You’re wondering if you can include a catchy quote on your latest t-shirt design. Addressing copyright and trademark usage when it comes to printed apparel is a very ambiguous subject that gives plenty of designers and their apparel printers cause to pause and ponder.
In a nutshell, it depends. We’ll address the different scenarios that impact whether you can use quotes in your t-shirt design whether for personal use or reselling for a profit.
One of the first things to understand when it comes to anything that can be defined as intellectual property is that even if it’s for the personal use of one of our customers, we as printers cannot print anything we feel falls under protection because we make money from our services. That is often a point of confusion for our users when they don’t intend to use the end product for any commercial purpose.
What is Intellectual property? “Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” Intellectual property rights were first introduced in the late 19th century to address the international issue of rights to profit from productions of the aforementioned kind but also to limit the extent to which these creations could be covered.
It is outlined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Without these protections and structured limitations, the world would be a less creative space.
Trademark, service mark, and copyright are synonymous to many people but this perception is incorrect. Each is actually referring to different designations. A trademark is used to identify goods as being produced by a specific entity while a service mark refers to a service being provided like screen printing or apparel manufacturing. Copyright protects artistic creation like novels, songs, and movies.
The trademark would protect the product; the copyright would protect the media that is used to promote the product such as slogans, although a slogan can also fall under trademark. Furthermore a trademark can be established by common law if the trademark is consistently used in the act of commerce.
Copyright protection is automatic once a creative work has been brought into being. The extent of protection is quite generous too. The work is protected for the life of the creator plus 70 years if published as an individual. If the work is created anonymously, pseudonymously, (think of Dr. Suess), or for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
Back to the burning question at hand, “Can I use quotes on my custom tee?” As previously explained, any published work is automatically copyright protected. However ideas cannot be copyright protected so if something is said in conversation, those words do not fall under copyright. Unless of course they are reiterating in speech what has already been copyright protected from a creative work.
Quotes are generally safe to use of they exist in the Public Domain. These are works for which copyright protection has expired. If it’s documented as existing in the Public Domain, you’re generally safe to use it in your own original works of art such as a printed quote on a tee.
There are even exceptions to copyright protection when it comes to works designed to be used in parody, critique, or review. In this murky realm, a creator really takes on the chance of liability if the copyright holder chooses to challenge the use of their creative works in your creations. If the primary purpose in the use of copyright protected material is for financial gain, this circumvents the argument of using the work in a fair-use defense.
Parody is subjective and in the worst case scenario, you might find yourself defending your position in a courtroom.
You can arguably use short sentences since there has to be a reasonable amount of creativity used in a work to be considered copyright protected.
National anthems cannot be copyright protected so that “star-spangled banner can yet wave” all over your tee without any worries.
When not to use quotes on a t-shirt:
Don’t use quotes from movies, song lyrics, books, poems, or speeches that have been prewritten and recorded on any media. If the author is still alive, you may not quote their work. If it’s recognizable do not use the quote. The exceptions are works that have fallen under Public Domain like Shakespeare, the Bible, or anything from the Government.
This post was not written by a lawyer, nor does it constitute any type of legal advice. It’s intended to be a guideline to consider when designing custom t-shirts for print regardless whether for personal use or commercial use. When using our services we make the ultimate decision whether we will print a design or refuse the job and refund your order.
Trademark = Brands
Copyright = Artistic Works
We first learned of someone using t-shirts to advertise for an organ donor from a story in a local newspaper. Some college age kids saw a man walking around in a Costco with a t-shirt that read, “Kidney donor needed, Type B+, Ask me how.” They were moved by this and asked the man to tell them about his story, and what happened next is amazing.
The man in need of the kidney had the t-shirts made for himself and members of his family when he had already been on the donor waiting list for a year. A post of him wearing the t-shirt with the request for a matching donor was shared on Twitter by the college kids and it has been retweeted 240,000 times at the date of this post. The collective efforts to spread awareness certainly made an impact and the gentleman has had many people reach out to see how they can help.
Although the angle of wearing a t-shirt is unique, the need for organ donors is not. We at DesignAShirt were inspired by this story and being custom t-shirt printers, we want to help where we can. We will offer up to five free organ donor t-shirts for you and members of your family to bring about awareness with the hope of finding an organ donor match. Please contact our customer service reps and read more details here.
Helping to further awareness of organ donation in a broader scope is another goal we hope to achieve through organ donor t-shirt giveaways. The necessity for organ donors is something we’re all aware of but rarely do we actually look at the stats or comprehend the challenges individuals and their families face.
Kidney donations have the highest demand but at any given time there are 116,000+ people on the waiting list for organ donations in the U.S. alone. These include liver, heart, lung, pancreas, intestines as well as muscle and tissues. The demand grows steadily every year while the number of willing donors does not.
A striking number of people believe in organ donation, 95%, but only 54% of people have opted in as potential organ donors. With 20 people dying each day while awaiting a donor, it’s a sobering statistic.
Myths surrounding organ donation may be one of the culprits that prevent people who actually support the idea of being an organ donor from registering. Some of these myths include age or medical factors causing automatic exclusion. According to OrganDonor.gov, the key issue is the health of the organ.
Even for people that do register, only 3 in 1000 will actually meet all the stringent requirements and be a match for someone on the waiting list. Fortunately there is a system in place for matching patients with donors created by . They have a database where details of patients and potential donors are kept to streamline the time sensitive process when an opportunity arises.United Network for Organ Sharing
While great sadness comes from the loss of a loved one, the gift of life that comes through organ donation can mean a new era of happiness for someone else’s family.
Not all organ donation scenarios require the donor to be deceased. There is a living donation process that can save lives through kidney donation and partial lung and liver, as well as tissue donations. Some of which can either regenerate or provide the donor normal function post-operation.
If you know of someone in need of an organ donation, please share this story with them. We sincerely hope through the gift of organ donor request t-shirts we can make a profound difference and be a small part in the continuance of someone’s life story.
You have a lot of options when it comes to finding professional t-shirt printers that can provide printing services for your custom apparel job. We understand there are lots of competitors that are able to perform the same services we do, but having the capability to produce and deliver under demanding circumstances makes the difference between offering a printing service and offering a partnership.
If you’re in promotions, event planning, or own a clothing brand, a large part of your business relies on printed apparel. Being able to depend on your printer as part of your team is a valuable asset. Creating a relationship with the right printer can have a big impact on your ability to do your job effectively and reduce worry and stress under tight deadlines.
Even if you don’t depend on printed apparel as part of your job, it’s great to have a dependable resource for occasions that call for custom garments from special corporate events right down to birthday parties. And having a printer that’s been in the business for decades offers a measure of reassurance that isn’t always apparent with any old printer you find on the Internet.
We’ve tested lots of our competitors on the sly to see what kind of quality they deliver. We’ve received product and service that has caused us to be respectfully impressed. On the other hand we’ve also had experiences that left us in utter shock that any company would deliver such a poor product and user experience. It can be a crap shoot when searching for a t-shirt printer that can check off all of the boxes.
Because we have our own experience and have tested others, we’ve compiled a list of qualities you should look for when looking for a screen printer partner. We want you achieve your goals whether bulk scale and professional or for personal single t-shirt orders.
Dependability- Lots of screen printers are very dependable both large and small. However we’ve heard plenty of stories from customers that became our customers after being turned away at the last minute or money being taken and the job never delivered. Some shops are simply poorly run. They may not be able to handle large quantities or tight deadlines. Or they may not have the processes in place to run a smooth operation. While they may have a creative staff and offer a friendly smile, if they fall apart at the last minute and leave you hanging because they lose track and don’t have the skill of time management, it does little good for your needs.
Quality- When you receive a product, the garments you receive should reflect the product you agreed upon and the promise the printer made about their capabilities. A sale should never be just about getting the sale and then delivering a shoddy product to fulfill the order. If you are price conscience, you should be able to discuss the best options available for your budget and the customer service person should be able to describe the pros and cons of your options to create expectations.
Quality extends to the capability of your printer too. There are techniques that should be used that will impact the feel of your screen print. Not all prints are the same. Poor methods can make it feel like you’re wearing an uncomfortable badge on your t-shirt if an excess of ink is used to compensate for poor craftsmanship.
Attention to detail is a must as a simple piece of lint on a printer’s screen can cause the same flaw to be duplicated across your entire bulk t-shirt order.
Consistency-If you reorder the same design on t-shirts monthly, quarterly, or yearly, consistency is going to be quite important to you. While maroon just looks like maroon when you look at a shirt on its own, if you put it next to another shirt that was printed with a slight variation, it becomes very visible. Imagine trying to create uniformity in a business with staff wearing slightly different hues of your corporate colors. Consistency is executed by using precise techniques, keeping detailed records of orders, and having a system in place to recreate art, reorder product, and reprint using the same method. Expertise goes well beyond being a good record keeper though. An expert screen printer will even take the temperature of the room into consideration when printing a reorder to ensure consistency.
Details-We’ve learned that even little details really matter. For a t-shirt printer that allows users to design and place orders online on their own, the need for clarification in some instances can’t be ignored. We don’t just accept orders at face value and leave the blame in the hands of the consumer if they didn’t spell something right or chose a color combination that won’t produce a legible print. In these cases we reach out to our customer to either ask the questions or provide helpful suggestions to ensure our customers will be thrilled with the product they receive.
More than anything else we understand how the product your receive makes you feel. We want to be part of a positive experience all the way around and make you proud that you chose to work with us over anyone else. That’s how any business maintains relationships and grows their business. We want you to feel like you have a partner in the t-shirt printing business even if you only need our services from time-to-time.