Original art depicting famous historical figures on a shirt

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  • Hello--happy to have found this forum.

    I did search under "shirts/t-shirts" before posting but did not find an answer so I'd highly appreciate advice/feedback from the experts.

    I'm starting an apparel line & have registered the business name.

    1) Before I contract a lawyer to copyright the brand name & slogan, I first have to sell the products, correct? If so, should I place "TM" beside the logo & slogan when they are printed on the apparel?

    2) The shirts will have an original graphic design drawing of a famous icon. Ex. Neil Armstrong. It's purely depiction & highly stylized, almost cartoonish & NOT copied from any photo or other artwork. The design itself contains the name "Armstrong" & will be screen printed on the shirt.

    Am I safe to proceed with screen print production in case?

    Thanks for your time!

  • Hello Joanne,

    Your interesting posting seems to contain multiple questions that touch on various legal matters, including but not limited to copyright. This forum is specifically dedicated to copyright -- we are not equipped or qualified to address questions outside the scope of copyright.

    Your first question is related to Trademark law, which is governed by different statutes and cases than copyright law. A helpful starting point to learn about Trademark law is the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/.

    Your second question does seem to have a copyright component, and it sounds like you are asking if an orginal design created by or for your company can be legally reproduced on shirts and sold to the public. The answer to this part of the question would be yes, as long as you or your company is the copyright owner of the original design in question. If you contracted with an artist to make the original graphic for your use, you need to be sure that your agreement with that artist specified that you -- not the artist -- retains the copyright in that graphic. If the artist did retain the copyright in the graphic work, then your company would need to license the rights to reproduce the art work on the shirts.

    With respect to Neil Armstrong's face and name appearing within the graphic design, these matters are outside the scope of copyright. Public use of someone's likeness is subject to publicity (and possibly privacy) laws. The following website from Cornell's Legal Information Institute may provide some helpful information about publicity and privacy, respectively: http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/Publicity ; http://topics.law.cornell.edu/find/wex/privacy

    It is pretty common for people to conflate various areas of Intellectual Property (copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, publicity etc.) but in fact each is distinct and governed by separate laws. Some are federal only, some are state only, and some are both federal and state. That circumstance sure makes life more complicated for folks like you, and this is why it might make sense to consult with a qualified attorney licensed to practice in your state.
  • G Clement: Thank you so much for the comprehensive advice. I will look into the articles you provided. Much appreciated!

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