Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Copyright issues and Zazzle content guidelines

Is my artwork/design infringing any copyrights? If you are asking yourself that, the answer is probably yes. Well, actually, copyright laws are vague and even if you are familiar with them, your interpretation might be different from that of the other party. So after having wasted some time on designs which turned out to be unusable due to copyright claims, I am now going only with "safe" designs. Here are some quick guidelines: 1. Typefaces are not subject to copyright; fonts (the software used to write with a particular typeface), however, are. Logos can be copyrighted too. So selling a t-shirt with this image:

would be illegal. But this would be OK:

2. Quotes are not subject to copyright, or at least partial quotes. You can't copyright a short phrase like "Baby, I love you", but you can copyright the lyrics to a whole song. The line between a "general" and a "distinctive" quote is vague, I guess, but overall short phrases are OK to use. That's why they couldn't copyright the "Keep Calm and Carry On" phrase, for example. 3. Movie titles and character names are also somewhat vague. Titles are generally not subject to copyright and you can't hold the rights for the name John, of course, but you can't name your dragon Smaug, that's already taken. That's why I had to remove any references to The Hobbit, Smaug and Tolkien from the description of this design:

So it became simply a random dragon. 4. Parody is apparently protected by fair use. But parody as in "criticism on the original subject", and not parody as in "something funny". That's way this design of mine was taken down by Zazzle:

Zazzle received a complaint from the copyright holder and simply notified me that they are taking it down. There wasn't much I could do. I thought this counts either as parody, or is original enough to be considered a separate work of art (I hadn't used any parts of the original "Get Lucky" cover design, I started from scratch, using the image only as reference). But that wasn't the case, or at least I wasn't willing to waste time arguing. At any rate, even if you use a photo/image only as reference, if it's close enough to the original, you can get sued. That's why the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the guy that made the Obama Hope poster:

(Eventually they settled the thing out of court.) And that's why I can't use this design:

(Originally I couldn't find the copyright holder, but I was conscientious and looked deeper and find out that the photo was taken by John Wyatt. I don't know if this is the writer John Wyatt (1925–2006), but even so, there is still someone holding the rights. (Usually 70 years have to pass since the author's death before the work of art gets into the public domain.) Theoretically, I could find the copyright holder and reach an agreement with him (some people would let you use their work for free, if it is for non-commercial use, but for commercial purposes you'd usually have to pay royalties), but I don't think the wasted time and efforts would be worth it. 5. Depicting celebrities is also illegal. That's why I decided to go for a "stickman" Steve Buscemi in this design, and not for an actual silhouette portrait.

Due to Zazzle's content guidelines, I also had to remove the text below the quote, which said "Mr. Pink". Because Zazzle's guidelines are even stricter. You can find the full list here. The first point, which refers to copyright, is, once again, not very clear. - No text or images that infringe on any intellectual property rights including, but not limited to copyrights, trademarks and rights of privacy/publicity. It is nearly impossible to get a proper explanation out of the support team and my experience with them has been almost as frustrating as this guy's experience with Apple's Genius Bar. Basically what they say (if they say anything at all) is usually this:
Generally speaking, we are unable to carry products containing a copyright or trademark protected title, name, or image. Examples of infringing material include: --pictures and/or names of celebrities --names of characters from books, films, or television shows --titles of books, feature films, television shows, or magazines --images from films, television shows, video games, or the internet
And this doesn't apply only to the design itself, but also to the title, description and tags of the product. That's about it. I hope this might save you some time and troubles. PS Here's a tip - if you use Zazzle's "Quick create" tool to create a batch of products, they are going to be examined carefully and there is a greater chance that they will get rejected. If you create a single product, it gets published directly and while it may get rejected subsequently, this doesn't happen as often. I am not talking only about designs that are in the "grey area" of copyright, I don't condone cheating the system. But designs might get rejected due to other reasons as well, for example tag spam. I had a single product accepted, and then a batch of products with the same design and tags rejected, because of tag spam. (Even though the tags I used were all related to the design.)

PPS If you like the "Get Lucky" design, you can download the hi-res, 300ppi png file (with transparent background and without the StrayCat Graphics logo) here for free and print it at a local shop or whatever you like.

PPPS You can also download the Tolkien design for free here (12" x 12", 300 ppi, transparent background).

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