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Copyright Basics For T-Shirt Design: Do’s And Don’ts

by Alice Jackson Tweet - in Printshop Basics

Copyright Basics For T-Shirt Design

Last updated on January 30th, 2023

One of the things a t-shirt design business owner and a designer should know beforehand is the copyright laws. You may be involved in some illegal activity by infringing someone’s copyrights unknowingly, and you may be challenged in a court of law. This may create some unpleasant situations for you and your business. Therefore, you must adhere to the copyright rules.

Copyright is all about protecting the owner’s intellectual property rights. In other words, only the owner has the legal right to copy and reproduce their own work. No one can use anyone’s intellectual property without the owner’s permission.

So, the creator of the original material has exclusive rights over the use of the content in any form under the copyright law.

Considering that you’re going to open your own t-shirt design store. I would suggest you ensure that the designs you are selling especially for funny t-shirts should not be copied from elsewhere.

If it’s found, you may face serious legal consequences. Many designers and shop owners are not fully aware of the copyright laws, which proves to be a legal disaster in the end.

Being a t-shirt designer, you must get copyright so that no other person or organization can illegally use your designs for any commercial activity.

It is tempting to use an attractive image, shirt quotes, or graphics as part of your design. But any illegal use can land you in legal trouble later. So, to avoid any such unwanted situation, a better approach is to be original, and stick to the basics.

If you are in the US and aspire to run a T-shirt design business successfully without any legal notices served to you for any potential infringement, then just have a reading of the Copyright Laws of the United States for updated information

So, as a t-shirt design shop owner and a designer, you must have the details of how copyright is useful to protect your intellectual property. Most importantly, this knowledge will help you stay away from any copyright infringements, which is essential to avoid any legal issues.

Here Is What You Can Do And Cannot Do To Create Unique T-Shirt Design

Avoid using any material from outside. The best approach is to use your creative mind to design an image or figure with the help of a professional designer or a t-shirt maker.

This way, you have a design that is truly your own. This is undoubtedly a creative way to get a design that is away from any legal issues. But get the design copyrighted as well.

Know the difference between copyright and trademark. Many business owners mistakenly consider these two terms the same. A trademark is a symbol, term, and name of a business.

On the other hand, copyright is given for original creative works. These works include paintings, books, movies, songs, choreography, web content, etc.

The Don’ts

i. When creating a t-shirt design, you cannot use images, characters, and any figure that resembles anything taken from comic books, cartoon networks, movies, video games, and television shows.

ii. You should not use logos, names, pictures of educational institutions, organizations, clubs, sports teams, musical groups, artists, etc.

iii. Avoid using logos, trademarks, and names of companies.

iv. Do not use any photo, artwork, or caricature of a celebrity. Taking a celebrity’s picture and using that on a t-shirt by drawing it in your own way should be avoided. It involves some complicated copyright issues. So, avoid it as well.

v. If you find an attractive graphic or image that is not listed for commercial use or free use, then do not use it on your t-shirt design. Whenever someone spots it, you will be in legal trouble. Use on those images or graphics that are clearly marked as free for commercial usage.

vi. Keep away also from Internet Memes or viral videos that inspire you to include them on your tshirt design. This is because many of the memes have images of celebrities.

vii. Do not use any image or graphics that you spot on social media and search engines to create your own t-shirt.

viii. When it comes to including some quotes of t-shirt in the design, avoid quoting anything from an author who is alive. In the case of a deceased author who passed away less than 70 years ago, do not quote him/her.

ix. You should also not quote from trademark material, literary works of art, and corporate slogans.

The Do’s

a. You can use royalty-free images for any commercial use, including t-shirt printing.

b. If you find any image or other things on the public domain, most probably its intellectual property rights have expired. So, you can use these images.

c. When it comes to using quotes in your t-shirt designs, you can quote anything from the public domain.

d. You can quote from authors who are dead for more than 70 years. Such t-shirt quotes are safe.

e. You also are legally allowed to quote from common sayings and parodies.

f. You can use national symbols, flags, and the likenesses of political figures as well as coats of arms. These things are not covered under copyright or trademark laws.

g. If you are creating a custom t-shirt, you can generally use famous characters that are commonly recognized by others.

h. Some sites offer free photos for commercial use also. But the user has to give credit to the owner of the photos. So, make sure that you follow this fundamental when using free images. If there is no such legal permission, then track the owner of the photo and get the nod.

What Is The Public Domain?

All those images, slogans, quotes, graphics that you see on the public domain can be used for your tshirt designs without any worries.

But what exactly is the public domain? Well, the domain has creative material that is no longer protected under any copyright law, and you can use it without taking permission.

Such content on the public domain is usually donated content, or it is forfeited, or its copyright has expired. So anything that you find useful in the domain, feel free to use it.

However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a content on the public domain for free use will not come under copyright laws in the future.

While chances of it coming under copyright are fewer, still you need to check if someone had acquired its copyrights before you borrowed one such design or any other material.

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How To Check Material For Copyright

You should be aware of the ways to check if a material that you want to take has already been secured under copyright laws.

To do that, first, find out if the content you want to use as one of the t-shirt design ideas is using the © symbol. This is the copyright symbol. You will find it in fine letters somewhere at the bottom of a picture or any other material.

If you see a watermark, then it is copyrighted material, and you should avoid using it.

Many owners clearly mention the note of ownership, which you should look around in the content.

If you are not sure about a material’s copyright, the best way to ensure it is to visit the copyright office. You can also browse through copyright files. You can also perform a reverse image search online to find out its source.

What If Someone Copied Your Design?

In case someone has infringed your copyrights, you can take legal action against the offender. You should take three main steps.

First, make sure that you have registered your original work so that you can file an infringement lawsuit. Once that is in place, and if someone has copied your design, then file an infringement suit against the infringer.

Secondly, get a temporary restraining order. It is a less costly option. You should file a motion to get the order, which is a legal vehicle to halt any production, distribution, and selling of your original design work.

Thirdly, if you are a cash-strapped small business, you should consider approaching a law school faculty that works closely with law students who assist entrepreneurs. Many law schools in the US offer free legal counsel to small businesses.

So, these are the basic rules that you should follow when using an image, content, graphic, and such materials for your t-shirt design and business. Make sure that you have considered all aspects of copyrights regarding your business to avoid any legal issues.

You can safely put your design work at PrintShop with your copyrights. The site is owned by Designhill, which is a leading creative marketplace. But make sure that you adhere to the copyright laws when creating your design works and putting them on this site as part of your profile.

Wrapping Up

When you create a t-shirt design or run your own design business to sell shirts, check that you do not infringe anyone’s copyrights. It is better to double-check your design works to ensure that they adhere to the copyright laws than to face some unpleasant legal issues. While many images, symbols, and material you can safely incorporate in your design, not all other materials are available to designers without permission.

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Alice Jackson is a business consultant, blogger, social media enthusiast, online market analyst, amateur designer and an avid author at Designhill. She has written on several topics including social media marketing, SEO, content marketing, startup strategies and e-commerce. When she’s not writing, she loves spending her time reading romantic novels, Connect with her on Twitter: @jackson_alice1



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