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It depends on the protection strategy you want to use. Fender's headstock shapes, for example, are considered Trademarks rather than simply being "copyrighted". This requires formal legal procedings that are best undertaken by a qualified lawyer. I wouldn't want to try to trademark something with any sort of self-processed "trademark in a box" kit or anything.

A lot of it is simply a matter of keeping legitimate records. To copyright something, all you need to do, at least in Canada, is put a © symbol and declare your copyright. But that doesn't mean you're going to win a court case... you have to show that the item in question is indeed copyrightable in the first place, that you have defended the copyright, and that your work came before that of anybody against whom you wish to pursue litigation. In other words, if I have published a document under copyright and somebody else later seems to have ripped me off, I have to prove that mine came first as a matter of public record.

Also, there are various statutes of limitations on such things... for example, you would have to produce a product based on your design within X number of years (5 in the UK, apparently... just Googled it) in order for the copyright to be legally enforceable.

Also, you have the option of NOT bothering with copyrighting the design at all... if you strike hard and make an impact, people will know it's your design anyhow... Fender aren't hurting from the bazillion strat-shaped guitars out there. They keep their headstock trademarked and therefore identifiable as a true Fender. It's too much of a hassle for them to stop strat-shaped bodies. Heck, when Gibson tried the body-shape thing against PRS, they lost. All it would take is a minor change to your design and a would-be copyer would probably get away with it anyhow. It might not be worth protecting so aggressively. Instead, market aggressively and produce a quality product...

Bottom line: hire a lawyer. If you're not willing to pay for the expense of the lawyer, you probably weren't serious enough about protecting the design in the first place.

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I dunno 'bout that. A guitar's body shape isn't an invention or process; nor (generally) an improvement to an invention or process. Some features of a design (a special cutaway... a twisted neck...) CAN end up being patented, but I think the OP is more talking about a standard solidbody but with his own "shape". Don't think that's the sort of thing that can be patented.

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I have an original guitar design that I'm in the process of constructing. I want to be able to post stuff online without fear of theft, what do I need to legally be able to protect myself should I ever try to market these instruments?

As a licensed attorney; I strongly suggest getting an attorney. Not just any attorney can help you with intellectual property issues. For instance an attorney has to also be a member of the Patent Bar to practice in the Patent Courts.

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