Don’t Get Your Copyright Advice from Mr. Wonderful

On Shark Tank last Friday, an entrepreneur with a clothing design business reported that a third-party company had copied her t-shirt design, which later was sold at Target. Target removed the shirts from its stores after the designer complained.

Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary), then asked, “Did you copyright your design?” The designer replied, “I had not at the time . . . .” Mr. Wonderful then asserted “So they really hadn’t broken any law at the time.”


A work is protected by copyright “when fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Even if the work is never registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the copyright exists and is protected by copyright law. So, once the designer printed her t-shirt design, she owned a copyright and likely would be entitled to the profits that Target and the third-party company obtained from the infringing sales.

If a copyright for a work is registered, the owner gets additional benefits such as the option to recover statutory damages for infringements and the inference that the person who registered the copyright is the owner.

During the show, Shark Lori Greiner then added, “. . . it’s a great lesson, though, in knowing that when you have unique designs, copyright them. It’s not a lot of money to do so.”

Good advice, Lori, except it’s better to call it “registering” your copyright. If copyright owners tell others that they are “copyrighting” their works when they actually are registering them, others may believe that the works are not protected until that time.

To best protect your works, register your copyrights today (and refer to it that way).


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