My Colleague is currently in debate with someone they previously worked with last year in collaboration, under who owns the rights to the items in the following scenario.

The scenario is: A group of four people, created a hair/fashion show - organising and planning all aspects, inclusive of hair/clothes/music/inspiration. Meaning the entire collection, was of their own idea, and creation.

Outfits were purchased by these four people, and needed some modification, (modifications being some illustrations applied). so under recommendation from a friend an individual (The Designer), offered this service without any discussion or need for payment.

The Designer was provided with all materials needed to do this, as to not incur any cost to themselves, also given a brief and reference images to use to ensure the end result was as excepted and fitted with the overall collection.

These outfits (and now modifications), became part of the final 'collection', which is owned by that of the 4 who orchestrated it.

My question is:

Where the work is of the designers hand, but was only created by them after being provided all materials, and a brief with reference images, not of their own ideas. Do they own any rights/copyright to the clothing items?

  • You are going to have to give more info. In terms of copyrights, you copyright the image on the shirt, not the shirt. Unless you created some new kind of shirt or other clothing item then you just made shirts or pants or whatever and everyone is free to make shirts or pants.
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 17:57
  • Hi @Putvi Thanks for the comment, Sorry I didn't want to overbear on information in the question, No copyrights were obtained for any of the items, and no they not a new kind of clothing item. The debate is does 'The Designer' own any rights of ownership to the items with their designs on - even though they were provided all products/materials needed to modify them and would not have created these works without the brief and references provided by the team - the designers ideas were not their own. If you need more I can edit the Q with a breakdown of the full situation. Thanks!
    – Ldweller
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:05
  • They are or aren't new kinds of clothes?
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:07
  • @Putvi They are not new kinds of clothes
    – Ldweller
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:09
  • What jurisdiction is this in? for copyright issues, that usually means what country. States and provinces do not generally have different copyright laws. Apr 4, 2019 at 18:17

3 Answers 3


If the "Designer" did any original design work, creating a new design for the clothing involved, even if it is a minor variation on a standard pattern, that creates a copyrightable work, whose copyright will have initially vested in the designer. Who provided physical materials is irrelevant. Who provided ideas may not be. If the person mentioned in the question as the "designer" in fact simply implemented other people's ideas and made no original design work, then there may be no copyright. If, however, the designer did original design work to translate general ideas into actual clothing design, then the designer has a copyright, which may or may not be shared with those contributing ideas, depending on the factual details.

Copyrights are not "obtained", in the UK and the US (and all other countries that are members of the Berne convention) they are automatic on creation of any copyrightable work in any tangible form, and a work of clothing design can definitely be original enough to be copyrighted. (But it might not be.)

This will not, however, give the designer ownership of the physical clothes. That is separate from ownership of the copyright, if any, in the design.

As to any images, such as of cartoon characters, used on the clothing, copyrights in those will be that of the original creators of the image. if the designer modified the images, then that probably creates a derivative work, which is a copyright infringement unless permission was obtained or the design had been released under a permissive license.

If these clothes are not being reproduced in quantity for sale, there is a good chance that the copyright owner will not notice, or will not bother to sue for infringement, but that is no guarantee. If the images were used to advertise the show, or are late used to advertise the clothes for sale, and the images are trademarked, that might well be a trademark infringement, and the trademark holder might sue. In the US one may obtain a trademark merely by using a logo or image in trade, but in the UK trademarks must be registered to be protected.

None of the copyright or trademark issues would affect the actual ownership of the physical clothes.

How much design work the designer did and whether a copyright would result is a factual issue that cannot be answered from the info in the question. If the only changes made were to apply the image, then there would be no original design in the clothing itself, and so no copyright in it.

Note that when one purchases a "pattern" for a shirt or dress, even though it is not very different from many other similar articles of clothing, it will carry a copyright notice and be protected by copyright.

  • According to WIPO fashion items do not have exactly the same copyright status as say graphic design or code in the UK. So case law in UK strongluy suggests fashion items are not art in a sense. To quote " meaning that garments are not protected by copyright in the UK"
    – joojaa
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:47
  • @joojaa interesting. In that case my answer may be incorrect. Apr 4, 2019 at 18:48
  • I mean i work for a art UNI and we assume fashion departments have NO copyright whatsoever. So we allow no photographs be taken, ever in the are where fashion is made. Indeed copies of fashion shows have been known to be in stores 2 weeks after runway shows, and the roiginal designer getting absolutely nothing.
    – joojaa
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:50
  • @joojaa is 100% correct here. If he wasn't, only one brand could sell t-shirts or sweaters or whatever item.
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:56
  • Hi @joojaa Thanks for the great feedback, so if the designer illustrated the works, with some creative freedom, yet only to meet a brief, so the 'inspirations/ideas' were not of their own, only the works, they would have no copyright? But nor would the original team who's ideas created the show? Many photo's were taken in the show, but neither the designer or team made and financial gain from the show as it was a competition final and the clothes were commissioned in collaboration only for this show (no mass production).
    – Ldweller
    Apr 4, 2019 at 19:12


Copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films or broadcasts, and the typographical arrangement of published editions [Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, s1]. Specifically, fashion is a "work of artistic craftsmanship" [s4].

The author ("the person who creates [the work]" [s9]) is the first owner of the copyright [s11] unless it is made by an employee in the course of their employment which is not the case here.

The 'designer' is definitely an author although it is arguable that the work is actually one of joint authorship s10 between the 'designer' and the 'four people'. An alternative is that the 'four people' hold copyright in the "reference images" and that the 'designer' holds copyright in the fashion items; I think this is more likely.

However, if the information provided to the 'designer' amounted to a design such that the fashion items are merely a 3D realisation of the design with no creative input by the designer then the fashion items are a copy of the design with no independent copyright. From the description, this seems unlikely - a design would require a fully detailed pattern such that multiple craftspeople using it would produce essentially the same output.

As there has been no transfer of copyright, whoever had it originally still has it - probably the designer.

The physical items

These belong to whoever owned them originally - a mechanic does not take ownership of your car if they work on it so similarly a dressmaker doesn't take ownership of your clothes.


I think I understand your question now. When something is copyrighted or trademarked in the clothing world, it is the graphic or image on the t-shirt and not the shirt itself.

For example, if you put the picture of a character from a book or movie on a shirt, whoever owns the copyright of the picture of that character decides how it can be used. The person making the shirt, just makes shirts and can only put images he or she owns on them.

If you guys just made shirts, there is nothing to own or not own. Anyone can make a t-shirt. Obviously, you can get a green shirt at lots of different stores. If there is some specific graphic or image on the shirt you made, you can copyright the image and then you decide how it is used not just on clothes, but everywhere.

This article gives a step by step view of how to trademark a clothing brand: https://info.legalzoom.com/trademark-clothing-label-23907.html

Here is a little more explanation on copyrights and trademarks in fashion:

Copyright law protects the designs on the surface of clothing just as it protects designs on the surface of a canvas or sheet of paper. The U.S. Supreme Court also addressed this issue in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, stating that “two-dimensional designs appearing on the surface of [clothing]” including “combinations, positionings, and arrangements” of shapes, colors, lines, etc. are protectable by copyright. https://copyrightalliance.org/ca_faq_post/copyright-fashion-designs/

  • This answer is incorrect. Design changes or original design work, even fairly minor design changes can create a work protected by copyright under US law. Apr 4, 2019 at 18:18
  • It is not. Why do you think that?
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:19
  • @DavidSiegel the Legal Zoom article I linked to basically says what I said.
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:26
  • @DavidSiegel, design changes as in new forms of a shirt or other clothing article yes, but that does not include a shirt where you only change the artwork on it.
    – Putvi
    Apr 4, 2019 at 18:29
  • The LegalZoom article linked is entirely about trademarks, not copyrights. if ther were no design changes in the clothes themselves, there is no copyright. But relativly minor design changes, not enough to be a 'new form of shirt" can still involve a copyright. Apr 4, 2019 at 18:42

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