Counterfeit t-shirts, illegal use of trademarks, infringing copyright

Forgery: Among the musicians to have their logos used illegally were rock bands Nirvana and Motorhead, pop acts Justin Bieber and One Direction, and fashion label Obey (pictured)

Stephen Amblet, defending Joanne Geddes, who used to work in a bank, said that the pair had been naive.  He added: ‘This business pays tax and is registered for VAT.  ‘The problem is that she did not know she was doing anything wrong or she would have checked.’

Before we start, a huge important point, I am not a lawyer. My knowledge of law is limited to watching reruns of Rumpold of the Bailey. If you want legal advice please, please, please go to a lawyer. OK now let’s carry on.

The problem

One of the big things to remember in life is that in the eyes of the law ignorance is no defence.  As the defendants in this story found out, being naive and not knowing anything is wrong won’t stop the law coming after you. Holders of these copyrights/trademarks will often go after the smallest infringement because if they don’t they are seen not to be protecting their copyright. So even just one t-short could get you in big, big trouble. If it comes to a legal battle between you and Nike I suspect they might just have more money for legal fees than you do.

If you or a client of yours want to print a trademarked logo on a T-shirt then you must get permission from the holder of that trademark. If your client asks you to print a batch of garments with a trademarked logo because they are sponsoring an event and says he can’t get anyone to print it, there is a reason. Most reputable T-shirt companies will insist that you prove permission to use logos before printing them for you.  It is up to the client to get the sponsor to give written permission

Just to scare you a bit more have a look at this long list of cases Please don’t add your name to this list.

Of course there are more unscrupulous printers like these people

Detective Sergeant Kevin Kirton, who led the investigation, said: ‘Today’s operation has shown once again that PIPCU will come down hard on anyone we suspect of being involved in the production and distribution of digital or hard counterfeit goods. It is vitally important for businesses that they can trade in the UK in a market place that is a fair and level playing field for all.

What you should do?

However there is some good news, should you find something that goes viral in popular culture which NOT trademarked then you can use it  An example would be the ‘Je suis Charlie’ slogan. So how do you check.

Look for an identifying mark or name on the logo in question. If an image or design for a logo is copyrighted but not trademarked, it may contain a phrase that contains the word “copyright” followed by the year of copyright and the name of the copyright holder. It may also include a copyright symbol — © — and the date of copyright followed by the name of the copyright holder.

Look for the registered trademark ® symbol to determine whether a logo is trademarked. While the images used in a logo may be copyrighted by an artist, most companies register a logo as a trademark rather than a copyright. In most instances, you will be looking for trademark ownership and not copyright, as is the case with McDonald’s and the golden arch logo. The name of the company that owns the trademark for a logo will be included with the registered trademark symbol.

Then you have find the owner and get permission if you want to use that image. Good luck with that!

There is a very good essay on Wikipedia about the entire issue as it relates to Wikipedia which although not screen printing related includes a very comprehensive description of of trademark v copyright.

Copyright versus trademark

Ownership interests in an image come in a variety of legal forms, the two most basic of which are copyright and trademark rights. When people speak of “owning” an image, they most often mean that they own the copyright. Generally speaking, copyright protection is pretty broad, and it prohibits sale, use, manipulation, or even copying of someone else’s work (hence the name). Copyright standards differ from country to country.[1] For purposes of Wikipedia, U.S. copyright law governs (although Wikipedia attempts to respect all foreign copyright laws where possible; see WP:Copyright). Any created image, whether it is a picture, a logo, or an artistic design can be subject to a copyright. Although there are Administrative ways to formally register a copyright (in the United States, this is done with the Library of Congress), copyright protection does not require this, and creative works are granted copyright protection from the time they are created.

Trademark rights are different, although related. Generally speaking, a trademark is an image or logo[2] that identifies a business, product line, school, or some other venture. Normally trademarks apply to logos that identify the venture, rather than artistic works such as pictures. Although third parties can still use a trademarked image, the way they can use the image is restricted by trademark law. Most basically, if a logo is used to identify a business/organization/product, then you are not allowed to use that logo to identify or refer to another business/organization/product.