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September 2008

How can I protect my designs?

Dear Harriete,
I am Ms.Chie Kudo, a member of SNAG living in Japan.
I will exhibit my work at a kind of jewelry trade show. I am afraid that my design will be copied by buyers or other jewelers without my authorization. To minimize such a chance, I think I need to have proper knowledge about intellectual property rights. KUDOwave_rings.copyright

Sincerely yours,
Chie Kudo

Dear Chie-san,

There is no guarantee that people will not copy your ideas.

However, in the United States, you automatically have copyright to protect your work.  The copyright is for one design idea or one series. The tricky part is that unless you officially file a Copyright Form with the U.S. Copyright Office you can not protect your ideas or design in court. In other words, you can not take a copyright infringement case through the legal system (filing a complaint against the offending party) without having previously filed the official Copyright Application Form and the Copyright Office has to grant you the copyright.

To get a Copyright, you need to fill out a Copyright Form online or by using a paper copy and mailing it in. This must be accompanied by a payment. Online is supposed to be faster and costs $35. If you fill out the paper form and mail it by regular post it will take longer and it will cost more.

This is the address for the online form in case the links above do not work for you.

There is no guarantee that the copyright will be granted from the U.S. Copyright Office despite the fact that you paid the money. (The money will not be refunded if they refuse to give you a copyright.)

The U.S. Copyright Office will only grant the copyright if they decide the design is a unique copyright design or idea. While the art and craft world considers all ideas inherently unique, the U.S. Copyright Office personnel are not artists or art critics. Their idea of what is unique lags way behind the arts and crafts world.  (This is just my personal opinion.)

If you get the official Copyright approved for your design, and a person/business infringes on your copyright, the official Copyright you paid for still doesn't protect your work unless you take the offender to court.

This will cost a lot of money, but you may decide that this is worth the investment.

If you do not apply for Copyright or do not receive Copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office for the design, you can not take the person to court effectively even if they stole your idea.

Keep in mind, that you automatically have Copyright by law for your unique idea or design. For this reason, you could always send them a "cease and desist" letter that either comes from your "desk" or from your lawyer's desk. In essence, a "cease and desist" letter threatens the person (in a polite, firm, and business-like manner) that you will sue them if they do not stop copying your design. 

Keep in mind that the "cease and desist" is only a threat. (Read more about "Cease and Desist letters" in a future blog.)   It is just like "yelling" at the person on paper hoping that they will stop using your idea. Maybe they didn't even know about your design ideas or they will feel threatened enough by the "cease and desist" letter to stop. They may not even realize that they are infringing on your unique design or ideas.

The best protection for your ideas is constant innovation. The more your work reflects your unique aesthetic and technical innovations the less likely that person can or would copy you.



Ring photo Courtesy of Chie Kudo

This post was updated on December 15, 2021


The U.S. Copyright Office is now accepting electronic filing of copyright registrations.


Advantages of using the Electronic Copyright Office (ECO) system include:

• Lower filing fee of $35 for a basic claim (for online filings only)
• Fastest processing time
• Online status tracking
• Secure payment by credit or debit card, electronic check, or Copyright Office deposit account


The U.S. Copyright Office offers a great tutorial and supplemental information about Copyright. Before filing online read the eCO Tips, eCO FAQs, and the eCO Tutorial which are listed on the opening page.  The information is presented as a PowerPoint-type presentation which is easy to follow though it takes a little time.

ASK Harriete


This post was updated on January 9, 2022