Perhaps you are a graphic artist or a photographer and you run a small business selling prints and merchandise of your creations online or at conventions. Maybe you are the owner or operating executive at a successful business that purchases original works of art for licensing purposes or commissions works of original art from independent contractors and then purchases the rights to those works.
You have copyright protection either as the creator or as the owner of an original work of art. Graphic designs, videos, songs and photographs are also all potentially eligible for copyright protection. Any visual art that you share online could eventually find its way into the hands of unscrupulous individuals or businesses.
What can you do when you find t-shirts online featuring art owned by your company or made by you personally?
You can pursue a copyright infringement claim
It is surprisingly common for printing companies to openly violate the copyright protections of others. They do so because they assume they won’t get caught. However, once you spot someone using your original works online, you then have the option of taking legal action. When you identify the business or individual illegally using your original creations or copyrighted works, you can send them legal notice of their violation of your rights and ask them to immediately stop.
Sometimes, if you have not already filed a request for formal copyright protection, you will need to do so as part of the early stages of a copyright infringement lawsuit. If the other party does not stop and potentially seek to make amends for their actions, then you may need to take them to court. A judge could order them to cease using your works of art and to reimburse you for the infringement that has already occurred.
Pursuing damages can be away both to deter future infringement by the same business and to compensate your company for lost opportunities because of this copyright violation. However, registration is merely beneficial for the copyright enforcement process. It is not a necessity. The act of publishing a work and making it accessible to others extends basic copyright protections to you as the owner or creator of that original work.
While registering the copyright can be worthwhile, especially when there are phrases or original concepts that you believe others might try to misappropriate, you do not need to have had the foresight to file for formal copyright protection to hold someone accountable for printing your original works of art on t-shirts for sale to the public. Learning more about your rights when facing copyright infringement will help you protect your creations and your company’s profit margin.