were never published online before filing (or anywhere else).
  • Filing a single design is $35. Additionally, any designs that were published previously cost $35 to CR, and full protection is only granted if it is filed within 3 months of the design being published online. You can still file for CR after 3 months, but full protection for the design will not be granted.
  • If a design is too simple, it may not get an official CR number. This means a lawsuit cannot be filed if someone infringes on the design. The absence of an original, or creative “twist” may deem the design not creative enough to get an issued number. In turn, this means that you should always design with copyright in mind. Don’t over-simplify a design if you don’t want it replicated easily. That being said, if you're in this boat and your design is stolen, there’s still hope. You can appeal to the copyright office and plead your case on why your design is unique and deserves a number.
  • Copyright does NOT cover short phrases, and in some cases, quotes. (Trademark would cover short phrases.)
  • Additionally, a CR number may not be granted if a quote or phrase that is copyrighted is used in the design.
  • Also remember that copyrighting artwork and copyrighting a photo may be two separate things, so if you're reported for copying a design and they’ve copyrighted their product photo (and it’s marked “photo” and not 2D art), they likely don’t have a copyright on the actual design, and their copyright only protects their product photo. <--This can be super confusing.
I truly believe that if a design is creative enough and you’re worried about the design being copied or stolen, the absolute best way to protect your work is to file for copyright protection.

Again, I'm not an attorney, but I’ve been actively learning about trademark and copyright protection for over 2 years. I hope this has been helpful to all of those people who have been looking for some clarification on copyright law. :)

Remember to go check out Parts 1 & 2!

Owner | The Smudge Factory™

Older Post