Generally, a trademark is a symbol, a design or logo of some kind, a slogan, a device, a musical jingle, or even a trade name like Frank Finkelstein’s Fabulous Falafel, which can uniquely distinguish your goods or services from all similar goods or services available in the market place.
The life of a trademark begins with a great idea for a mark or device that can absolutely singularize your product or service from all other competitors out there.
But that is only the starting point.
The odyssey for securing a trade identity really begins when the company needs to meet the challenge of doing all the things necessary to hold on tight to that very unique, differentiating and identifying mark and formally keep the mark for use as its very own.
It seems like every time you meet up with friends you are greeted with the news that one of them is releasing of some sort of book.
And it each time it happens your thoughts are pulled to that garret space about the garage where you have spent almost the last decade working on the next great American novel.
Lately you’ve been noticing that the neighbors keep checking up on you when they see the lights still on at three in the morning.
It’s probably to make sure you haven’t inadvertently left that old car running again with an oily rag or something stuffed in its exhaust pipe.
You’ve edited your creation again and again and then you edited it just once or maybe twice more in case you might have missed something somewhere.
You’ve researched every historical reference for accuracy, followed every story line to a resolution, assured story continuity with each character’s motivation leading to the achievement of a goal and allowed for a surprising and satisfying resolution of all of the conflicts including one or two of emotional epiphanies.
You figure your family will never recognize themselves in characters which they have inspired and even if they do you’ve prepared a response involving a convenient accusation that they are nursing some sort of narcissistic personality disorder.
You’ve never been more ready. You’re afraid of nothing and nobody. And then, a cold chill runs down your spine as you remember that you still have no literary agent and no publisher.
Your awareness switches focus to the coyotes howling under the summer moonlight and that bottomless pit in your stomach starts to churn and roll with horror as you recognize the fact that as of this moment you are just another unknown and unpublished genius.
Protecting an Unpublished Work
You comfort yourself with thoughts of how your literary hero, James Joyce, got countless rejection letters from publishers all over the world who couldn’t relate to the potential marketability of Ulysses.
The manuscript alone must have weighed three hundred pounds. Can you imagine the “synopsis letter” for that one?
And it is true that the first publishers of Ulysses were arrested and fined for their trouble. Mais avoir le courage, Aloysius, surely your work of art will inspire a far more warm and friendly reception. Right? It will, won’t it?
With the increased ability to share creative ideas and art, graphic designers everywhere are finding more lucrative opportunities to profit from their work.
T-shirt designing is a fashionable possibility but very little has been published to give guidance to the budding artists who are providing the designs that make today’s t-shirts so popular.
As the industry flourishes, copyright challenges and questions seem to grow almost as quickly.
Copyright ownership lines are often blurred and it’s a challenge to keep up with the laws and understand who owns what and who can do what to whom! The maze of legal issues can be overwhelming and distract you from what’s really important – selling your work for profit.
Therefore, if you really want to monetize your graphic design work in the t-shirt world, you’ve got to know your legal rights and understand the copyright laws surrounding this industry. That way you can move forward knowing that your work is being distributed in a way that you’re comfortable with, without the stress of wondering if you’re losing money or control over your designs.
What is Copyright?
Before I go any further, let’s start with a basic definition of ‘copyright’ and what it means to t-shirt designers.
Copyright is the ownership over a piece of work or art and the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, commercially exploit, and otherwise profit from it.
So, for those of you designing art for t-shirts and other products, copyright generally refers to ownership and control over the art and designs you’re creating for third parties and their products.
The #1 Question T-Shirt Designers Ask Is . . .
Over and over we hear, ‘When my work is printed on a t-shirt, who owns the copyrights?’
Modern America has an acute and widespread fascination with newness.
New things have a charm that we simply cannot resist and bring with them a unique sense of satisfaction and prestige, however fleeting, in plentiful supply.
Fueling this phenomena is the consistent and prolific advancement of technology.
In almost every area of human life and capacity, 21st-century technology has given us a life of conveniences and abundance our predecessors only dreamed of – and it shows no signs of slowing up.
Then, there is the law, whose developmental pace is notoriously not so similar.
As technology hurtles forward at warp speed, our laws hustle to maintain many precarious and traditional balances.
Particularly, copyright law, and it’s unique cost/ benefits rationale, is routinely challenged as technological advancements continue to revolutionize an ever-evolving cultural climate thriving on newness.
1. Digital Property and Mobile Technology
The most familiar notch on the newness timeline is increasingly prevalent – and increasingly mobile – digital property.
This category of new technology can be defined as electronically stored copyrightable works – words, photos, music and performance art – digitized and frequently transferred, copied and shared across the airwaves.
Artists are incredibly creative and brilliantly innovative people.
They can pull ideas and forms out of the nether world and translate their insights into the material world with expertise through their respective medium and talent.
Their music fills our concert halls, their visual innovations greet us every day on everything from soup cans to ads on the Internet and authors of every genre help us to learn and grow by sculpting words into a content that informs and inspires.
Why would they need copyright protection?
Why do jewelers lock up their diamonds inside their own shop? Obviously, it is because valuable things get stolen.
A copyright is a sort of “locked jewel case” that federal law provides for authors to protect their “intangible jewels” or their legal rights in the original works of art they create. “
Creative agencies are increasingly shrinking the number of in-house or staff creatives and opting to rely on freelancers to perform a multitude of tasks from pitching ideas to sustaining an advertising campaign.
The sluggish economy has stressed many agencies causing those employers to suffer difficulties in covering the cost of maintaining staff employees.
It costs a lot these days to maintain a regular employee on staff (payroll taxes, healthcare, insurance, etc.).
Outsourcing of Freelance Work on the Rise
Some employers hoping to pinch a few nickels have turned to hiring freelancers and specifically designating them workers under agreement or “independent contractors” to function as part-time, intermittent and offsite workers that in truth provide the majority of the agency’s day to day creative needs.
Unfortunately, these employers wrongly conclude that simply claiming an employee is an independent contractor even if he is supplying regular, ongoing and predictable company tasks will relieve an employer of his responsibilities to State and federal taxation authorities.
It will not, and worse, this action could be considered intentional tax fraud.
If they could only see and hear the state and federal agency tax-collecting accountants slowly pursing their lemon-sucking lips into a shape that only slightly resembles a smile. “Penny wise and pound foolish,” they’d sneer in response, “Do these people think we were born yesterday on what? Audit that company.”
Copyright Ownership & Transfer, Employees and Independent Contractors