Thursday, May 28, 2009

Intellectual Property Rights

Here's a great article by Amber Hooper from Etsy that covers copyright infringement. Below is the re-posted entry from her blog:


Bright and early this morning, I saw a well known product image that had been transfered on to a handmade product. I know this to be an extremely well protected logo & image, and if it were reported to the company who owns the image, the seller would definately get a cease & desist. (I find it ironic my awareness of that information is related to my husband's hobbies.)

It never ceases to amaze me how blatantly people will use a protected image for their own gain, and that is specifically what intellectual property rights and copyright laws were written to protect. I'm frequently on handmade sites, and I very often see use of copyright imagery in products that were clearly not made or sold by the holder of the copyright. I realize that it is possible to purchase rights to use a copy-written image, but I also realize how unlikely it is that many or most of these sellers have done so.

Intellectual property rights refers to the common sense idea that if someone creates something from their own mind, in a tangible medium, it belongs to them. If you didn't create it yourself it should be common sense that it is not yours to use. I am shocked at the lack of common sense I see, with products on handmade sites that have images of Gir, Pooh, celebrity photos, television and movie stills, etc!

(FYI: tangible includes electronic files saved to any type of hard drive, flash drive, or disk)

This is a sensitive subject for me, that is probably because I've had my artwork stolen before. Lucky for me, the instance I discovered was not being used for products. It was apparently to impress this person's friends by insinuating my (and other artists) drawings were this person's own art. Annoying as that is, its not financial gain. The idea that someone would take my art, place it on a product and sell it is infuriating to me. It's difficult enough for me to do so, why should anyone else benefit from my hard work?

Major companies spend millions each year in advertising, to get their products out to the masses. They use their logos and symbols to represent their company, and paid a lot to have these things designed and make them as recognizable as they are. They did not do all of this so someone can "hand make" something by slapping that logo on a product and then turn around and sell it. The product would not sell without the recognizable intellectual property of the major company, so the hand maker would not have had that sale without their illegal use of that image.

That is stealing. Producing anything with someone else's image, without their permission, is stealing. The internet has made this an epidemic, because it is SO easy to get access to these images and to sell them to a huge venue. The average consumer doesn't know that they are purchasing an item featuring stolen goods.

Here is where it gets tricky. If you take a photograph of a recognizable and copy-written (or trademarked) item, you own the rights to the photograph. You do not, however, have the right to sell that image for money or use it for profit in any way, because it infringes on the rights owned over the object/image/slogan that has been photographed. That means if you take a picture of a three window Ford hot rod at a show, you cannot sell that image. You would have to get permission from Ford first!

There is some debate whether the logo has to be the focus of the image for it to be in violation of copyright. It does not, and by rights it should be blurred if its present. We know that most companies will not go after everyone who happens to snap a shot with their billboard in the background. However, if you take a photo of a Coke can and then sell the photo or a product with the photo on it; Coke has the right to come after you for it. Even photographs of toys or certain commercially made products fall under this as well.

A good general guideline: If the item or image in the photo is recognizable by a lay person, it is subject to copyright law.

Below is a link to's list of what contributing photographers cannot include in photos they submit. It is a fantastic reference when trying to determine if something is out of bounds, because if it is not OK for stock photos, it is probably not OK to make a product from it! Copyright & Protected Items Training

One more note. I have also seen some confusion about copyright expiration. Here is a summary of this subject:

"Because of legislation passed in 1998, no new works will fall into the public domain until 2019 when works published in 1923 will expire. In 2020, works published in 1924 will expire and so forth. If a work was written by a single author and published after 1977, the copyright will not expire until 70 years after the author's death. If a work was written by several authors and published after 1977, it will not expire until 70 years after the last surviving author dies."

(source Copyright & Fair Use; Stanford University Libraries)

Please do share this information; it is really important that everyone be educated on this subject!! You have my explicit permission to link to / repost / copy / re-publish this article with the singular requirement that you credit me (Amber Hooper) and link back to my blog. (