Can you copyright a boat in the United States?

Can you copyright a boat in the United States?

Copyright law is typically associated with the arts.  Music, painting, photography and movies are all things a person would commonly think of when copyright is mentioned.  But sometimes laws are applied in unexpected ways.  In the United States, copyright law can also protect the design of a boat hull.

The Vessel Hull Design Protection Act, title 17, Chapter 13 of the United States Code, was signed into law on October 28, 1998, providing for protection for original designs of vessel hulls. The law grants an owner of an original vessel design certain exclusive rights if application for registration of the design is made with the United States Copyright Office within two years of the design being made public. Protection is afforded only to vessel designs embodied in actual vessel hulls that are publicly exhibited, publicly distributed, or offered for sale or sold to the public on or after October 28, 1998.

Although design protection and copyright protection under title 17 of the United States Code are both administered by the Register of Copyrights, they are not identical. Design protection differs significantly in most respects, including term of protection, ownership, eligibility, scope of protection, and registration procedures. While some designs that are eligible for design protection may also be eligible for copyright protection, design registration does not include a copyright registration.

Registration of a vessel design must be made on a Form D-VH.  To be considered for registration, a submitted application must include the following elements:

  • A completed and signed Form D-VH;
  • Deposit material identifying the designor designs for which registration is sought; and
  • The appropriate fee. The basic application fee for each design covers up to three pages of deposit material. For more than three pages of deposit material, there is an additional charge.

The deposit material must consist of either drawings or photographs of the boat hull design. Because the drawings or photographs constitute the entire visual disclosure of the design, they should be clear and complete and should include a sufficient number of views so that the appearance of the design is adequately shown.

The effective date of a vessel design registration is the date on which the United States Copyright Office publishes notice of the registration. Notice of registration will be published on the United States Copyright Office website, and registrations may be viewed, in reverse chronological order, on our Vessel Design Registration page.

Design protection under the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act is not available, and registration may not be made, for designs that have received patent protection under title 35 of the United States Code.

When a design protected under the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act is publicly exhibited, publicly distributed, or offered for sale or sold to the public, a design notice should appear on the vessel in the manner described in section 212.4 of the interim regulations. In place of the name of the owner of the design, the notice may contain a distinctive identification of the owner if the distinctive identification has been recorded with the United States Copyright Office.

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