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Understanding How Intellectual Property Laws Can Impact Your Custom T-Shirt Designs

Intellectual property law is pretty complicated, so it’s important to know you’re not breaking any rules when developing your custom t-shirt designs!

Custom t-shirts

It’s possible that you have a lot of great concepts and ideas for your team’s custom t-shirt designs, but you may not realize that these ideas are actually illegal!

No one wants to go through the design process only to find out that they can’t use certain t-shirt elements due to copyrights and trademarks. Some people think that these issues aren’t that big of a deal because people fairly using copyrighted material regularly, but you don’t want to end up receiving a cease-and-desist letter for your t-shirts that are selling well.

So below we’re providing an overview detailing what you should know when it comes to intellectual property laws, and how they can impact your t-shirt designs:

What Exactly Is Copyright & Trademark? Why Do These Things Matter For My Custom T-Shirts?

It’s always a tricky concept when you’re attempting to verify who owns an idea, and this is exactly why there are well-established laws based upon determining who owns the rights to certain ideas. This has lead to an entire legal field referred to as intellectual property law.

Intellectual property can range from many different things, like artistic works, databases, software, designs/pictures, music and much more. When something like a design or picture is copyrighted, it technically means that the copyright holder has the right to say who can and cannot use their copyrighted work (particularly when using the copyrighted work for profits).

Trademarks are a type of intellectual property that help distinguish brands and ideas from one another, including the names, logos, phrases, symbols and slogans associated with a company or creative work. The best thing you can do when it comes to custom t-shirt design is err on the side of caution when you think you may possibly be committing trademark or copyright infringement.

Intellectual Property Assets You Simply Cannot Use For Your Custom T-Shirts Without Express Permission

Some of the things you need to be careful of using for your t-shirts without permission from intellectual property owners include the following:

  • Logos: This includes games, books, sports teams, universities, school and all sorts of other organizations.
  • Pictures/Artwork from schools, sports teams, clubs, movies, books, bands, games and other organizations
  • Characters based from TV Shows, books, movies, comics and other copyrighted creative works
  • Viral content from YouTube videos, memes and other digital content
  • Search engine images or other digital images that aren’t listed in creative commons or for commercial usage
  • Images that depict celebrities in exploited ways
  • Any names, logos, phrases or content associated with a trademark

Which Images Can Be Used Freely?

There are certain images that you don’t need to worry about using for your t-shirts, including:

  • National symbols
  • Flags
  • Political figure likeness

What’s important to remember here is that you can’t use someone else’s creative work that depicts things like national symbols, flags and political figures. So famous photographs and pictures of the above categories would fall under copyrighted artwork.

The Public Domain & Creative Commons

What’s great for t-shirt designers and athletic teams is that there are many creative works that are classified in a way that intellectual property laws don’t apply to them. These works are found within what’s called the Public Domain and Creative Commons.

There actually is so much within the Public Domain these days to the point that you really do have a seemingly endless amount of options. Creative Commons is actually a non-profit organization oriented around growing the amount of creative works that people can legally utilize, so these are two great options to look into when you aren’t quite sure about the legality of certain t-shirt design ideas!

Contact The ARES Sportswear Design Team To Learn More About How Intellectual Property Laws May Impact Your Custom T-Shirt Designs

ARES Sportswear has been supporting countless businesses, sports teams, schools and other organizations with their custom apparel needs for nearly 30 years, so our team understands intellectual property law very well.

We understand how confusing these laws may be, so always feel free to contact us online to get in touch with our design experts and ask them any questions you have about ensuring the legality of your custom t-shirt designs!

Thank You Very Much!

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