You can’t use artwork on stickers or decals without permission. Any reproduction of someone else’s intellectual property is considered a violation. Unless you own the content, you must get permission to use it in order to avoid copyright infringement.
The best way to avoid copyright infringement on stickers and decals is to find out who the owner is, contact the owner, and get your permission to use the work in writing.
How do so many sellers get away with selling copyrighted vinyl decals?
Many sellers get away with selling copyrighted vinyl decals because they haven’t been caught yet. Many sites that are online marketplaces (like Etsy, eBay, etc) claim to take intellectual property rights very seriously. Here is an excerpt from Etsy’s Intellectual Property Policy:
“Etsy can’t speak on behalf of intellectual property owners, nor is Etsy in a position to offer legal advice or make legal determinations whether a shop’s content infringes someone else’s intellectual property. Etsy will remove material cited for alleged intellectual property infringement when provided with a proper notice.”
These sellers can get away with selling copyright vinyl decals and stickers because it’s a slow process to prosecute violators to the extent of the law. Online marketplaces cannot remove products without due process, which takes time.
Just because it seems like many sellers get away with selling copyrighted vinyl decals and stickers, it doesn’t mean they do. Online marketplaces don’t advertise how many products or sellers they remove due to copyright infringement violations.
How to make stickers and avoid copyright infringement?
It’s always a bad idea to make stickers without proper licensing from the owner of the artwork. If you try to infringe many brands will come down hard on violators. It could destroy your business and cause financial hardship.
The only way to make stickers and avoid copyright infringement is to:
- Get permission from the owner or creator of the copyrighted work, or
- Make sure it carries an open license such as a Creative Commons license, or
- Verify that it’s public domain, or
- You create the original artwork
How do companies print vinyl decals without infringing on copyright laws?
Companies can print vinyl decals without infringing on copyright laws by getting permission from the creator or owner to use their work.
Well-known franchise movie characters, like RoboCop, Rambo, Snake Plisskin, and Superman are protected by copyright law because of the copyright in the screenplay, script and film, but only to the extent of creative expression.
Companies can print vinyl decals and stickers of stock characters without worrying about copyright law. Consequently, if you print a gun-toting cyborg sticker, it won’t be considered copyright infringement of RoboCop until that cyborg looks like RoboCop.
Also, if you only print the names of famous characters, they don’t enjoy the same level of copyright protection. So just printing the name of a character won’t be copyright infringement. However, character names can be trademarked if a product was named after the copyright character.
Can I get sued for selling copyrighted vinyl decals or stickers?
You can get sued for selling copyrighted decals or stickers, even if you are in the right. The simple fact of life is you can’t stop someone from suing you.
How do I copyright my sticker idea?
You can protect your sticker idea. For example, if you create original graphics and phrases for decals and stickers, your work is protected by U.S. copyright laws.
As soon as you create the work, it is protected, and you are free to use the “C” symbol without registering your work. Officially registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is inexpensive.
In many cases, with stickers, legal action would never be worthwhile. You could just add the “C” symbol on the original material to discourage copying, and it’s free. It would be best to research online to determine how original your idea is and not infringe on someone else.
If you use an original graphic, logo, or phrase integral to your decal or sticker printing business, you should consider trademark protection. You can find basic trademark information, forms, and answers to your questions on trademarks and copyrights at: www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm
Is it copyright infringement to print that decal or sticker?
It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to copyright infringement. If you err on the side of caution regarding copyright, you are less likely to get in trouble when printing decals or stickers.
Before you print anything, assume that the artwork is subject to copyright.
Here are some things you can do before printing stickers or decals to make sure you’re not breaking the law:
- Never use copyrighted or trademarked materials. This is a no-brainer. If you don’t have a license, don’t use trademarks or material that’s copyrighted.
- Check copyright and trademark records before using the artwork on decals or stickers. If you’re unsure about whether artwork has been registered as a trademark or is copyrighted, check the U.S. Copyright Records and the USPTO’s trademark database.
- To be on the safe side, use artwork from the public domain or create original designs. Consult an Intellectual Property attorney if you’re unsure if your idea complies with copyright or trademark law. After all, it’s their expertise.
- Don’t use any artwork without permission from the owner. Make sure you get it in writing from the creator to use the copyrighted material or trademark.
- Hire an attorney to help you with copyright and trademark issues. A copyright or trademark legal professional is your best resource for figuring out how to protect yourself from potential copyright lawsuits.
Is it a copyright infringement to offer and place a decal free of charge on an item after you have sold it?
It is copyright infringement if you don’t have a license to use the work. So, for example, if you place corporate logos or famous characters, think Universal Studios, Amazon, Apple, Netflix or Disney, then you could find yourself in the middle of a copyright violation if the owners of those marks find out.
In other words, you can’t sell a kitchen cabinet for $5000 and include a “free” LA Lakers decal. This business practice is sometimes referred to as “passing off,” and it’s just another form of trademark infringement.
If the decals are public domain, you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement problems. But if you are using famous marks, you could receive a letter from a corporate attorney one day. So it is safer for you to let your customers find their own decals. You could also advise your customers where they could find decals or stickers.
Can I make and sell decals of NFL logos?
You can’t make and sell decals of NFL logos. The only way to legally make and sell NFL logos is to get permission. NFL teams license their intellectual property to companies for use. But for small businesses, it would be difficult if not impossible to get a licensing deal with the NFL.
If you make and sell decals of NFL teams, you will be sued by the NFL and the NFL teams. You don’t have the right to make money off their logo.
Even if you would make slight changes to the NFL logos, you would still be in copyright violation.
Can I make custom vinyl decals of a sports team logo and sell them to someone to put on their car?
It’s illegal to make custom vinyl decals of any sports team logo and sell them to people to put on their cars. Likewise, you can’t legally sell unauthorized decals whether or not to put on a car. So if you do, expect to get stopped or sued. And if you are sued, expect to lose.
A possible exception might be a local school team, but even a school could come after you for illegally using their decal. When in doubt, remember, your commercial use of any sports team’s logo without a license agreement is an infringement of that copyright.
Can I sell officially licensed decals along with my product for the customer to add to the product?
It’s illegal to resell a product that uses an officially licensed decal without proper licensing agreements.
Are the decals you are selling licensed to be sold with your product?
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