A Brief Look at Copyright

When you’re an artist or inventor, ideas are your greatest assets. When you realized your plush toy could be a successful product, maybe even a blockbuster, you probably began to worry that someone else-your cousin Bob, that guy in your carpool, some stranger looking over your shoulder at the coffee shop-might steal it and get it to market first. Now that you’re entering the design and fabrication process, you need assurance that your idea is protected. This is the purpose of copyright.

What is Copyright Law?

The US Constitution gives Congress the right to “promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries [sic]”. Copyright law protects the intellectual property rights of artists, writers, musicians, inventors, and others from infringement. Because you are the inventor of your plush toy, you alone have the right to produce, sell, and display it (or variations), and to transfer ownership of that right.

Copyright law specifies the idea must be in “fixed form”: that is, written, sketched, or constructed in some way. As soon as you wrote down your idea for a plush toy, or made those first drawings, you owned the copyright for that toy, even though it had not yet been manufactured. If another partner contributed to the toy, you are joint copyright holders. Current law grants copyright for the creator’s lifetime, plus 70 years; it is treated as personal property in your will.

Recording Your Copyright

Your work is copyrighted as soon as you “fix” it by writing, sketching, or constructing it. Until it is published, you don’t have to register it. A registered copyright, however, is important should you bring suit against someone for infringement. If you obtain your registration before or within five years of your plush toy’s creation, registration will provide prima facie (authentic) evidence in court. If you register your material within three months after it is published (or manufactured), you can collect statutory damages and attorney fees in an infringement suit; otherwise, you can only receive actual damages and profits.

Record your copyright by filling out the appropriate form (available online), paying the non-refundable filing fee, and, in some cases, sending a “deposit,” or copy of your material. In the case of a plush toy, the copyright office and the Library of Congress do not require the deposit. Your copyright is valid as soon as your application and fee are received; your certificate arrives by USPS. You do not need a lawyer, and the filing fee is affordable. The so-called “poor man’s copyright,” or mailing yourself a copy of your material, does not legally replace registration.

How Your Toy Manufacturer Can Help

Your toy manufacturer has plenty of experience in helping its clients obtain copyright protection for their plush toys. You will be provided with copies of designs and documentation of your toy’s progress. If you purchase the Ultimate Design package, we will help with your copyright application. It’s your great idea! Protect your plush toy with a registered copyright!