Copyrights, Trademarks, and T-Shirt Customization

Have you ever noticed that certain kinds of T-shirts are considerably more expensive than others? The most expensive among them feature things like pro sports team logos, television or film franchises, and well-known commercial brands. The reason they cost so much more has to do with licensing fees.

When it comes to custom T-shirt printing, manufacturers and retailers are not allowed to use copyrighted or trademarked material without a license. And yes, licenses are expensive. Obtaining a license to use a pro sports logo, for example, can cost an arm and a leg.

Sellers like The Print Bar, a company that specializes in custom T-shirts in Australia, employ the latest online technologies that allow customers to design their own shirts from scratch. But even customers need to be careful about copyright and trademark infringement. It is serious business.

More About Copyrights

Copyrights and trademarks are two separate things. Let us discuss them both, beginning with the former. A copyright is essentially a claim of ownership pertaining to intellectual property. When an author copyrights a book, for example, they are laying claim to that book as their property. They wrote it and they have the exclusive right to control it.

Any creative work that is produced in tangible form and published for others to access can be copyrighted. The most commonly copyrighted creations include:

  • musical compositions
  • tv and radio broadcasts
  • podcasts and streamed content
  • computer software and mobile apps
  • photographs and other artwork.

A copyright protects an intellectual property owner from others who would seek to copy their material and profit from it. In terms of custom T-shirt printing, copyrights are every bit as valid. You cannot steal someone’s copyrighted artwork and put it on your T-shirt. You must get permission before you can use it. And oftentimes, you need to pay.

More About Trademarks

Copyrights are limited in their scope. Thus, organizations turn to trademarks if they are looking to protect something that cannot be copyrighted. A trademark is utilized when an organization wants to combine some sort of intellectual property with its own branding in order to distinguish itself from the competition.

For example, the Coca-Cola brand is trademarked. Just like a piece of property protected by copyright, the Coca-Cola brand is protected against unauthorized use. You are not allowed to use the brand in your custom designed T-shirts without first getting permission.

You may have noticed that some companies offering custom T-shirt printing warn against using copyrighted and trademarked images. They are warning customers for their own good. Copyright and trademark violations can be expensive, and T-shirt printers do not want their customers to get caught doing so.

There Are Exceptions

There are some exceptions when it comes to copyrighted and trademarked material. For example, exclusive copyrights expire after 70 years in most countries. And by the way, that’s 70 years after the original creator’s death; not 70 years after the work was created. This is why a game creator could design a slot machine around the Cinderella story and not get into trouble. The story is hundreds of years old.

Another exception is known as the ‘fair use’ exception. This applies to using copyrighted and trademarked material for purposes of parody or criticism. Courts have consistently found that parody and criticism are essential to free speech and, therefore, supersede copyright and trademark protection.

If you are into custom T-shirt printing, just remember that certain things are off-limits. Stay away from copyrighted and trademarked material. If there is any question about the legality of using photos, artwork, or slogans, it is best just to avoid them altogether.

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