How do I protect my jewellery designs and business from being copied?




Are you concerned about protecting your jewellery designs from copying? You shouldn’t let fears stop you from putting your work out there so here is a rundown of how to protect your work in the UK and what to do if you are copied.

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The good news is there are some things you can do to protect your designs and there are steps you can take if you are concerned that your designs have been copied.

Please note, this is for guidance only as I’m not a lawyer. If you are concerned you can speak to an intellectual property lawyer, take a look at Anti Copying in Design for recommendations.

What counts as copying?

New to you or new to the world?

Psychologist Margaret Boden identified two different types of creativity: H-creative and P-creative. H creative stands for historically creative, that’s something that is completely new to the world; something that no one has thought of before. P creative stands for psychologically creative - that’s new to you. You may have come up with a new design but that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else hasn’t independently also come up with something similar or even the same. We are all inspired by what we see around us and knowing the difference between inspiration and copying can sometimes be a muddy area. As a jeweller, do be mindful of your own inspiration when you are designing and making for sale. I do regularly see jewellers sharing photos of other people’s work and asking how to copy it! Do think twice about doing this yourself.

What is copyright?

Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission.

You get copyright protection automatically on creating a design - you don’t have to apply or pay a fee. 

You automatically get copyright protection when you create:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography

The law doesn’t mention jewellery specifically but it is covered under ‘artistic work’

Copyright prevents people from:

  • copying your work

  • distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale

  • renting or lending copies of your work

  • performing, showing or playing your work in public

  • making an adaptation of your work

  • putting it on the internet

Contrary to what people think, there isn’t a register of copyright works in the UK.

Are my designs protected worldwide?

Your work could be protected by copyright in other countries through international agreements, for example, the Berne Convention. This convention is signed by a group of just under 150 countries (see resources below). 

In most countries, copyright lasts a minimum of the life of the designer plus 50 years for most types of written, dramatic and artistic works.

However! Proving that you created a design and when it was created is the issue if you think that have been copied. There are some steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  1. Assert your copyright

Ensure you add the following statement to your website or anywhere you sell e.g. Etsy.

“All intellectual property rights in our designs are and will belong to (insert your name). Any

infringement will be pursued vigorously.”

You can also add 

“Copyright (insert your name) 2019”

 to the footer of your website so that it appears on every page.

This can act as a deterrent to those that would want to recreate your designs. 

2. At exhibitions and markets

You can also include the above wording in a sign on your stand and can have a ‘no photographs’ sign if you are concerned.

3. Join ACID

If you have a design that you feel is totally new and innovative and you want to protect it before selling it do have a look at joining Anti Copying In Design > Members of ACID benefit from a hotline they can ring for instant access to advice, legal affiliates that can give initial free advice and more.

4. Formally register your designs

While you hold the copyright of your designs just by creating them the practical issue when you are concerned about copying is proving this. You can formally register your designs for further peace of mind.

How can I register my designs?

There are three options for formally registering your designs which helps strengthen your case if you discover you have been copied.

1. Intellectual Property Office

You can register your design with the Intellectual Property Office for better protection provided it meets the eligibility criteria.

The current fee is £50 for 1 design, £70 for up to 10 designs (see the current fees for registering a design here >)

Find out more about registering your design >

2. Upload your files to the ACID IP database

If you join Anti Copying in Design you can upload up to 12 files to their database for £1.50 plus VAT. You can then download a certificate of proof of when you submitted the designs. Find out more here >

3. Solicitor or Intellectual Property attorney

You can submit signed and dated copies of your design drawings or photos to be kept by a solicitor or intellectual property attorney.

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What do I do if I think I’ve been copied?

Firstly, you need to gather your evidence and check your facts. You can get into legal trouble for accusing someone without grounds. I do know of someone who, when they looked into it, found that the person had been selling the designs much longer than she had!

If you are still concerned and wish to pursue it we recommend you get legal advice to do so, either from a solicitor, trade association you belong to or ACID. You will need to gather together evidence of when you created the design/s including drawings, photos of prototypes etc. An official letter from a solicitor can be enough to ensure the guilty party takes the design off the market. 

When you are considering following up with legal action you need to work with a specialist lawyer to decide your next steps. You can choose your priority: whether you do this to stop the person from selling the design, get compensation for loss of earnings, protect the reputation of yourself as a jeweller and your brand or to deter people from doing it again.

Copyright of designs is a complex area: even small changes to the design can mean a decision may not go in your favour which is why expert legal advice is helpful to see whether you have a case.

Think before you take legal action

Legal action can take time, effort, energy and money. Would you be better off spending that time and money on designing and creating a new collection? Just because someone is selling a design that is similar or the same as yours doesn’t mean that you won’t have customers who value your jewellery.

How can I register my business name?

One of the most basic ways of registering your business name is to purchase the website domain. You can do this as soon as you decide on your business name even if you’re not planning on setting up a website just yet. 

You can search to see if it has been taken by someone else by going to 123-reg and typing in what you would like to be your web domain. 

If you are buying your web domain we recommend getting both the and .com. You can just use one of these and forward traffic from the other but it does stop anyone else from being able to purchase and use it. 

You can purchase your domain name from a number of places including Go Daddy, 123-reg, your website provider and more. They will then ensure that the web address you choose is not available to anyone else. 

Ensure your card details are up to date as you will need to pay for renewal each year to keep the web domain yourself. 

Not sure what to call your business? Take a look at our video podcast choosing a name for your jewellery business >

What is a trade mark?

You can register the name of your brand or product as a trade mark to legally protect it from use by others. The registration process takes around 4 months if no one objects and you then have the trade mark for 10 years. This covers you in the UK. In practice, most jewellers don’t need to do this as it is an additional cost and burden on a new business, although you can do it at any time. You may choose to do this when your turnover reaches a certain level e.g. the VAT threshold or when you register as a limited company.

To cover your trade mark in Europe and the rest of the world see this resource

Final thoughts

We’ve worked with jewellery designers and business owners for a number of years and have seen people get so scared of their designs being copied that they delay setting up their business. If you feel your designs are truly unique then do take the steps required to register them and then move on to the fun bit of designing more!

Your questions answered

I asked the Jewellers Academy community the questions they had about copyright and protecting designs. Here are the answers to their questions.

What about common or generic designs? Am I allowed to make them?

This is tough to answer because copyright law was not written with jewellery in mind so the guidance isn’t there. However, it would seem unreasonable for someone to copyright a wedding band or diamond engagement ring, for example - designs made by thousands of jewellers.

Who owns the design of jewellery if I am commissioned to create it?

As a self-employed designer you own the design you created even if it was commissioned unless your contract states otherwise.

If I work as an employee of a jeweller, who owns the copyright of my work?

You will need to check your contract. Any design work you undertake as part of your work will normally be owned by your employer unless stated.

What are the possible costs involved in claiming your copyright if someone is clearly using your design?

An intellectual property lawyer can cost £200-£400 per hour. Your best option for a more cost effective solution is to join ACID. Members get free initial advice for every separate legal claim they have which can help you make an informed decision about your best course of action. They also have recommended specialist lawyers in the UK for if you do want to take the matter further.

How about the area of copyright in social media? What are the rules for when people repost, repin or share our original photos and words?

Copyright law covers social media as well meaning that people shouldn’t share your work on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, in blogs etc without permission. However, having your work shared and properly acknowledged as yours is a way to have other people promote your business and is one of the best ways to gain access to new followers, more sales and build a profitable business. If you want you can ask that people ask permission before sharing your work. Alternatively, you can say that people can share your work as long as it is properly acknowledged with your details e.g. website, social media handle etc. You can do that by having this clearly stated on your website or social media bio. You can also add your business name to any photos you share on social media (also known as a watermark).

Pinterest is a little different as pinning from your website is sharing a link where people can purchase. This doesn’t infringe your copyright and is really useful promotion if you are in business.

However, if you do find an image on Pinterest that is yours but is not properly acknowledged e.g. they have uploaded an image of your work as their own, you can lodge a complaint with Pinterest and they will investigate and remove the image. Find out how here >

How can I find out if one of my images is being used on another website?

There are now ways to do a reverse picture search online so you can see if an image of your jewellery is being used without your permission. Find out how to do that here >

Can I make and sell jewellery to a design that I learnt from a teacher, on a youtube tutorial, book etc?

If someone is showing people how to make a piece of jewellery in a class, youtube tutorial, magazine etc they are doing so to teach others how to do it. I think it would be unreasonable then to say that you couldn’t make that yourself to sell unless the teacher expressly said so.

I teach jewellery making. What are the copyright implications?

Firstly, I suggest teaching techniques rather than projects. When you teach a technique the person can take what they’ve learnt to design and make their own jewellery. If you teach a specific project you need to be happy that those that you teach will recreate that at home and may sell them. I would never teach anyone to do anything that you make to sell.

If you give out a handout in your classes do assert your copyright on the handout (as stated in the blog post above) and state they are for their own personal use only and not to be shared with others.

What is a patent?

A patent is the exclusive right/s granted by a government to an inventor for a limited time period in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention.

This rarely relates to jewellery design unless you have invented something very specific.

You can find out more about patents here >

I live outside the UK. How can I find out about copyright in my country?

Do an internet search for ‘intellectual property’ and your country name. You should find the information you need


For more information do check out the resources below

Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Information Centre 


Telephone: 0300 300 2000

Fax: 01633 817777

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Anti Copying in Design

ACID have some great resources and support especially for designers. Do look into joining to benefit from their support and legal advice if copyright of your designs is a real concern for you

The Berne Convention

Covering world intellectual property protection


European Union Intellectual Property Office responsible for managing the EU trade mark and the registered Community design.

Would you love to have training, advice and guidance for your jewellery business? Why not join Jewellers Academy membership?

Members get access to all of our business and making courses as well as a private Facebook group to ask your questions, a monthly masterclass and Q&A.

Applications for membership close on 20th September 2019 and will open again after christmas when we will be increasing the price so act now to secure the current price of £365 per year or £39 per month.