If you are feeling artistic and want to share your work with the world, you would be horrified if someone were to rip off your design and attempt to pass it off as their own creation. If you are attempting to create a T-shirt design, for instance, you will want to ensure that you protect your intellectual property by securing the copyright for your design so that no one else is able to use it without your permission.

Additional ways of protecting your intellectual property going beyond obtaining a copyright would be obtaining either a patent or trademark, depending on what you are creating. But first you will need to make sure you understand the difference between a trademark, patent and copyright.

How to Obtain a Trademark

Trademarks are used for items like goods and services so that creators can distinguish their goods or services from competitors within the industry. Often, trademarks can be obtained for symbols, names, devices or words that are connected to that good or service.

You must file an application for a linguistic or visual trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The application process can be expensive and confusing, so it is often best to consult with a trademark attorney. Many small businesses make the mistake of not doing a thorough search of existing trademarks that they may be infringing upon. But if you are willing to spend a lot of time learning the ropes, you can handle the application correctly on your own.

How to Obtain a Patent

Inventors should seek out patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an arm of the federal government, so that others cannot make, sell or use their invention. Patents are in place to encourage unique, useful inventions that can serve many. The three different types of patents available are utility, design and plant varieties.

Copyrights, on the other hand, are a type of intellectual property provided directly through the government for original works, such as a T-shirt design, whether they are published or unpublished. The sorts of things that can be protected are paintings, designs, literary works, photographs, movies, live performances and the like. The goal of obtaining a copyright for a design or T-shirt logo is to protect the time, effort and creativity of the creator’s hard work.

With a copyright in place, a T-shirt designer can ensure that no one will reproduce their work, create works that use their original work as inspiration, distribute copies of work by sale or lease, perform the work or display the work publicly. The person who obtains the copyright can then transfer it to another person, if desired. Keep in mind, however, that not everything can qualify for a copyright, including a single word or short combination of words.

This may impact your efforts to copyright a slogan, depending on the length of your slogan. In this way, you may find that trademarking a slogan is a better choice for your company. The differences between trademark vs. copyright are subtle, but it is important to understand them before you proceed.

Once you have decided you are ready to obtain your copyright, realize that you do not actually need to register your design or logo with the Copyright Office. This is because the creator of a design or logo holds the copyright automatically and holds all rights to profit from it.

That said, registration will make things a lot easier if someone does happen to copy your T-shirt design, since it will provide a clear public record of your ownership. This especially comes in handy if you move forward with a lawsuit to prosecute someone from trying to rip off your design. In order to register your T-shirt design, you will need to file Form VA (which stands for visual arts) and pay a fee. Forms are available from the Copyright.gov website. You will also need to include two copies of the logo that you will be registering.

Once you ensure that you take all the steps necessary to secure a copyright for your T-shirt design, you will be able to create your work of art without worrying about someone stealing it or trying to replicate it.