How to Copyright a Logo on Shirts

By John Green

As established under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, copyright promotes creativity by giving creators exclusive rights to profit from their work and protecting it against infringement. As the Copyright Office explains, this protection extends to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, such as a book, movie, painting, and even a design printed on a T-shirt. However, not every logo on a tee is eligible for copyright protection.

Logos and Copyright

According to Section 202.1 of the federal copyright regulations, not everything fixed in tangible form qualifies as an original work of authorship protected by copyright. In particular, a single word or short combination of words is not subject to copyright, which means that a logo consisting solely of a slogan or name is not protected against copyright infringement. However, such a logo may nonetheless qualify for protection as a trademark.

Logos as Trademarks

Trademark protection can apply to a word, phrase or symbol that is used to identify and distinguish goods used in commerce. Whether or not a logo is subject to copyright protection has no bearing on its eligibility to be a trademark. Like copyright, trademark law protects against infringement, but this protection can be limited to the specific categories in which the mark is registered. For instance, while names such as Batman or Wonder Woman and phrases such as "up, up and away" are all registered trademarks for use on clothes, they do not have copyright protection.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Logos and Artistic Design

Nonetheless, as the Copyright Office observes, a graphic design is subject to copyright. Not only does this mean that a design placed on a T-shirt is protected against copyright infringement, but a logo might also qualify for copyright protection to the extent that it consists of an artistic design. For instance, in cases brought by the creator of the Baltimore Ravens logo against the National Football League and more than 100 retailers, courts have found that the logo, consisting of a stylized image of a raven, is subject to copyright protection. In addition, a logo consisting of a graphic design may also be trademarked.

Copyright Registration

Copyright protection is automatic. Even if a design is not registered with the Copyright Office, its creator holds the copyright and has the exclusive right to profit from it. However, as the Digital Media Law Project explains, registration provides a public record of copyright ownership and is also necessary for filing a lawsuit to enforce the copyright against an infringer. In order to register a design printed on a T-shirt, the copyright holder must file Form VA (for "visual arts") and pay the required fee. The filing must also include two deposit copies of the artwork being registered.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
How Close Can a Logo Be & Not Be a Copyright Infringement?



Related articles

How to Word a Copyright Notice for a Screenplay

A screenplay is the written script of a film and it is automatically protected by copyright from the moment you write it down. You are no longer required to place a copyright notice on your work to gain this protection; nevertheless, a properly formatted copyright notice on your screenplay identifies you as the creator of the work and notifies the public that you are actively protecting your work. If anyone tries to publish your screenplay without your permission or claims it as his own, a copyright notice will make it difficult for that person to argue in court that your copyright was infringed unintentionally.

How Do I Copyright My Lyrics for Free?

Copyright protects an “original work of authorship," including song lyrics, from unauthorized use. Copyright of original work is free and automatic. However, it will be difficult to prove your copyright if it isn't registered with the United States Copyright Office, which charges a fee.

Copyrights for Artwork

Copyright is usually associated with text and music, but it also covers most works of art — even sculpture. As long as the work is "fixed," which means it is in a tangible form, copyright rules apply. It is important for artists to be aware of these rules in order to protect themselves and their art.


Related articles

How to Start a Clothing Brand With a Trademark & Copyrights

A clothing brand starts with a unique name, creative logo and catchy slogan. The brand name, logo and slogan serve as ...

How to Copyright Sewing Patterns

If you want to protecting sewing patterns, it's complicated. Because copyright is all about protecting expression, it ...

Are Company Slogans Copyrighted?

Federal copyright law grants exclusive rights to the use of “original works of authorship,” whether or not they are ...

How to Copyright a Quotation

Quotations are not typically copyrighted; rather, the work of which the quotation is a part of is the copyrighted work. ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED