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Protect Your Printable IP: Copyrights, Trademarks and Licensing


Securing your intellectual property is crucial as a printable artist or designer to protect artwork from unauthorized usage and maximize sales. Copyright and trademarks safeguard creative works and brand assets when registered and actively enforced.

This comprehensive guide explores best practices for legally protecting printable IP through proper documentation, registration, watermarking, contracts and vigilant policing against infringement. We’ll cover:

  • Auto-applying vs registered copyrights
  • Trademarking your shop name, logo and branded assets
  • Required credits and prohibitions for fonts and imagery
  • Selling licenses narrowly to prevent abuse
  • Embedding watermarks before delivery
  • DMCA takedown notices to stop infringement
  • Automating licenses into your digital storefront
  • Contracting designers and collaborators
  • Avoiding infringement in your own work

Follow these tips to legally secure your printable intellectual property and peacefully profit from your creativity. Let’s dive in!

Auto-Applying Copyright

Copyright arises automatically when you create original works fixed in tangible mediums. But documenting your rights is crucial. Best practices:

  • Visibly mark new works with copyright notices like ©[Your Name], [Year Created].
  • Maintain detailed records like project files showing date of creation and additions.
  • Never publish anything online without a watermark and copyright notice to preserve options.
  • Take photos documenting progress if making physical works.

Though automatic, absent documentation copyright can be difficult to enforce. Registration makes protections air-tight.

Registering Printable Copyrights

You can formally register printable copyrights with the US Copyright Office:

  • Completes application with personal information, background, description of material, publication status etc.
  • Submits non-returnable copy of work or identifies where it is publicly accessible. For artwork, good quality photographic prints or digital copies are accepted.
  • Pays set registration fee around $65 for basic claims.
  • Awaits certificate (or refusal if application deficient) typically in 3-6 months.
  • Can submit supplementary registrations to cover derivations like translations.
  • Can register unpublished works but less remedies available until published.

Registration must happen in a timely manner – before infringements or within 3 months of publication.

Trademark Basics

Trademarking distinct brand assets protects market exclusivity:

  • Product and business names – Register official names of your printable shop and products. Prevents confusingly similar naming.
  • Logos – Protect stylistic, unique logos and icons that identify your brand.
  • Product slogans/taglines – Short catchphrases closely tied to offerings require protection.
  • Branding – Distinct visual styling, color palettes, patterns specific to your brand qualify.

Trademark Registration Process

Applying for an official registered trademark with the USPTO involves:

  • Searching their database for potentially conflicting marks. Change or rebrand if identical marks exist.
  • Submitting application with details on brand origin, first use in commerce dates, areas of business activity.
  • Paying filing fees starting around $250.
  • Responding thoroughly if initial reviewer raises any objections or prior conflicting marks.
  • Waiting average of 9 months for completion after application accepted.
  • Registering in other countries individually under Madrid System after US registration.
  • Alternatively, filing intent-to-use application before launch if not using mark publicly yet.

Licensed Printable Usage

Carefully control how customers use purchased printables through licenses specifying if they can:

  • Use for personal, non-commercial purposes only like DIY projects, gifts etc.
  • Edit or modify the designs.
  • Produce physical products like apparel incorporating the art.
  • Resell printed merchandise containing the designs like t-shirts, mugs, posters.
  • Resell or share the printable files directly in digital form.
  • Use in branding materials like logos, business cards, marketing.
  • Apply designs to templates other than what originally provided.

Selling Licenses Securely

Prevent theft by tightly integrating licenses into purchasing process:

  • Bind licenses to customer accounts so sharing invalidates terms.
  • Watermark preview files that get removed upon licensed purchase.
  • Encrypt download files that only provide access when valid purchase verified.
  • Automate license text delivery via platforms protecting access with immediate fulfillment upon payment processing.
  • Issue limited time download links that expire rather than indefinitely accessible digital purchases.
  • Limit number of downloads to prevent excessive sharing of copies.

Work-For-Hire and Commission Contracts

Formal agreements protect relationships with collaborators:

  • State contracted work is assigned to your copyright ownership as work-for-hire.
  • Specify payment terms and outline creation expectations like revisions allowed.
  • Clarify usage – are you receiving exclusive rights or non-exclusive. Define usage scope.
  • For commissions, attribute rights to client but restrict from reselling or repurposing your raw files.

Handling Attribution

Properly crediting sources protects against claims:

  • Convey in writing and verbally all elements not originally created by you. Keep records.
  • Follow specific source guidelines on required credits like fonts, artwork and photos used under license. Don’t modify or omit.
  • For substantial references, include commentary differentiating your new expression. Transformative uses qualify for fair use.
  • Seek direct permission if unsure whether your usage qualifies as fair use, especially for commercial applications.

Protecting Physical Original Artworks

Safeguarding one-of-a-kind works prevents unauthorized copies:

  • Avoid publishing photos showing entire works before sharing more widely. Cropping offers some protection.
  • Watermark necessary preview images heavily.
  • Secure physical pieces and limit access to minimize photography without consent.
  • Inquire about policies before exhibiting pieces in shows that disallow photography.
  • Consider adding distinguishing physical signatures or elements not fully captured in photos.

DMCA Notices to Escalate Infringements

Request takedowns firmly if printables shared illegally:

  • File DMCA notices with platforms hosting infringing works formally requesting immediate removal.
  • Check platforms’ individual takedown procedures – most maintain forms to submit notices.
  • Include all required elements like contact information, proof of rights ownership, infringing content URLs, statement of authority and good faith.
  • Resend regularly if not acted upon quickly until resolution. Follow up firmly.
  • Escalate by contacting platform legal teams if systematic unresponsiveness.

Avoiding Printable Copyright Theft

Vigilantly understand sourcing to prevent attracting claims yourself:

  • Never use works without fully documenting licensing rights, direct permissions etc. with confirmation records.
  • Don’t reference copyrighted material without sufficient visually transforming it using fair use rationales. Attributes alone don’t suffice.
  • Run reverse image searches to catch potential lifted imagery. Audit collaborators and outsourcers carefully.
  • Remove not fully original customizable fields from templates.
  • Avoid closely imitating or following copyrighted tutorials without adding new creative elements.


Legally protecting intellectual property maximizes creative entrepreneur rewards but requires proactive registration, documentation, licensing, contracts and enforcement against infringement. Respect rights of others while vigorously defending your own. With secure IP rights over printables, artists can confidently profit from their work.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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