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Last Updated on: 12th January 2022, 10:46 am

There is no additional need to copyright your t-shirt designs as the Copyright protection automatically applies to any original work from the moment it was created. The law mandates that there is no need to take any secure copyright protection action for publication, registration, or the use of notice.

That said, it has numerous advantages to register your work with the United States Copyright Office. Moreover, a work that originated in the United States should be registered before filing an infringement suit.

  • Registration enables you to keep a public record of the copyright claim
  • It allows the public to take a permit from the copyright owner and those willing to purchase or license the copyrights.
  • It is also necessary to file an infringement suit in the US.
  • If the owner registers within three months after publication of the work or before the infringement, the owner will avail statutory damages and attorney’s fees.

6 Ways to Copyright T-shirt Design:

01. Registering Your Design:

The owner has to register by submitting the application form and a filing fee to the United States Copyright Office, along with a copy of the work. You can apply electronically or by mail, but filing electronically will have lower processing fees and time.

There is a new electronic system for registering known as the eCO eService. You can register online from the official Copyright Office website – Here, you will have to set up an account and begin filling your application which the website will walk you through step by step.

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You can also submit the electronic form of your work during the process, or you can skip it to submit physical copies later. However, submitting a physical copy needs your to deposit a mandatory fee. The online application charges are nearly $40 per registration.

02. Filling the Form CO:

To register your basic claims, you can fill the Form CO. This form is meant to register work of arts, visual arts, literary works, motion pictures, sound recordings, etc. You may get a copy of the form from the official Copyright Office website –

Here, you will have to fill the form, print it out, and mail it to the Copyright Office along with a fee. The fee for the Form CO application is $50 per registration. If you want to register using physical paper forms, it will cost you $65 per registration.

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03. When Copyright Comes into Effect?

Registration becomes effective when the Copyright Officer receives all documents, irrespective of the time it took to process the application. In some states, the owner can sue for infringement only after receiving the certificate.

However, expedited registration can be availed with an additional fee where owners can avail of a registration certificate within 5 business days.

04. What You Can’t Claim to Be Yours?

  • The intellectual property of musical groups, artists, and their lyrics or photos.
  • The intellectual property of sports teams, universities, organizations.
  • Comic book characters, video game characters, movies, and television show characters.
  • Company logos and their trademark names.
  • Caricature or artwork of a celebrity.

05. What Will It Cost If You Use a Copyright Design?

It can cost you thousands of dollars; it could be $1000 or $10,000, who knows? The owner would demand you the pay the profits you made by using their copyright material. However, it’s worth noting that they can charge you a lot of money even if you have only a few bucks in profits.

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Then, you have the option to settle or negotiate the damages with the owner, or He/She will take you to court in their state, which will cost you over $10K to start with.

Moreover, defending yourself will be very expensive, and if you lose, you pay more in legal fees and damage charges. You can expect to pay over $50K just for using a copyright design.

06. What You Can Use for Designs on T-Shirts?

  • Royalty-free images for commercial use
  • Images and designs in the public domain
  • 100% unique artwork created by you


For the most part, the designer would usually trace an existing photo on illustrator and would claim it for themselves; little did they know that copyright laws prevent using any modified or inspired artwork of the original work.

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That said, some freelance designers can create unique artwork for your t-shirt for a fee. However, the most iconic artworks are done by professional artists who can charge thousands of dollars for a quote.

Related Questions:

Can you print celebrities’ photography on t-shirts?

You can’t unless you get legal permission from celebrities. Otherwise, you may have to face a legal battle with a huge payload.

Where should you file copyright?

You need to apply with the Patent & Trademark Office your state or country.

Can you reprint your Nike t-shirt?

Unless you use it personally, it is not suited for commercial use. You can not print upon the brand name or logo of the company. It is better and affordable to buy blank t-shirts for printing.

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Can you trademark a phrase on a T-shirt?

You can trademark a phrase or word provided you are registered with the Patent and Trademark Office of your state or country.

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