consult an attorney.
Copyright litigation is brutally expensive and emotionally draining.
But there is a lot you can do to protect yourself that is relatively
cheap and easy.
In theory you have the same right to ownership of a copyright if you
registered it or not. The registration is just one way to record the
date and ownership claim. It is only a claim. A registered copyright
can be declared invalid if someone else can show that they did it
The first and easiest step is to mark the work with a copyright
You can buy a © copyright punch easily from most suppliers. If you
cast, punch it in the model and write a dated copyright notice on the
rubber mold. Do this consistently and you have a contemporary record
of when your pieces were created. Dated sales literature with
copyright notice is also a good idea.
Then, when you are aware that there is an infringement, it is UP TO
YOU to do something about it. There are no copyright cops looking out
for you. If you don’t take the unpleasant, confrontational initiative
to serve an infringer with notice that you consider their product an
illegal copy, there is nothing to stop them. Send a polite but firm
"cease and desist" letter or have an attorney send one for you. Be
prepared for denial. You can present your evidence directly to them,
such as photos of your copyright marked molds, sales literature,
webpages on “the wayback machine” etc. Give them the opportunity to
back down and do the right thing. Very often they will.
Copyright cases are usually settled out of court. It is very
One time I filed a case in US Federal Court. Just the filing fee was
The lawyers charged me another $2,700 for writing two cease and
desist letters and for the filing. If the alleged infringer had
chosen to fight it in court it would have cost each of us at least
$5,000 in legal fees, likely very much more.
You have to ask yourself, is this design going to make me enough
money that it is worth spending that much to stop an infringement? It
does matter what you do to protect your designs before there is
infringement, but the real action is what happens when someone
squares off against a copy-cat. It is a matter of money, will and
But you also have to imagine yourself on the other side of the
issue. If someone were to accuse you of copying them, would you have
enough evidence that you did the design before them? Would you just
ignore them and call the bluff? Dare them to put up thousands of
dollars to call you to court? Or would you just give up to design? If
you are an artist, this is where it gets very emotional. Someone is
claiming that your original work is not really yours. That you are a
liar for saying it is yours. If you are more emotionally committed to
the litigation than you are as a cost/benefit business calculation,
the lawyers will be happy to take your money.
But if you spend too much time worrying about how you will deal with
all this and don’t just go ahead and get your work into the market,
it is all a loss. It is easy to copy things and it will happen. Don’t
let that possibility keep you from moving ahead. There is a sort of
vanity that says, “my designs are so good I need to have them
copyrighted or patented before I can let anyone see them.” And then
you spend more time and effort on that than actually developing a