Since my last post covered licenses on cut files and other designs, I am going to answer a question that comes up all the time, regarding copyrights and trademarks:
Question: “Can I make and sell Disney/Pixar/Universal/favorite song lyric/favorite quote items using my craft cutting machine?”
Answer: “No, not legally.”
Follow up question: “But, I see them everywhere on Etsy! How do those sellers do it?”
You cannot legally make and sell any copyrighted or trademarked phrase, character, song lyric, quote, logo, or sports team logo without permission from the copyright or trademark holder. Some companies turn a blind eye and don’t actively pursue sellers selling their items, while others employ a team of people whose only job it is to hunt down people/companies using their trademarks without permission. Most large companies also have an anonymous form for anyone that sees your item to turn you in themselves on their website. If you are caught by the trademark holder, your store or shop can be shut down, you can be forced to pay back all monies made from the items, and you can be prosecuted for trademark/copyright infringement. Unfortunately for small sellers, big corporations have far more resources to legally pursue you and you will not win the battle. A few companies that are aggressive in pursuing trademark infringements online include: Disney/Pixar/Marvel, Universal, Harley Davidson, Gerber, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and several professional sports teams.
Tip: There are two major exceptions to copyright rules. 1) Fair Use and Parodies. This means that you are allowed to design items that look similar enough to someone’s copyrighted or trademarked items when used as a parody. There is a very fine line with parodies and if you choose to go that route with your creations, I’d advise extensive research on the topic and/or consulting with a legal professional for advice before beginning to sell. 2) Copyrights that have expired. This is commonly seen in older songs where the copyright has expired and the song lyrics and musical arrangement are now public domain.
Some companies or institutions will offer licenses to small sellers to create items with their logos. The best thing you can do is to contact the company or institution directly to obtain permission. To contact a company or institution, email the general contact address on their website, and whomever answers that should be able to get you in touch with the correct person or department. Be prepared to show samples of your work, ideas of items or designs you would like to make with their copyrighted or trademarked design, and what percentage of profits you are willing to share. It is important to keep written documentation of all conversations with the institution or company, and paperwork handy of your license (if you are able to obtain one) in case anyone asks. I know of several at home crafters who have licenses with large universities to create items using their logos.
If you still need your fix of creating items with your favorite cartoon characters or sports logos, quotes, or lyrics (don’t we all?!) feel free to create them for your own personal use.
United States Trademark office online: www.uspto.gov.
An article from Stanford on Fair Use and Parodies: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/what-is-fair-use
Public domain song listings and information: www.pdinfo.com
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