Protect Your Business: Learn the Basics of Copyrights and Trademarks

It’s common to see product posts on social media and items available for sale on popular eCommerce sites that contain copyrighted or trademarked material. When writing this article, a quick Google search revealed a popular motorcycle brand logo shirt, sportswear logos for digital resale, and cartoon character merchandise, all with no licensing information. While these examples violate intellectual property (IP) laws, it is almost impossible for sites to find every instance of abuse. If you are imaging products for sale, you should have a basic understanding of intellectual property and how you can protect your business.

The two most common forms of IP that sublimators and digital decorators should understand are copyrights and trademarks. These protect original works and marks from being copied and used without permission from the creator, in the form of a license agreement. Copyrights protect works that are literary and artistic, while trademarks protect brands and companies.  Below are some common examples of where each may apply:

Copyright ® Trademark
Songs and lyrics Company names
Books Slogans
Paintings Tag lines
Photographs Symbols
Videos Logos
Advertisements Colors

Copyright and trademark holders have the exclusive right to produce, copy, modify, and distribute their work. In some cases, licensing may be available, where you can request a license to reproduce or modify a copy of the work for specific purposes granted by the copyright or trademark holder. Usually, there is a fee for the license, and it has specific terms of use.

Now that you know a bit about copyrights and trademarks, what should you do if a customer asks you to sublimate products using their company logo or school mascot?

To play it safe, ask for written permission from the business owner or legal representative. In the case of a school mascot, request written permission from the school’s board of education or other governing body. If this is not provided, you’re assuming the legal risk for reproducing the artwork. Simply put, if you didn’t create the work, don’t use it or modify it without legal permission from the creator. Play it smart when it comes to using the works of others and keep records of any licensing or permission granted to you to keep your business and your reputation intact.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be used as legal advice. Please consult an attorney specializing in Intellectual Property (IP) laws.
Peggy Waters Universal Woods

Peggy Waters

Glantz Sign Supplies

Peggy Waters is a marketing professional with over 20 years of experience, eight of which are in dye-sublimation. Currently, she's the senior marketing manager for Glantz Sign Supplies. Before joining Glantz, she was the senior communications manager for Universal Woods for almost nine years.

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