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Discussion Starter #1
So... yeah. Another company is asking us to stop using one of our best-selling designs, claiming it is their copyright from 1994. The designs do certainly have some similarities, though I've never seen their version until today. We even looked around online before me made our version several years ago to see if we could find anything similar and we didn't :p

Here's their design:


And here's ours:



Not entirely sure what the best route to take here is. I imagine we'll probably try calling them up and talking to them about it first, explaining that we made our design from scratch and have never seen theirs before. Other than that... hmm :/
 

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Wow that is similar, I would say if its a really good seller I would at least talk to an attorney and see what they think. I am not sure on this as the concept is so similar. I would definitely try talking to them first. Second step if they are determined is talking to an intellectual property attorney. Sorry I cant be more positive, but this one is kinda middle of the road :) Plus the fact that I'm not a lawyer haha. How did they contact you? Did they send you a cease and desist?
 

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Speaking as a designer myself, sorry but those are two totally different designs.

They are significantly different from each other and I'd be inclined to make the other company aware of that very fact.
 

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1994 eh? Well, neither of you came up with the idea first (which is fine). Maybe start looking for the antecedents in case they're relevant evidence later. Sound them out if you think you can be tight lipped, but you might want to consider getting a lawyer before talking to them. You don't want to accidentally do anything that could later bite you. Partly depends how serious you think they are about the whole thing I guess.
 

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You've both used some similar symbols & names.. but if I was playing Win Lose or Draw, I'd draw a cross for Christianity too.

Both designs are centred around the same theme (globe > flower > religious symbols), but design-wise I think they're completely different.

Can a theme be copyrighted?
 

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The theme is similar, but the designs are different. Personaly I prefer the second one.
IMO sometimes this copyright business does go to extremes.
 

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Well, as it has been said many times on the forums, none of us are lawyers, but, the one thing that sticks, is the concept. The execution may not be the same, but the concept is. And the execution comes damn near close. I think it maybe hard to prove your uniqueness in the design. That being said, the other persons concept is not unique. It's been done many ways before.
 

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The other person will be hard pressed to prove it's their concept - it's been done many times before - in several different variations - "One Planet, Many Peoples," etc.

I'd say the two designs are different - but you both use the same "Great Spirit" symbol. That symbol is not universal in the same sense as a Cross or Star of David - so they may point to that fact.


deviantART Shop: one god one planet one people
 

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As has been said, the concept is pretty universal. I would imagine to someone with exposure to this type of stuff, the symbols and their names would be known to them.

Ideas can't be copyrighted, but their representation can. I think the design concepts are close, but there are very noticeable differences. I would not confuse one for the other.

That being said, as have other posters have mentioned, it's up to you to determine if its worth putting up a fight. I don't know what city you are in, but in the cities I've lived in, if you call the local bar association, they can give you a referral to an attorney who may be able to speak to you on a discounted basis. If it's a money maker, it may be worth the fight. For all you know, you may be able to bully them into dropping it.
 

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Well, every work is copyrighted upon creation, just not formally until filed for.

Did these other folks actually "file" for the copyright? That will make a difference, too. If neither of you formally "filed" for copyright, it could be up for grabs.

Other than making that point, only an experienced copyright lawyer who has seen many cases will be able to advise you on where you stand with this.

Good luck to you..
 

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Discussion Starter #12
How did they contact you? Did they send you a cease and desist?
Basically, yeah. Certified letter asking us to stop using "their" design within 30 days.


1994 eh? Well, neither of you came up with the idea first (which is fine). Maybe start looking for the antecedents in case they're relevant evidence later.
Quite likely, yeah. I imagine the general idea has been around for a long time. Any suggestions on the best way to seek out and find versions that existed before either of ours?

Sound them out if you think you can be tight lipped, but you might want to consider getting a lawyer before talking to them. You don't want to accidentally do anything that could later bite you. Partly depends how serious you think they are about the whole thing I guess.
I don't think we could really afford to hire a lawyer for this issue unfortunately. I am somewhat inclined to just call them up and try talking to them rationally about it, explaining how we've never seen their version before, etc. That could potentially make things worse depending on their personality I guess, hard to say.

Obviously they were serious enough to send a letter, but it's difficult to gauge beyond that. I searched copyright.gov for a while and I couldn't find any indication that they had actually registered the design at all. (Searching keywords 1993-1995, and searching their name.) So, they should be limited on how much they can really pursue it by that, though of course if they are persistent enough they can still try to sue without it.


The other person will be hard pressed to prove it's their concept - it's been done many times before - in several different variations - "One Planet, Many Peoples," etc.

deviantART Shop: one god one planet one people
Thanks for at least one example of someone else with a similar concept; I imagine I should try to find more...

I'd say the two designs are different - but you both use the same "Great Spirit" symbol. That symbol is not universal in the same sense as a Cross or Star of David - so they may point to that fact.
Perhaps, though I think (not certain) its use is relatively common in New Age circles. We originally had a list of ~15 major religions that we paired down from; 'Great Spirit' is supposed to be representative of Native American beliefs.


That being said, as have other posters have mentioned, it's up to you to determine if its worth putting up a fight. In the cities I've lived in, if you call the local bar association, they can give you a referral to an attorney who may be able to speak to you on a discounted basis. If it's a money maker, it may be worth the fight. For all you know, you may be able to bully them into dropping it.
As I mentioned above, I'm not really sure that we can afford to hire a lawyer for this issue right now, though it still might be worth checking to see how much it'd cost.

I honestly don't even want to bully them back as such; I'd be happy to have both of us continue to use our own versions of the design if we can work it out that way. We'll see what develops over the next few days.


Did these other folks actually "file" for the copyright? That will make a difference, too. If neither of you formally "filed" for copyright, it could be up for grabs.
We haven't registered any of our designs at this point. As I mentioned in response to Solmu above, I can't find any indication that they have registered their version either.



Thanks for the commentary, folks. Obviously the predictable (and best) advice is to ask a real lawyer, but I figured I'd post here since it is a t-shirt issue after all =) I've now also posted on the issue on another forum that is specifically for legal advice, so I'll probably see what they think and figure out a plan from there. I'll keep you updated as it progresses.
 

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I can almost guaruntee if you do nothing...nothing will happen I talk to my lawyer frequently about this issue and you would not believe the cost of what it would take for them to come after you...not to mention the fact they would lose.
Let it go.
 

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I can almost guaruntee if you do nothing...nothing will happen I talk to my lawyer frequently about this issue and you would not believe the cost of what it would take for them to come after you...not to mention the fact they would lose.
Let it go.
True. It won't be worth it for them to hire an attorney if this isn't a huge seller for them. Did they send you a letter, or did they have their attorney send you a "Cease And Desist" letter? There is a big difference.

R.
 

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Hope this isn't too late - and just as a preface, I'm an attorney but not a copyright attorney, so please do not construe this as legal advice. What I recall from my law school copyright class is that there is a significant difference between an IDEA and the EXPRESSION of that idea. An idea is never copyrightable but the expression is. So for example, if you have the idea to write a song about how your best gal left you and your dog ran away and your favorite truck broke down, that's fine. If that idea were copyrightable, you'd have one country western song and no one could write any more. But if you were to write a song that had the same music or lines as one already written, you'd be violating their copyright.

Someone mentioned above that they couldn't find that image in the federal registry, that doesn't matter. The standard is whether something is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression", meaning that it's actually been created. Once that's been done, it's copyrighted (even if you do nothing, you have a copyright on that - or a trademark, depending on what the intellectual property actually is). Registering it with the government only affects the potential for damages in a court case, and also it helps prove that you actually created it first.

There's a lot of useful information at the government website U.S. Copyright Office - I recommend you read the Copyright Basics link and the FAQ first.

Now, about your particular problem, the question is whether you've copied their expression of a particular idea, or just used the same idea itself.

Obviously there's no copyright on the image of the earth, or the particular religious symbols, or the names of the various deities mentioned. It's how it's presented and arranged. Admittedly it's a similar type of arrangement and the wording is similar (identical, in some places). The question becomes, are you treading on their expression of the idea you're trying to get across. I can't answer that question, and different people may see different things. Ultimately, it would be for a court or jury to decide (a few weeks ago, there was a major lawsuit decided between the makers of Bratz dolls and Mattel over copyright violations. I forgot who won but it was a multi-million dollar verdict).

In all likelihood, I doubt this company would go much further than sending their cease and desist letter. If it wouldn't be cost-efficient for you to hire a lawyer, you could either discontinue the line, or just keep doing it. They'll either sue you or they won't. If they sue you, you can discontinue the line or hire a lawyer to fight the suit. Many times, companies send out cease and desist letters and that's enough to scare someone into stopping whatever it is that they're doing. If the letter is ignored or if you respond to the letter indicating that you're not violating the copyright, it could stop right there.

Anyway, best of luck!
 

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Speaking as a designer myself, sorry but those are two totally different designs.

They are significantly different from each other and I'd be inclined to make the other company aware of that very fact.
Both of them are the same idea you can't deny the similarities.

world with a flower around it
the words one planet one people
all of the same symbols used

You can't tell me this isn't the exact same idea.
 
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