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DIY and COPYRIGHT LAW

There are two subjects that make my brain explode: accounting and law. But for the good of mankind, I will attempt to tackle some questions regarding copyright that may be floating around your head. Please keep in mind that I'm not a legal expert, but I have researched this topic well, and I've talked to some experts. Also, this applies only to the United States, I'm sure other countries will differ.

Q. You sell reconstructed band shirts, isn't that infringing on the band/artist's copyright?

A. No. Assuming I'm buying properly licensed t-shirts (which I am), I can do pretty much whatever I want with them. The "first sale doctrine" allows the lending, reselling, disposing, burning, etc. of an item after purchase. That's why people can sell their used CDs and DVDs (and band shirts) on Ebay. As long as I'm not reproducing a band's design or logo, I'm okay.

 

Q. Can I stencil or screenprint shirts with my favorite band's logo?

A. Yes and no. Whether you are making a Rolling Stones shirt for yourself or a friend, and you aren't getting $$ for it, or you are making 10 Rolling Stones shirts to sell (without permission from the owner of the copyright or trademark), no.

Even if you aren't making a profit off of someone else's work, you are still reproducing it without their consent. Of course, there's not much chance you'd get caught in either of the above scenarios, seeing as you and me are small potatoes and not worth anything to the big kahunas. But wouldn't it be more fun (and rewarding!) to come up with your own designs?

 

Q. I made this really cute dress with a Simplicity sewing pattern, can I sell it?

A. No. If you look on the back of the pattern's package, you'll notice it says that you are prohibited from using the pattern for anything other than private use. That goes for most pattern companies.

 

Q. How do I copyright my stuff?

A. Technically, as soon as you write, draw, etc. your creation, it's yours. You can register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, but it is not required. BUT- you will not be able to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringment unless you've registered your copyright. Silly, yes?
It should be noted, however, that you can't copyright certain things, like "useful articles". Examples include clothing, furniture, dinnerware, etc. This means, you can't copyright pants, or a couch, or a spoon. You can copyright the artwork printed on the shirt, and the print on the fabric of the couch, and the ornamental design on the spoon.

 

more on copyright law

10 copyright myths

U.S. Copyright Office

copyright and small business law

NOLO's Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business

More on Useful Articles


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