Copyrighting Clothing Designs: Is It Possible or Impossible?

calendar13 Apr, 2023
timeReading Time: 5 Minutes
Copyrighting Clothing Designs: Is It Possible or Impossible?

Clothing designs are an essential component of the fashion business and can significantly affect society and popular culture. Whether clothing designs can be protected by copyright has become important as fashion trends change. Fashion designers put a lot of effort into creating distinctive and innovative designs since the market is so competitive. Unlike other kinds of art, clothing designs may not always be fully protected by copyright laws[1]. Scroll down to check more information regarding Copyrighting Clothing Designs.

What is Copyright?

A legal principle known as copyright gives the author of an original work the exclusive rights to manage its use and distribution. This covers the rights to the work’s reproduction, distribution, exhibition and performance of the work, as well as the ability to create derivate works. By giving the authors of the original work monopoly over their works, copyright law aims to promote and reward creativity by encouraging them to produce new works and enabling them to make money from them. Copyright law encourages the spread of knowledge and gives the creators control over how their works are used and distributed.

What Can Be Copyrighted?

  • Literary works, including books, articles, and computer software
  • Musical works, including compositions and arrangements
  • Dramatic works, including plays and scripts
  • Artistic works, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs
  • Audiovisual works, including movies and television shows
  • Sound recordings, including music and spoken word recordings

What Cannot Be Copyrighted?

  • Ideas, concepts, and methods
  • Facts and information
  • Titles, names, and slogans
  • Blank forms and documents
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as improvised speeches or performances

Can Clothing Designs Be Copyrighted?

Clothing designs can be protected by copyright. However, several restrictions and exceptions must be met for clothing designs to be fully protected by copyright law. Original and creative clothing designs may qualify for copyright protection under copyright law. In other words, the design must be original and not just a duplicate of something already existing. The design must also be established in a tangible form of expression, such as a drawing or a picture.

However, copyright protection for clothing designs has several restrictions. For instance, copyright protection is not available for features like pockets, zippers, and other practical elements of clothing designs. This indicates that only the purely aesthetic, non-functional elements of clothing designs may be covered by copyright laws.

Moreover, some argue that copyright protection for clothing designs may hamper creativity and originality in the fashion industry. Others claim that copyright protection is essential to safeguard the designers’ IP rights and stop illicit copying and counterfeiting. It is well known that copyright needs to cover how to design components are cut, and put the pieces together.

Colours are not covered by copyright in the clothing or fashion industry. There are better options than copyright if you want to safeguard a distinctive colour or colour scheme in your fashion design. This does not, however, mean that you have no choice in protecting your intellectual property. Sometimes trademark protection is possible in these situations.

The issue of copyrighting clothing designs has generated a lot of discussion in recent years. Some contend that doing so stifles innovation and restricts the accessibility of fashion, while some insist that it is essential to preserve designers’ intellectual property.

Benefits of Copyrighting Clothing Designs

  1. Copyrighting clothing designs gives the designer’s original works legal protection. It ensures that the designer’s intellectual property is protected by prohibiting anyone from duplicating, reproducing, or distributing the design without their consent.
  2. Copyrighting clothing designs can also help the creator financially. They can stop others from using their work without their permission and get royalties by licencing the design to manufacturers.
  3. Knowing that their creations are protected and difficult to copy inspires designers to create original and cutting-edge apparel designs.
  4. The fashion business can draw investment owing to the protection of intellectual property, which might aid the economy.

Disadvantages of Copyrighting Clothing Designs

  1. Copyrighting clothing designs may restrict designers’ creativity. From the fear of being charged with infringement, designers may refrain from using components from earlier creations. This can stop the fashion industry from evolving. 
  2. It may be costly to copyright clothing designs, particularly for freelance designers. Small designers may need help to protect their work due to the high fees involved in filing for copyright protection. 
  3. Copyright infringement cases can be complex and time-consuming, requiring significant financial resources to resolve. This can deter small designers from pursuing legal action against larger companies that may infringe on their work. 
  4. Copyrighting clothing designs can also limit the accessibility of fashion. It can prevent other designers from using elements of a design, even for non-commercial purposes. This can make it difficult for emerging designers to learn and develop their skills.

Differences between Functional and Aesthetic Aspects of Clothing Designs

It’s crucial to distinguish between functional and aesthetic elements when it comes to clothing designs. Features that have a practical use, such as pockets, zippers, or closures, are referred to as functional elements. These components are frequently required for the clothes to fulfil their intended purpose and to guarantee that it is comfortable and wearable. On the other side, aesthetic features are components that enhance the clothes’ visual appeal or creative expressions, such as colours, patterns, and forms. Aesthetic features may qualify for copyright protection if they satisfy the originality and creativity standards of copyright law, although functional aspects are typically ineligible. This difference is crucial because it illustrates the diverse functions that functional and aesthetic features play in the design and functionality of clothes and helps to explain which portions of a clothing design may be protected under copyright and which cannot.

Other Forms of Intellectual Property Protection for Clothing Designs

In addition to copyright, there are several other forms of intellectual property protection available for clothing designs. Design patents protect the ornamental design of a functional item, such as a piece of clothing. To be eligible for a design patent, the design must be new, non-obvious, and have an ornamental appearance. Unlike copyright, design patents provide more limited protection and only prevent others from making, using, or selling an identical or substantially similar design. 

Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify and distinguish a particular brand or product. In the context of clothing designs, trademarks can protect logos or brand names printed on clothes. Trademarks do not protect the design of the clothing itself, but they can prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark that may cause consumer confusion.

Trade dress refers to the overall look and feel of a product or packaging, including its shape, colour, texture, and graphics. In the context of clothing designs, trade dress can protect the distinctive overall appearance of a particular line of clothing, such as the shape and colour scheme of a specific type of jacket. Trade dress protection can be more challenging to obtain than other forms of intellectual property protection, as the design must be distinctive and have acquired secondary meaning in the marketplace.


In conclusion, the issue of whether clothing designs can be copyrighted is complex and controversial. While some argue that copyright protection can encourage creativity and innovation in the fashion industry, others believe that it can stifle competition and limit consumer choice. Despite the challenges, copyright law has gradually expanded to include some aspects of clothing design, such as graphic prints and fabric patterns. However, functional aspects of clothing, such as zippers and buttons, are generally not protected by copyright. Ultimately, whether clothing designs should be copyrighted is a matter of debate, and there are no easy answers.

Read Our Article: Trademark Registration In Fashion Industry: Underlining Key Aspects

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