Boutique and Apparel Brands’ Guide to Copyrights: What Can be Copyrighted?

A copyright is a form of intellectual property that creates original creations which include literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. This post focuses on photographs, websites and creative designs, the main creative works of boutique owners and wholesalers.

T-Shirt Designs
The Copyright Office makes it clear that each copyright must contain minimal creativity. What does this mean? It seems that a new t-shirt designer pops up every day. Are all of their designs protected? Possibly. If you simply place wording on a t-shirt without any creativity (normal font), then you are not protected by Federal Copyright laws. However, if you have words in a regular font plus creative characters or drawings, then that is most likely covered by Federal Copyright Laws. On the other hand, if your character or drawings are standard shapes, you are most likely not covered by Federal Copyright. The Copyright Office specifically states that fonts, short phrases, and shapes are not eligible for Copyright protection. Keep in mind, though, these elements can be included in your creative work and still be eligible for copyright protection. If you believe someone is infringing on your work, but you’re not sure if you’re protected by Federal Copyright Law, it is best to consult an attorney before reaching out to the infringer.

Photographs
Photographs are perhaps the most common works protected by Federal Copyright. If you take the photo, you own the copyright. This means if you hire a photographer, the photographer owns the copyright, not you. If you have hired a photographer, it is generally understood that you will have a license to use the photographs, but it never hurts to get it in writing. This also means that if you hired a photographer to take your brand photos and you find someone stealing your photos, you do not have any right to sue the infringer. It is up to the photographer to pursue the infringer. I highly suggest having an agreement with your photographer that he or she will pursue any infringer for copyright infringement. Without this protection, infringers can run wild with your brand photos without any remedy.

Websites
The original authorship of your website is covered by Federal Copyright laws. This means the text, artwork, photographs, and other forms of authorship are protected. However, if you pay someone to create and design your website, you may not own the copyright. The ownership will depend on your original work and the developer’s original work. It is best to consult an attorney if you’re wondering if you own the copyright of your website.

Not Covered
The Copyright Office specifically names items that are not protected by Federal Copyright Laws:

  • Names
  • Domain Names
  • Short Phrases
  • Ideas
  • Concepts
  • Systems
  • Commonly known information
  • Titles
  • Articles of clothing

Hopefully, this quick guide can provide some insight into whether your works are eligible for Federal Copyright protection.


Andrea Sager is a Service Provider on The Boutique Hub. As a boutique owner herself, Andrea knows the ins and outs of the legal issues boutique owners face daily. Andrea began her legal career in a large law firm but quickly realized her real passion was working with small business owners. In 2018, Andrea finally opened her own firm to help small business owners.

For more information or to contact Andrea, see her Service Provider Profile! 

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