I get this question a lot. How do I copyright my t shirt design so no one can steal my designs?

I got this information off the site ask the lawyer. A great resource for legal advice

Copyright protection automatically attaches to an original work of authorship from the moment of creation and fixation. Under the current law, no action need to taken to secure copyright protection – neither publication, registration or the use of notice. There are, however, advantages to registering a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, and a work of U.S. origin must be registered before an infringement suit can be filed. Registration may be made at anytime within the life of the copyright. Registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright.

The advantages of registration include:

  • Establishes a public record of the copyright claim;
  • Allows the general public to confirm the owner of a copyright and permits those seeking to purchase or license copyrights to find the appropriate owner;
  • Meets the registration requirement necessary to file an infringement suit for works of U.S. origin;
  • If made before or within five years of publication, establishes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright; and
  • If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or any time prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions (otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner).

So once you design it and put it on a shirt it’s copyrighted. You don’t need to do anything. However registering your work with the US Copyright Office is needed if you want to file a suit against someone.

How do I register a copyright for t shirt design?

Registration is achieved by submitting the proper application form and a nonrefundable filing fee to the U.S. Copyright Office along with a nonreturnable copy of the work (one copy if the work is unpublished or of type that the Library of Congress does not collect; two copies if the work is published and collected by the Library of Congress) to the U.S. Copyright Office. Applications for registration can be submitted electronically or still by regular mail, although fees are lower and processing times much faster if filed electronically.

Copyright Office Circular 1C available at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1c.pdf is a good source of information to get started on an application for registration.

eCO eService:
The Copyright Office has a relatively new electronic system for registering, called the eCO eService, which should be used if possible for registering basic claims to copyright, even if the deposit is not in digital format. You can register online registration with eCO by going to the home page of Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov and clicking on the eCO icon. You will be asked to set up an account the first time you register online. You may then start the application; the form will walk you through each step and instructions are available. If you have a copy of the work in electronic form, you may submit it at the time you submit the online application. If you do not, or wish to submit physical copies of the work for purposes of complying with mandatory deposit requirements as well, such as for published books, periodicals, sound recordings or motion pictures, you will be provided with a bar-coded form which you must mail in with your deposit copy(ies). Online applications are currently $35 per registration.

Form CO:
The next best option for registering basic claims is the fill-in Form CO. This is a generic form for registration of a single work of the performing arts and visual arts as well as literary works, sound recordings, motion pictures, and single issue serials. The form can be found on the Copyright Office website www.copyright.gov. You should fill out the form on your personal computer, print it out, and mail it to the Copyright Office, together with the filing fee and deposit. As you fill out the form, a barcode is created on each page. The barcode is essential for ensuring that your application is processed timely and efficiently. Do not write on the Form CO, other than to sign it. The fee for submitting a Form CO application is $50 per registration.

Old Forms Based on Type of Work:
The Copyright Office used to use separate paper forms for various types of works: e.g., Forms TX (literary works, including computer programs), PA (performing arts), SE (single serial/periodical issues), SR (sound recordings) and VA (works of visual art). The Copyright Office will still accept these for the time being, but discourages it, because it dramatically increases the processing time and it no longer makes the forms available online. The fee for submitting an application using the old paper forms is $65 per registration.

Effective Date of Registration:
Registration becomes effective on the date that the Copyright Office receives all the required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. Note, however, that in some jurisdictions, including New York (but not California), a copyright owner can only sue for infringement after receiving the certificate of registration. Determine the law of the jurisdiction you are filing in before filing the law suit. Expedited registration is available for an extra fee whereby a registration certificate can be obtained in anticipation of litigation generally within 5 business days.

For detailed information on copyright registration, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website at www.copyright.gov or contact VLA for additional assistance on registering copyrights.

Here is a little more info from legal zoom.

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.

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.

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