What is copyright protection & how can it benefit fashion designers?
I've covered trademark and trade dress protection, so let's talk about copyright. Copyright protection protects any artistic expression, including literary works, computer code, music, pictorial and sculpture creations, motion pictures, sound, and even architecture. As for fashion, copyright can protect any artistic aspect of a product, so long as that aspect is not "functional." Think of a fun Lilly Pulitzer print, which is noticeable from down the street. That print and design on the fabric can be copyrighted, because the design on the fabric is not functional, it's actually artistic. Jewelry is another category or accessory that often gets copyright protection.
Copyright does not protect an idea... it only protects the expression of the idea.
This is different from Trademark, which protects the mark or logo, and thereby the source origin, of a product. Think about adding an epaulette design to a blazer:
Since this feature is merely artistic, that is, it's not necessary in order for the blazer to operate as needed (to cover one's upper body) so a unique epaulette design created by you could be copyright protected.
Copyright protection begins as soon as the artistic expression is "fixed in a tangible medium." For fashion, this could be a drawing on a sketch pad, or even manufactured and placed on an item. The issue of fixed tangible medium today typically comes up in the technological sense, when data can be created and deleted in a nano-second, making its fixture more difficult to assess. While you have protection the second your artistic element is created and fixed, there are benefits to filing a registration for your copyright with the Copyright Office, including prima facia evidence of a valid and original copyright on your behalf, as well as the benefit of opting for attorney fees or statutory damages in certain situations (which could amount to be much more $$ than proving actual damages from copyright infringement!).
You can file several items together as one "collection", and this is done with jewelry a lot. If there is a collection of jewelry pieces that are similar to one another, the owner can opt to file one copyright collection to ensure all of the pieces come under copyright protection. It is also cheaper to file a collection registration versus filing a separate copyright registration for each piece. The downside? If someone infringes each piece in that collection once, it counts as only ONE infringement (and not multiple infringements) since they are all part of only one registration. In turn, your damages will likely be much lower.