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Put A © On It: Copyright Registration for Jewelry

Obtaining a copyright registration for jewelry is a little less challenging than obtaining a copyright registration for clothing. Copyright protection in the context of apparel hits a snag because of the functional or “utilitarian” aspect at play. (Remember?) So what makes jewelry different? And is there a cost-effective way to achieve copyright registration for jewelry collections?

Copyright Protection: Reviewing the Basics

Registering a creative work with the Copyright Office is not a prerequisite for owning the copyright in a work. Unless there’s a written agreement that states otherwise, a creator has the exclusive right to his work the moment it’s “fixed” in some tangible form. (“Tangible” meaning a drawing on paper, a recording, a physical sculpture, and so on.)  Works art (pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works or “PGS” works) are subject to copyright protection. Because PGS works include two and three dimensional works of art, jewelry can be considered a PGS work.

Copyright Protection and Functionality

Copyright protection only extends to the artistic aspect of a work of art that is otherwise a “useful article.” Copyright protection doesn’t extend to the design of the functional part. The unique cut or design of a dress is not copyrightable. (It’s nearly impossible to separate the functionality of a dress from its aesthetics.) What differentiates jewelry from fashion designs in this context? On the one hand, a dress alone is purely functional (the function is to clothe us and keep us warm). And, unless it incorporates an artistic or original print or pattern, it’s hard to separate the function of a dress from any protectable elements.

A piece of jewelry, though, has functional aspects (links, clasps, and earring posts). But it also often has more easily identifiable elements that are purely aesthetic. The aesthetic elements are more easily separable from the functional elements. Put differently, pendants and unique beads are small sculptures (copyrightable elements) you can easily separate from a chain (the functional elements).

Copyright Registration for Jewelry Collections

Copying allegations by big companies such as Urban Outfitters are becoming more common. As such, jewelry designers are turning to copyright to ensure that they receive the benefits of registration. The Copyright Office charges a fee of $35 or $55 per application. (The fee depends on the type of application). This can add up when counting pieces of jewelry. Is there a cost-effective way to obtain copyright registration for jewelry collections?

The short answer: Yes. It is possible to register numerous works of art in a single copyright application. From a cost perspective, there’s an obvious advantage to doing so.

…But multiple works can only be included in a single application under certain circumstances. The owner of all of the works subject to the application must be the same. Also, the works must have been “published” at the same time. The obvious example? Generally speaking, sound recordings in an album are all owned by the same entity (the record label). They’re also usually released (or “published”) at once.

What about a jewelry collection? According to this case involving works by designer David Yurman, a jewelry collection can be registered in a single application — meaning only one application fee is required — so long as the pieces are “published” together. The court said that, if the pieces of jewelry covered by a single application are thematically related and released for sale at the same time, they are deemed as being a single unit of publication. In other words, they were considered to have been “published” together. So, a single application for copyright registration is appropriate.


The Point:  When it comes to protecting a fashion designer’s intellectual property, utilitarian function is a pebble in the proverbial shoe. But copyright protection in jewelry is different from your ordinary fashion design. The process for achieving copyright registration for jewelry can be relatively painless.

What’s next?

What’s next? Click here to get four things you can do right now (sans attorney) to protect your business online.

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