What Does Copyright Protect?

I have seen that business owners often get confused about what is copyright and what is protectable by copyright. I am going to demystify some facts about copyright protection.

In general, Copyright law protects literary works, musical works (including accompanying words), dramatic works (including any accompanying music), pantomimes and, choreographic works, pictorial, graphic, sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural work. To put it simply, copyright protects original, creative and artistic works that are in a tangible form.

Ideas, slogans, brand names, and functional items can never be protected by copyright.

Some examples of works that a business owner could protect by copyright are websites, photographs, articles, blog posts, advertising material, commercials, podcasts, movie clips, computer programs, fabric prints, jewelry designs, and sometimes jingles and logos. 

My client, Joanna, is a New York based fashion designer. She creates unique women’s apparel which can be worn in multiple ways. For example, a cardigan that she makes can be worn 2 ways and can also be worn as a dress. She uses high quality fabric/yarn and applies some incredible techniques to create garments that can be worn in multiple ways. 

Joanna recently opened a store in New York City and was worried about other designers copying her styles. We got talking when I was visiting her store and she expressed her concern. She told me that she would like to copyright her garment styles so that she could stop others from stealing her styles and patterns. 

Unfortunately, I had to break it to her that while her garments were phenomenal, she could not copyright her patterns because clothing is a functional item and not protectable by copyright. She could, however, get copyright protection over fabric prints as long as they were original and created by her.

Joanna could potentially protect some of her styles and patterns through patent registration. Patents protect novel, useful and non-obvious inventions. But Joanna has been selling her garments for over 2 years. Another designer may have seen Joanna’s garments being sold online and went ahead and filed a patent with the same or similar claims as Joanna’s garments. The United States follows a first-to-file system.       

Sleeping on your rights could cost you. If you have created something that could be protected by copyright or patent or trademark, consult an attorney to determine the best way to secure your work.  

Need help determining whether you have works/materials that can be protected by copyright? Please reach out to us and we will take the time to understand your business needs and provide a customized portfolio of rights that will protect your works and your business. 

Call us at 646-820-1366 or email us at I am happy to have a complimentary conversation with you on whether you can protect your works under copyright law or another form of intellectual property.   

Working with an attorney to secure your rights can help avoid trouble later on in your business. Nupur Shah Law can help you if you have questions about copyrights.

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