Protecting Fabric Patterns with Copyright Law

Trademark or Copyright: Which One Will Protect my Brand?
December 27, 2017

Protecting Fabric Patterns with Copyright Law

We often talk about how little fashion is protected when it comes to intellectual property. This is due to fashion’s utilitarian nature. However, there are aspects that can be protected by copyright law for instance. You may not be granted any intellectual property rights over the cut of a dress you create, but you can protect the pattern of the fabric you use to make it (if you are the original creator). Here’s a little primer on how copyright law can protect your textile designs.

Please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding copyright law and fabric patterns, please consult an attorney.

What does copyright law protect?

The first thing to know about copyright law is that it does not protect ideas, only expressions. This means that in order for your work to be protected by copyright law, it needs to be fixed in a tangible medium of art as opposed to simply being an idea in your head. This also means that even if your work is fixed in a tangible medium, the idea behind your work will not be protected.

For instance, when designing textile, you cannot create a pattern using certain elements and expect all textiles using the same elements to be infringing on your design. If you draw a girl holding a lunch bag, unless they’re substantially similar, other textiles featuring a girl holding a lunch bag will not be infringing on your work.

How do I obtain copyright protection for my textiles?

Copyright protection is automatically granted when you create a piece of work. This means that you do not need to take additional steps in order to get this protection.

However, registration does have quite a few benefits. Amongst other things, registration allows you to file for a copyright infringement suit in court (you cannot do so unless your work has been registered with the U.S Copyright Office). Also, if registration is done before the infringement and within three months of publication, the copyright owner is entitled to statutory damages, attorney fees, and costs, which is very advantageous as court claims can end up being very expensive.

If you would like more information on how to register your work, you can check out this blog post we previously wrote explaining the entire process.

Licensing

Registration should also be considered if you plan on licensing your fabric designs to another company (allowing another party to use your intellectual property, your designs in this case, for a certain amount of time in exchange for compensation, and without any transfer of ownership). If your run into any problems with your licensees, registration will allow you to establish ownership over your intellectual property.

You should also make sure you have a clear and detailed agreement between the licensee and you.

If you’d like to know more about licensing and whether or not you should add it to your business plan, you can read all about it here!

As with all Law on the Runway posts, please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding how copyright law can protect fabric patterns or if you need help with licensing agreements, you may email hello@lawontheruway.com.