Copyright infringement is a complicated subject. There’s a ton of info out there and the only way to be sure you’re getting correct information is to talk to a lawyer who is knowledgeable on copyright laws in your area.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer by profession and nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. Although I strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice or free from errors, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in the area for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any professional, business, legal, and financial or tax-related decisions. This information is also not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. If you require legal or other expert advice, you should seek the services of a competent attorney or other professional. I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information.
Copyright infringement is often used when talking about trademark infringement…which is what a lot of handmade business owners and Etsy sellers do when they sell Disney, Hello Kitty or Star Wars items.
Copyright falls under Intellectual Property, which refers to creations of the mind such as; words, designs, books, music, processes, machines, etc. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect Intellectual Property.
You are not required by law to register a trademark, copyright or patent, but you are required, by law, not to infringe on someone else’s intellectual property.
Registering a trademark for your logo or designs, copyright for your written work, or a patent for your invention, provides extra protection and makes it easier to prove ownership and take legal action (if you choose).
Unfortunately, big companies like Old Navy, Zara and Forever 21 constantly rip off independent designers’ work, just check out this article.
But what’s more common, is handmade business owners infringing on big companies’ intellectual property.
You’ll see crocheted Disney characters all over Etsy, products with NFL logos on them, items using Star Wars-themed fabric, etc.
Just because another business owner is selling these items does not mean it’s legal to do so.
You must purchase a licensing agreement to sell products that resemble Disney characters or that use Disney-themed fabric. The company that created the fabric would have (or should have) purchased the licensing agreement from Disney to do so but that agreement does not transfer to you and you’re likely only permitted to use it for personal use.
I go into some more detail about intellectual property and other important laws that pertain to handmade businesses in LAWS FOR SELLING HANDMADE. It’s written in an easy to understand language and provides step-by-step instructions to get your business up to snuff…legally speaking.
You can also download the free checklist for an overview and easy to follow list of everything you should have completed when setting up your handmade business:
If you’d like to do a little research on your own, here are some resources for you:
Visit this website: http://www.avvo.com
and search through the various articles and questions on various subjects.
Some of the keywords you may want to enter:
- Copyright – get a better understanding of general copyright laws
- Copyright infringement – this will bring up a wide range of topics and questions around what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to using copyrighted material
- Licensed Patterns / Pattern Copyright – if you sell items that follow knitting, crochet or sewing patterns, have a look into this topic
- Licensed Fabric – if you sell products made with fabric that has copyrighted images or characters on it (e.g. ribbon with Disney characters printed on it or fabric with a sports team’s logo printed on it)
- Fan art – if you create items that depict a character in a movie or tv show (e.g. crocheted minion hats)
- Copyright phrases – if you’re using movie quotes, lyrics or a play on them (Google “Taylor Swift sues fan” or “Beyonce sues over Feyonce“)
- Expired copyright – find out if an images’ copyright has expired
Here’s another site that’s helpful: http://www.craftsandcopyrights.com/index.html Click on “Copyright Info” for a bunch of FAQ’s.
This website has some interesting information regarding companies that define what can and cannot be done with their patterns, licensed fabric, etc. but don’t actually have any laws backing them. http://www.tabberone.com/index.shtml Click on the “CLICK HERE” link under the “Tabberone’s Trademark Page” title.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!