by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and BeadsĀ®

What is a copyright?

Copyrights are an affordable, practical and easy way to protect yourself and your work. Copyrights fall under Intellectual Property Law which is broken down into different levels or categories. It is important to know which category your work fits into before applying for protection. The categories are:

  1. Trade Secret Law
  2. Trademark Law
  3. Patent Law
  4. Copyright Law

Trade secret law

Protects the owner of commercial information that gives a competitive edge, and offers the protection to keep others from using this information before it's ready to be revealed. Trade secrets consist of designs, devices, processes, compositions, techniques, formulas, information or recipes that are kept secret by their owner.

Trademark law

Protects unique or well known brand names, designs, logos, slogans, symbols, colors, packaging, containers and any other devices that are used by businesses to identify the source of their goods and services, and distinguishes them in the marketplace. This protection can last indefinitely.

Patent law

Gives the inventor of a new invention the right to exclusive use of that invention for a limited time frame. How long the inventor retains the exclusive right depends on the kind of patent obtained.

Copyright law

Protects all types of original creative expression, such as work created by writers, composers, artists and jewelry designers. Copyrights do not protect the ideas and concepts that an expressive work is based on; it only protects the literal form the expressive work takes. Copyright law applies to any work of expression as soon as it becomes fixed in a tangible form as in a finished piece of jewelry, sculpture or published work.

How do I protect my rights?

You are automatically protected once your work is in a tangible form. You can increase your protection by:

  1. Placing the copyright symbol (C), the word copyright, or the abbreviation copr. on the creative work;
  2. Including the year the piece was created;
  3. Including the full name of the creator.

These measures should prevent others from copying your work without permission and claiming they didn't know the work was covered by copyright. They also offer you more validity should you need to file a lawsuit against infringement. The best method of protection, however, is to file for copyright protection with the U.S. government.

How do I file for copyright protection?

In order to qualify for a copyright, the creative work must meet these three criteria:

  1. It must be original.
  2. It must be expressed in a tangible medium which includes: paper; audio or video tape; computer disk; clay; or canvas. It cannot just be an idea or verbalized thought.
  3. It must have at least some creativity.

To register a copyright you need to submit a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee which is $50 if you register using Form CO - Application for Copyright Registration; and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. Information on filing forms electronically or via paper:

If you choose to register in paper form rather than electrically, the form most jewelry designs will find fits their needs is Form VA. This form covers the registration of published or unpublished work in the visual arts including two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. Another form designers may find useful is Form TX which covers the registration of published or unpublished non-dramatic literary works, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbooks, reference works and directories.

If you plan to register your work, do so within three months of the date of publication or creation and before any infringement occurs. If, for some reason, you're unable to apply before an infringement occurs, you can still apply for copyrights; just try to apply before filing a lawsuit against any infringement.

What if I have my work published by someone else?

If you decide to distribute your copyrighted work commercially, i.e. selling it in a store or having it published in a magazine, you typically transfer one or more of your rights to the publisher or other party responsible for getting the work out to the market. It is possible to place limitations on the rights being transferred, but these terms should be discussed before you sign any agreements. In the event someone infringes on your exclusive rights, you are entitled to file a lawsuit in federal court asking the court to:

  1. Issue orders to prevent further violation;
  2. Award money damages if appropriate;
  3. In some circumstances, award attorney fees.

Whether the lawsuit will be effective and whether damages will be awarded depends on whether the alleged infringer can prove one or more legal defenses. This can include:

  1. Too much time has lapsed between the infringing act and the lawsuit (statute of limitations defense);
  2. The infringement falls under the fair-use defense which covers any work used for research, scholarship or education;
  3. The infringement was innocent;
  4. The infringing work was created independently and at the same time as yours;
  5. You authorized the use in a license.

In order to prove that a work was copied, sold or performed without authorization, you must demonstrate that the infringer had a reasonable opportunity to view or hear the copyrighted work and that the two works are substantially similar.

Copyrights are the most useful, easily obtained and economic legal protection you'll find. Once your work is protected, you'll feel more comfortable sharing it. When you share your work, you'll help enrich the lives of others, fostering further expressions of art and creativity. You can find the copyright forms, instructions on how to fill them out, and additional information on copyrights at This website is very helpful and offers useful information in terms anyone can understand.

Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article "Without Copyrights Where Would We Be?" as featured in an email newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"Concerning patent, just yesterday in a chain of fashionable shops I saw a necklace made in black plastic that was an exact copy of the jet Swarovski! My legal advice said that unless you have the resources to enforce copyright and patent -it is not worth getting. One has to get a patent for each country and also do a patent search. My advice is save your $50.00."
- Francesca

"The article 'Without Copyrights Where Would We Be?' was great and on time for me. I was looking for information on how to copyright my work and you beat me to the punch with the information.Thank you so much!Keep up the good work!"
- Valerie

"This copyright article was extremely helpful and informative, especially since I'm new to the area of beading and jewelry creation. Thanks. I've printed it for my files."
- Mary

"Loved the article on copyrights! THANKS!"
- Julie

"The article on trademarks/copyrights, etc. is very useful. I have been told to have my work placed under copyright protection. I thought it was very expensive to do. I think I can handle $50; since I keep most of my jewelry."
- Shirly

"Copyright article was terrific! Thank you!"
- Diane

"Articles that cover the legal, non-creative aspects of jewelry design are critical for all of your 'amateur' customers. Unlike the corporate designers and marketers, we do not have full-time legal departments to back us up. The big guys may suffer highly-publicized copyright infringements, we are the ones whose design rights are most likely to be abused.Thanks for another informative article,"
- Kathryn

"Very good article. I learned a lot about copyrights!"
- Donna

"I enjoyed your article on copyright law. I struggle with this every time I work a show. All my pieces are one of a kind; I don't duplicate any necklace. I have a sign posted requesting that no pictures are taken. Still it is a constant battle watching for cameras and cell phones (which are very difficult to catch photographing.) I've had people hide cameras in the palm of the hand and be looking at one thing while their hand is pointing in another direction. The men that walk in and just start taking pictures without a word amaze me. When I ask them not to, I get some type of attitude in the form of hurt (I'm not going to do anything with the pictures. Me: Good, then you won't mind stopping.), to angry (Well, why can't I?). It's harder to confront the ones standing and studying the piece. When I ask if I can help they say that they really like my work and want to see how I make things. I finally put up a small sign at one show, under the first sign, that says 'If you need to copy someone else, then you need to find something that you are good at.'I was spending more time dealing with the sketchers, photographers and 'studyers' than I was helping my real customers. I don't believe that it is ignorance, because when I start towards someone that is acting suspiciously, they usually stop and walk out quickly. They know that they are being unethical at best. I haven't used that sign but the one time, but I do keep the 'no photographing please' up. I've just tried to stop letting it bother me as much."
- Debby

"Thank so much for the copyright information. It is very helpful and much appreciated!!"
- Meg

"Regarding the article on copyrights - I was wondering if this is based on US law or on international law, if such a thing exists.It is an important topic, and I have heard so many versions, including feel free to copy, no one can sue you. I wonder if that is ignorance, or a variety of different legal views (although I have read the full spectrum, all coming from people living in the US on a lampwork board). Coming from Canada, we tend to know US version of law better than our own.So if this is US law, can someone from another country copy a design and not be liable? I guess I need to do some research, but given your international clientele, some clarification might be useful if the laws referred to in the article are bound to the US.Thank you for the fabulous resources you provide!!!"
- Janine

Answer to Janine
Thank you for your comments, Janine. This article was written following the guidelines from, a site sponsored by the US Copyright Office. There, we found the following information to help clarify your question:

Is my copyright good in other countries?
The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

"As with your products and excellent service, I found the article on COPYRIGHTS to be to the point."
- Mary

"Very specific details of importance on a murky subject area with many pitfalls. Thanks! "
- Judy

"Tammy's article on copyright law was incredibly informative and very well written. I always enjoy the articles and information in the Jewelry Makers' Newsletter."
- Cindy

"Thank you for approaching a topic that can be confusing, at best! I value and appreciate the concerns of ethics, in all situations as we deal with 1 another! And beading, no less so. I have a profound love for the art of beading, and I believe in giving credit where it is due, and when I have made a project that has evolved by tweaking the design to incorporate different stitches and beads within it, I always state the originator of the 'basic' idea. Every time, I have been told 'but you were the originator of combining/adding/using... and that has made it yours, of your own design.' I will continue to do as I have always done, and name the source of the 'pattern' that lies within my pattern, because I have concluded this fact of life...not everything that is 'popular,' 'acceptable' and 'commonplace' in society these days, contains ethics!! But by speaking out against wrongs, even to 1 individual, a mind can be opened to think of things it has taken for granted as 'ok,' and possibly create ethical changes. We all have choices every day, in every issue in society, but God made us as thinking people, who sometimes should practice it more, instead of just accepting without thought of the implications! I value and appreciate your company's obvious humanitarian outlook as you conduct your business. Even the little 'gifts' you send with your orders show your appreciation for your customers! Keep up the good work, and as I get more involved in beading, I know I will be making you a company I have many dealings with! Thanks,"
- Mimi