Given the nature of the work within the decorated apparel industry, copyright infringement is a hot topic. Whether it’s logos, messaging, designs, or artwork, all of these elements are subject to copyright laws. Here are some basics to help you navigate and avoid infringement in your business.
What’s a copyright?
A copyright grants the creator of an original work the exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, the original work may be used by others.
How do I know if something is copyrighted?
Look for indicators like the ‘©’ symbol, a watermark, a trademark, an artist’s signature, a specific statement of ownership, the ‘*D*’ symbol or the letter D inside a circle, “Protected Design” or “Prot’d Des.”
Will all copyrighted works have these symbols or statements?
It’s possible that a copyright symbol got photoshopped out of the original image, in which case you’ll have to do some extra digging. If there’s no option to save an image when you right-click on a vector file, it’s protected. You can also use Google Image to see how it’s currently being used. Lastly, the U.S. Copyright Office has a database of registered works, where you can search by artist name or title of the artwork. In this case, the original author would have had to register it officially, so this database isn’t always 100% accurate.
How can I use copyrighted work?
If you or your customer finds a copyrighted design, it doesn’t hurt to ask the owner for permission to use it in your business. Some companies and artists are open to licensing agreements, which would allow you to use the copyrighted work under a set of predefined terms. Plus, it earns the copyright holder extra cash. Decorators can obtain permission to work with professional sports teams, universities, and widespread retail brands by going through a formal licensing process.
What constitutes copyright infringement?
Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses, copies, or distributes copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. If you know a work is copyrighted and you use it anyway, or if you print a design without knowing it’s protected, it’s still considered infringement. Cases are negotiated between the copyright holder and the culprit or taken to court when necessary.
To respect the original creator, and to protect your company, it’s best to be clear about the copyright before you move forward with a design.