email from copyright office

CopyrightE​nquiries (

Dear Dawn,

You have referred to, and appear to be confusing, two areas of intellectual property: Registered Design and Copyright.

Registered Design protects the overall visual appearance of a product as defined by lines, contours, colour, shape, texture or materials. This is usually something three-dimensional but can be a pattern or logo or stylised wording. You are referring to Registered Design when you state that ‘registering your design in the UK does not protect it abroad’,

Copyright protects numerous works including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works as well as sound recordings and broadcasts. It provides the owner with control over whether the work is copied, issued to the public, rented or lent to the public, performed or shown in public, communicated to the public (for example, if it is broadcast) or adapted.

Copyright can only exist in a piece of artistic or literary work if it is original and has been ‘fixed’ or recorded in some tangible way. Historically, in the UK, whether a piece of work was considered original tended to centre-around the degree of labour and effort applied by the creator/author. However, the European Court of Justice, has said that work will be original if it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’ and ‘reflects his personality’.

Copyright is an automatic right in the UK. There are no official formalities necessary in order to acquire Copyright protection such as completing an application form or paying a fee. If you make your patterns in the UK and they are original that is when copyright in them will arise.

A pattern or logo or stylised wording can be a Registered Design but as these are also artistic, this is where an overlap between Registered Design and Copyright occurs.

Sewing patterns, depending on the form they take, may be protected by copyright as literary works or artistic works. The finished articles of clothing may be protected either as artistic works in their own right or could be protected as Registered Designs. There is also an unregistered version of Design protection called ‘Design Right’, which applies to three-dimensional designs and like copyright is ‘automatic’. It was introduced to cater for designs which may have a short ‘shelf-life’. It is available in the UK and there is a European Community version. The following link compares registered design and the two unregistered versions; it will tell you what these types of protection cover and for how long:

You refer to ‘aesthetic and useful’ elements. In the UK, as far as applying to register a design is concerned, the appearance of a design needs to be distinctive and must not be solely dictated by function. The Goldblend coffee jar was a good example of this – the indented sides gave it its unique shape but were unnecessary for it to function as a container.

Unless you apply to register a design in the USA your protection will be provided by copyright. If you have any queries as to what this would cover you could contact the US copyright office at:

If your copyright is infringed in the USA then you would need to pursue an action in the USA for redress. It would be the laws of the US that would take preference. 

I hope this response has been of some assistance.

Best regards,

Copyright Enquiries.


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