Today I want to express to you guys how important it is to know the legal rights your business has. I know we hear the words, “law, legal, trademark, copyright” and some of us just freeze in fear. Thinking it’s too complicated for us average Joe’s to understand. However, understanding your rights as a business owner is going to be the difference between you being successful or your being bullied into thinking you’re doing something wrong.
I know many of you create your own designs sometimes and don’t always use HoopMama. (Shocking to some of you, I know, hehe… kidding.) But I wanted to share with you what I’ve been dealing with on my end and hopefully provide some encouragement if you guys face anything like this in your future.
Designs ARE copyrighted the moment they are created. No registration is *required* unless you’re ready to move forward with filing suit. But for someone to infringe on a copyright, the person’s design must mimic the original enough to cause confusion to someone looking at both. However, there are designs that can’t fall into copyright protection because there must also be an element of creativity in the design that makes it not easily copied.
In other words, if you take Arial font, and type out “I love my socks” and put it on a shirt, there is nothing to protect in this "design" because anyone can use Arial font and type out some words. But, if you hand draw a sock image, use 4 different commercial fonts or handwriting, have a custom layout that provides creativity…. you are more likely to have some protection around it if someone were to copy.
BUT, if someone ALSO creates a custom design around those words, that does not replicate yours, it is not infringement. That’s just time to know your idea was a good one, pour a glass of wine (or drink of choice) and market your item the best you can.
Here’s the part that might sting a bit. It always does to me. You may be the first person to put “My crafting brings all the sales to the yard” on a shirt, but the phrase does not, in any way *belong* to you. You may hate seeing people use it, but unless you go the route of trademarking and making that phrase your branding, anyone can use those words. ANNNNYONE. Even Competition Catherine. Sorry. I know that bites. But… that’s why you just keep moving and growing onto the next thing. Stay a step ahead and they’ll always be behind you.
Attorney Joey Vitale, of Indie Law, has a lot of information on the difference in copyright and trademarking if you would like to explore the details of this further.
In general, though, you do want to avoid copying artwork and designs directly. This happens to me a lot. Someone sees my design on a shirt, they don’t know they can purchase the design (or decide they don’t want to) and therefore, they copy it or even trace it. That is infringing and is illegal. I’m not the only one this happens to. It happens to probably most designers. If you’ve done this yourself without knowing it’s illegal, now you know.
You also need to keep in mind that brands of ANY SORT are protected, and you want to run run run… runnnnnnn run from using them. Disney, NFL, MLB, YouTube, Oreos, and phrases like "Onesie," "Koozie," “Dilly Dilly,” etc… If it’s a brand… DON’T TOUCH THEM.
Non-trademarked phrases are fair game. Do NOT be bullied by someone saying that they licked it so it’s theirs. Obviously, that doesn’t mean go follow your favorite designer and just copy all their phrases and do your own versions. That’ll just create some muddy water between you and that designer and that’s not worth it. But using the same phrase as someone else is not illegal. Copying the design is illegal. Using the phrase in an original design, is not.
Most IP (intellectual property) attorneys who will do a free call with you to explore these topics further for a specific situation. That’s as simple as a Google search to find one in your area, picking up the phone, and not being scared of saying "ummm" and "soooo like....wait" in your efforts to understand.
Or, as I mentioned earlier, Joey Vitale is another fabulous resource and his focus is geared towards creative entrepreneurs like us. His website is www.indielaw.com and I STRONGLY suggest you dive in and learn your legal rights as a business owner.
Do NOT be bullied. Do NOT cower. Educate yourself so you can be prepared for if and when someone tries to tear you down.