If you design and sell jewelry as your primary business or as an artistic hobby that supplements your income, you have probably wondered whether you can protect your creations from copying and if you need to file documents or take other steps to establish your intellectual property (IP) rights.
Copyright Law Defined
Copyright law protects the creativity incorporated into your jewelry designs. Copyright is a form of legal protection for IP that grants the authors of original creative works, including works of visual arts, the exclusive rights to copy and sell such works. It also allows them to create derivative works based on the original work, and to prevent unauthorized third parties from exercising those rights.
Copyright does not protect any mechanical or utilitarian elements of your jewelry designs—for example, the design and placement of a clasp. Copyright protection extends only to the pictorial, graphic, and sculptural aspects of the jewelry that are separate from and do not contribute to the functional parts of the jewelry. In other words, the copyrighted original authorship must be purely aesthetic.
According to U.S. and international law, your jewelry designs receive automatic copyright protection the moment you create them and fix them in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device—an idea for a piece of jewelry that exists only in your brain is not protectable. A tangible, three-dimensional prototype of a piece of jewelry or a design drawn or printed on paper would be examples of directly perceptible tangible forms. A design in a digital file qualifies as a tangible form perceptible with a machine. Copyright protects jewelry designs for a long time: the life of designer (called the author in copyright law) plus 70 years.
How to Register a Jewelry Design Copyright
Although you do not have to register for basic copyright protection of your work, registering a jewelry design with the U.S. Copyright Office provides some additional advantages, including more detailed public notice of your rights. Copyright applications and registrations are searchable, and you can get copies of paperwork for registered works by submitting a request to the U.S. Copyright Office and paying the required fees. It also provides access to federal courts if you decide to sue infringers.
1. Complete the correct registration form.
You can register copyright protection for a work of visual arts by submitting Form VA. Each jewelry design you register requires a separate form, but if you haven't yet published a collection of pieces (made them available for sale to the public), you can register the collection using a single form. You must give each design a title, and if a design is part of a collection, the collection also needs a title. Under Nature of Authorship in Section 2a of Form VA, select Jewelry Design. The Copyright Office provides detailed guidance on registering works of visual arts (Circular 40).
2. Pay the registration fee.
All applications for copyright registration involve paying a fee. Electronic filing is cheaper than a paper application, and there's an even lower fee for an electronic application for a single work with a single author. Circular 4 provides information about the current registration and other fees charged by the office.
3. Submit required deposits.
With any application to register a work of visual arts, you must submit deposit material that consists of a copy of the work. For three-dimensional works such as jewelry, the required deposit is not the tangible object itself, but identifying material, which can be a photograph or drawing, as long as it shows all of the copyrightable material being registered. The U.S. Copyright Office provides detailed guidance on the deposit requirements for works of visual arts (Circular 40A).
If you want to learn more about copyright and how you can protect your jewelry creations, follow the steps mentioned above. In addition, you can also visit the U.S. Copyright Office website for additional information.
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