Copyright infringement in design carries legal and financial repercussions for individuals and businesses alike.

This article will address various instances of design copyright infringement cases, covering the definition of design copyright, its occurrence, and legal options in the event of a lawsuit.

As the world becomes more visually oriented, design copyright violation cases are becoming increasingly common.

In industries such as fashion, graphic design, and product manufacturing, having original designs is essential for achieving success.

As a designer or manufacturer, it is crucial to have knowledge of design copyright infringement in order to safeguard your intellectual property and yourself.

All About Infringement, Copyright, and Design


Infringement is defined as the utilisation of intellectual property without the owner’s permission.

This can include copying, reproducing, distributing, or displaying someone else’s work without permission.

Infringement may arise in various domains, such as copyright, trademark, and patent law.


Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship.

This can include everything from books and music to software and artwork.

Copyright law grants the owner of a work exclusive control over its use, reproduction, distribution, and display.

Legal protection is provided for these rights, and enforcement can be pursued through legal means.


Design pertains to the visual aspect of an object or product.

This can include everything from clothing and furniture to packaging, logos, and website layouts.

Design can be protected by copyright, trademark, and design patent laws. The precise sort of design and the country in which it was made, however, determine the type of protection.

In the context of this article, design copyright infringement refers specifically to the unauthorised use of someone else’s copyrighted design.

This can occur in a variety of industries, including fashion, graphic design, and product manufacturing, and can have serious legal and financial consequences for the infringer.

Design Copyright

Design copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects the visual appearance of an original design.

The scope of its protection covers various types of design works such as graphic, industrial, textile, and architectural designs, among others.

To be eligible for copyright protection, a design must be original and fixed in a tangible medium, such as a sketch or computer file.

What Constitutes Infringement?

Infringement occurs when someone uses all or part of a copyrighted design without permission from the owner.

This can include copying, reproducing, distributing, or displaying the design without authorisation.

Infringement can happen without intention or awareness of copyrighted design.

Several factors are considered when determining whether design copyright infringement has occurred, including:

  • Substantial Similarity: The infringing design must be substantially similar to the copyrighted design in appearance, concept, and overall impression. This substantial similarity is determined through a side-by-side comparison of the two designs.
  • Access: It is crucial to establish that the alleged infringer had access to the copyrighted design, either directly or indirectly. This can include having seen the design in person, online, or through other means.
  • Copying: The infringing design must be the result of copying rather than independent creation. If an individual can demonstrate that they created the design independently, it may not be deemed a violation of copyright.

How does it happen?

Copyright infringement in design can occur through various means.

In certain instances, copying a design is done with the intention of profiting from it, constituting a deliberate act of theft.

In other cases, it can be accidental, such as when two designers come up with similar ideas independently.

The potential outcomes carry significant weight in both scenarios.

Navigating the Complex World of Design Copyright Infringement: A Closer Look at the Designs Act 2000

The Designs Act 2000 plays a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of design copyright infringement in India. It outlines the criteria for registering designs and the implications of not doing so.

To better understand design copyright infringement according to the Designs Act 2000, it is essential to grasp the nuances of design registration and the consequences of industrial replication.

The Designs Act 2000 offers guidance on registering a design through three fundamental criteria outlined in Section 4:

  • Originality: The design must be new or unique. The idea doesn’t need to be entirely original, it must be a new innovative usage of an existing one.
  • Non-publication: The design must not exist in the public domain or have been published in any tangible form, either in India or internationally.
  • Distinctiveness: The design should be unique and not resemble any existing designs or a combination of designs that are in the public domain. Furthermore, it must not contain any scandalous or obscene content.

When a design meets these criteria, it is eligible for registration under the Designs Act 2000.

However, if the design is not registered and is applied to an article more than fifty times through an industrial process (either by the copyright holder or with permission from another person), it loses its copyright protection.

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This stipulation highlights the importance of registering your design to safeguard your intellectual property.

In essence, design copyright infringement under the Designs Act 2000 revolves around the unauthorised use of a design that is either registered or eligible for registration under the Act.

To protect your designs from infringement, it is crucial to understand the registration process, adhere to the outlined criteria, and register your design when applicable.

By doing so, you can ensure the longevity of your creative works and avoid losing your rights due to industrial replication.

Famous Copyright Infringement Cases in Art

Lawsuit over Miles Davis Photo

In this case, Mr. Maisel, the owner of a famous photograph of Miles Davis, sued Mr. Baio for copyright infringement.

Mr. Baio used a digital copy of the photo to create an 8-bit version for the cover of his jazz remix album, Kind of Bloop, without obtaining permission from Mr. Maisel.

The parties eventually reached a settlement of $32,000 in damages, which Mr. Baio agreed to pay to Mr. Maisel. However, the lawsuit has also had negative consequences for Mr. Baio’s online reputation.

By being publicly associated with copyright infringement, Mr. Baio’s credibility and reputation may have been damaged, potentially affecting his future business and creative opportunities.

Warner Brothers vs. Whitmill

In the aftermath of the wildly successful Hangover 2, Warner Brothers found themselves in a legal battle with tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill.

Whitmill claimed that the film and its promotional materials had used his tattoo design without permission or credit, and he filed a lawsuit against the publisher.

Warner Brothers argued that their use of the design fell under the “fair use” policy, but Whitmill pressed on and requested a preliminary injunction to halt the film’s release.

Though the injunction was denied, the judge acknowledged that Whitmill had a strong case and could continue the lawsuit.

Ultimately, a settlement was reached out of court, and the film was released as planned, cementing its place in comedic history.

David Anasagasti vs. American Eagle Outfitters

In 2014, a Miami street artist named David Anasagasti, who goes by the name Aholsniffsglue, took legal action against American Eagle Outfitters for using his signature droopy eye design in their marketing campaigns without his permission.

The infringement began when the retail company featured Ahol’s work in the background of an ad, with a model holding a spray paint can in a way that implied he was the artist. However, this was not the only instance of infringement.

Later on, to promote a new store in Colombia, American Eagle Outfitters allegedly invited local street artists to copy Ahol’s design and add the company’s logo on top.

The lawsuit was settled out of court, with American Eagle Outfitters paying an undisclosed sum to the artist.

Rogers vs. Koons

Photographer Art Rogers sold a photograph of a couple holding puppies, which artist Jeff Koons used to create a set of statues for an exhibit on everyday items.

Rogers sued Koons for copyright infringement, but Koons argued that it was fair use by parody.

However, the court ruled in favor of Rogers, as the similarities between the two works were too close and a typical person could recognise the copy.

The case raised important questions about appropriation art and whether building upon another’s work constitutes derivative work.

It also highlighted the issue of whether photography can be considered a creative and artistic product.

This case has since become a reference point for many subsequent cases, including the issue of vector-tracing an original photograph for design and whether it devalues the original artist’s work.

Related Article: Art Copyright Infringement

Design copyright infringement cases

Fashion and Apparel

Fashion and apparel are one of the most common industries for design copyright infringement cases.

This is because fashion designs are often simple and easily copied and because fast fashion retailers are constantly looking for ways to create new designs quickly and cheaply.

Microfibre Inc v. Giridhar and Co and Ors

In this case, the plaintiff accused the defendant of stealing their ideas for upholstery fabrics and passing them off as their own, thus infringing on their copyright.

The plaintiff was claiming ownership of the work but failed to comply with the legal requirements for registration and other formalities necessary to claim ownership of the work.

As a result, the court dismissed the action, and both parties were ordered to cover their own costs.

In this case, the Designs Act of 2000 was also mentioned, which is an Indian law that provides for the registration and protection of designs.

However, the plaintiff was not registered under this act, which weakened their claim to exclusive rights of the design and their ability to enforce their copyright.

Graphic Design

In graphic design, the production of a design that closely resembles an existing registered design can result in potential copyright violations by the designer or agency.

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This can happen accidentally or intentionally, but either way, it can lead to legal action.

Related Article: Graphic Design Copyright Infringement Examples

Shepard Fairey vs. The Associated Press

Shepard Fairey, an artist, used a digital copy of an Associated Press photo of Barack Obama, made alterations to it, and sold it as the “HOPE” poster during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

However, AP claimed copyright infringement, and Fairey went to court to assert a declaration of non-infringement. After a lengthy legal battle, Fairey settled AP’s copyright infringement claim by paying over $1 million.

This case raises important questions about the extent to which artists can use copyrighted material and how far they can go in altering it.

It also highlights the challenges that arise when artistic expression clashes with copyright law.

The outcome of this case may serve as a cautionary tale for other artists and designers who use copyrighted material in their work.

Consequences of Design Copyright Infringement under the Copyright Act of 1957

If you’re found guilty of design copyright infringement, there can be serious legal and financial consequences.

Here are some of the most frequently occurring penalties.

Damages and Lawsuits

In simpler terms, if someone infringes on a copyrighted design, the owner of the design has the right to take legal action.

The infringer may be ordered to pay up to INR 25,000 in damages, and the owner can file a lawsuit to obtain an injunction against the infringer.

If the court approves the injunction, the infringer will have to cease using the design and may be liable to pay further damages as determined by the court.

Civil Remedies

Section 55 of the Copyright Act of 1957 provides for civil remedies for registered proprietors whose works have been intentionally infringed.

They can seek damages, accounts or file a suit for injunction against the infringing party.

The registered owner has the right to seek compensation for any profits earned by the infringing party through the use of the copyrighted work.

Interlocutory Injunction

Furthermore, the registered proprietor may seek an interlocutory injunction under Order 39, Rules 1 and 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

To obtain this injunction, the registered proprietor must establish a prima facie case showing a “balance of convenience” in their favor.

Administrative Remedies

Administrative remedies provide an alternative way for registered proprietors of a design to seek the protection of their rights under the Copyright Act of 1957.

Section 53 of the Act of 1957 enables the registered proprietor to file an application before the Registrar of Copyright, seeking to stop the import of infringing products into India.

The Registrar will examine the application and may confiscate the products that are likely to infringe on the rights of the registered proprietor.

This provision can be useful for registered proprietors to prevent the import of infringing products, thereby preventing further infringement and protecting their commercial interests.

It should be noted that this provision serves as an administrative remedy, and does not prevent the registered proprietor from pursuing other legal remedies as provided by the Act.

Criminal remedies

Section 63 of the Copyright Act of 1957 provides for criminal remedies available to registered proprietors for intentional infringement or abetment of infringement of their work covered under the Act.

The punishment for such infringement includes imprisonment for a minimum of 6 months up to 3 years, and fines ranging from INR 50,000 to INR 2,00,000.

Furthermore, Section 63A provides for punishment on second and subsequent crimes related to copyright infringement, where the wrongdoer can be imprisoned for a minimum of 1 year up to 3 years and fines ranging from INR 1,00,000 to INR 2,00,000.

These criminal remedies aim to deter and penalise those who intentionally infringe upon registered proprietors’ copyrighted works.

Steps to Take When Dealing with a Design Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

If you are involved in a design copyright infringement lawsuit, there are various measures you can take to safeguard your interests.

Consult an attorney: The first and most important step is to consult an attorney who specialises in intellectual property law. They can provide legal advice and help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

Review the claim: Carefully review the claim against you and gather any evidence you have to refute it. This may include original design files, emails, or other correspondence related to the design, and any documentation related to the creation and distribution of the design.

Consider settlement: In certain situations, it might be advantageous for you to resolve the claim outside of court. Your attorney can help you negotiate a settlement agreement that protects your interests and limits your exposure to damages.

Defend your position: If you decide to contest the claim, your attorney will work with you to develop a strong defense.

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This may include challenging the validity of the copyright, demonstrating that your design is substantially different from the copyrighted design, or arguing that your use of the design falls under fair use.

In any case, it’s important to take the claim seriously and work with an experienced attorney to protect your interests and rights.

What to Do If Your Design is Infringed?

If you believe that your design has been infringed upon, it is essential to take appropriate steps to address the issue and protect your intellectual property rights.

Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do if your design is infringed:

Gather Evidence

Collect evidence of the alleged infringement, such as screenshots, photographs, or physical samples of the infringing product. This documentation will help you build a strong case against the infringer and serve as a basis for any legal action you may take.

Analyse the Infringement

Compare the allegedly infringing design with your copyrighted design. Determine if the infringing design is substantially similar to your original work, which may indicate a copyright infringement case.

Consult an Intellectual Property Attorney

Seek advice from an attorney who specialises in intellectual property law. They can help you understand your rights and determine the best course of action, including whether to proceed with legal action.

Send a Cease and Desist Letter

Before initiating legal proceedings, consider sending a cease and desist letter to the infringer.

This letter should clearly outline the alleged infringement, request the infringer to stop using your design immediately, and, if applicable, demand compensation for damages incurred due to the infringement.

In some cases, the infringer may not be aware of the infringement and may comply with your demands, avoiding the need for further legal action.

Negotiate a Settlement

If the infringer responds to your cease and desist letter and expresses a willingness to resolve the issue, consider negotiating a settlement.

This may involve the infringer compensating you for damages, signing a licensing agreement to use your design, or agreeing to cease using your design altogether.

An attorney can help you navigate this process and ensure a fair outcome.

File a Lawsuit

If the infringer refuses to comply with your demands or negotiations fail, you may decide to file a lawsuit to protect your design rights.

A lawsuit can result in a court order requiring the infringer to stop using your design, as well as monetary damages to compensate you for any losses.

However, litigation can be time-consuming and expensive, so it’s essential to weigh the potential benefits against the costs before proceeding.

By following these steps, you can effectively address design infringement of copyright and protect your intellectual property rights.


Design copyright infringement cases are becoming increasingly common, and they can have serious legal and financial consequences.

If you’re a designer or manufacturer, it’s important to understand the basics of design copyright and to take steps to protect yourself and your intellectual property.

Utilising a digital piracy monitoring service becomes imperative for protecting designs from infringement. These services play a pivotal role in detecting and addressing unauthorised use, curbing legal and financial risks.

Stay proactive to preserve your intellectual property rights in the ever-evolving landscape of design protection.


What is design copyright?

Design copyright refers to the legal protection granted to creators for their original, creative, and non-functional artistic works.

This protection covers a wide range of designs, such as illustrations, graphics, patterns, and typography.

Design copyright prevents others from reproducing, distributing, or publicly displaying the copyrighted design without the creator’s permission

What constitutes design copyright infringement?

Design copyright infringement occurs when an individual or entity uses a copyrighted design without the permission of the copyright owner.

This unauthorised usage can take various forms, such as reproducing, distributing, or publicly displaying the protected design.

To be considered design copyright infringement, the alleged infringing work must be substantially similar to the copyrighted design, leading an ordinary observer to believe that the infringing work is a copy of the original.

What are the legal consequences of design copyright infringement?

Legal consequences can include civil penalties, injunctions, and in rare cases, criminal penalties.

How can I protect myself from design copyright infringement?

Register your designs with the appropriate authorities, monitor the marketplace for infringing designs, and take legal action if necessary.

Can I use a copyrighted design if I modify it?

Simply modifying a copyrighted design may still constitute infringement if the modified design remains substantially similar to the original. Always seek permission from the rightful owner before using their work.