Copyright Infringement: the Dos and Don'ts of Fair Use
In creating apparel for ultimate, we are lucky to work with a talented and creative community. When we first offered sublimation to ultimate teams back in 2001, we launched a new era for jersey design in our sport. Now, over 20 years later, inspired designers continue to submit incredibly creative and artistic works!
There is one catch, however: often, teams’ ideas contain design elements that we can’t include, recreate, or reproduce due to copyright law. It's very easy to see something you like and want it reproduced on your custom apparel, but multiple laws and policies can stand in the way.
Considering Fair Use for your Jersey Design
In its most general sense, Fair Use is "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and transformative purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work." As teams like to parody other works, keep in mind that the key word here is transformative - it's not enough to just change a colour or rearrange some elements; it must be transformed into a new work of art.
A common myth is that you can copy something as long as you change 30% of it; unfortunately this is false. Courts look at the similarities between the works in context; not at how much was changed.
We know this is a lot to take in! To make it easier for you, we've compiled a list of Dos and Don'ts to help with your design process.
Do's & Don'ts of Copyright Law and Fair Use
- Do send us examples of art and images that you like. Our graphic designers may not be able to copy them exactly, but they can be used as a starting point to help us know what you're looking for. We can then hopefully capture the essence of the works and create something new for you!
Jerseys inspired by professional sport teams' designs are both popular and completely OK!
- Do reference the material without using copyrighted characters or images, or draw from a wide variety of inspirations to create something new.
Wicked's uniforms inspired by the Broadway play.
- Do reach out to artists and institutions for permission. Emerging artists especially may be willing to give you written permission for use of a work of art, or a company may appreciate the free publicity from using their logo. A written copyright release is necessary!
Anchor, a Canadian ultimate team, reached out to Saltwreck about using their anchor silhouette in their design and ended up with a sponsor!
Do make use of the Public Domain - works whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. It may take some research, but one great resource is the National Gallery of Art which offers free downloads of art in the public domain.
Do make use of royalty-free stock and/or vector images from sites such as PublicDomainVectors.org or Pixabay,com.
Do reference brand guidelines whenever available. A branding guide contains rules on correct usage of logos, colours, fonts, etc. If you have a sponsor, ask if one’s available. If your team is representing a learning institution, they are often available on their website if you google it (ex. ‘Carleton University brand standards’). Note that all information found in branding guides must be followed; there could be implications for your team if not.
- When in doubt, always err on the side of caution.
- Don't assume that content found on the internet can be freely used or copied. Finding it on Google doesn’t mean you can use it! Examples of copyrighted material include cartoon characters, corporate logos, school mascots, college names (i.e. "University of Michigan"), and even the term "frisbee"!
- Don’t send us a watermarked stock image as a ‘must-use’ unless you’re ready to purchase the usage rights from the stock website (this must be done by you prior to production – and please ensure the image purchased is of suitable size, resolution and features the appropriate license for reproduction). We are happy to search our resources for a fair-use similar image!
- Don't ignore or try to bend the rules. If you didn't make it yourself, you most likely need permission to use it. It's not just a SOTG thing - there could be serious legal implications for our company and your team. As a creator, how would you feel if your work was stolen?
- Don't give up! Yes, we know this can be tricky but we’re here to help! The original (and legal!) design we create together will result in a truly unique jersey!
Note: We often get asked to copy other sports’ uniforms when it comes to design elements (stripes, colours, logo position, fonts, etc). This is acceptable as long as no copyrighted logos are transferred to your design.
Molly Brown's 2019 lights were inspired by the USWNT soccer jerseys.
VC offers complimentary design services for teams ordering custom apparel!Let's Talk!