Printing T-Shirts Using Images of Film Characters

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  • Hi there I was wondering if someone could help out, I am thinking of joining up with a friend to print a few t-shirts and sell them on ebay for a bit of cash which have images on them relating to films and other stuff.

    My question is that if say I did a T-shirt that had on it a print that looks like a character from a film (say marv from sin city for example) but so that I had drawn the image using my own style different to that of the films, would that be an infringment of copyright or trademarks?

    Here are two links to t-shirts that display what i'm looking into doing:

    The first is like the orginal film image but just a block outline

    The second has less detail but still looks like the film it is trying to portray

    I hope someone can help, i know that you might not be able to give me a difinitive answer but anything close to one is good :D

  • We've had several questions on the forum relating to selling t-shirts that feature copyrighted images or text. You might search the forum using "t-shirt* OR tshirt*" as a search string.

    I'm a librarian, not a lawyer, so you're correct in assuming I can't give you a definitive answer. But I do feel reasonably certain about my response, FWIW.

    Reproducing and displaying a copyrighted image (such as a still from a motion picture) without the owner's authorization is copyright infringement, unless it's covered by fair use or another limitiation on copyright. And I don't believe the modifications made to the image, if they are similar to the Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs examples you've provided links to, are enough to qualify as new, original images. I suspect this company licensed the use of these images, and if they didn't, I wouldn't be surprised if Quentin Tarantino's lawyers (or his studios) came calling soon.

    In your case, I believe fair use is the only copyright limitation that might apply, but I don't think your use qualifies as fair use.

    The purpose is commercial, for-profit.
    The nature of the work is highly creative -- a motion picture (and, before that, a graphic novel).
    The amount is just a still from the film, so this is the one factor that I could possibly see counting in your favor.
    The market effect is adverse, since your t-shirt could replace the sale of another t-shirt that has been licensed by the copyright owner.

    I believe you'd have to license the use of the image from the copyright owner for your intended purpose.
  • I also think the use is risky. Besides copyright, you have trademark and publicity issues as well.
  • Thanks that's helped a lot, I just wish the publishing company for Sin City were as helpfull, they don't even have an e-mail address to get into contact at all to ask about how much this would cost.... though i'm guessing at a substantial amount of money.

    Back to the drawing board now I guess :)

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