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Hi,

I was wondering, do people copyright or patent sayings on t-shirts? in other words, what's to stop someone from repeating whatever clever phrase or saying you come up with, and just replicate that themselves?
 

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You can usually trademark or copyright a tagline like "just do it" but with all the text parody shirts out there its really difficult to copyright just a bunch of text. So your best bet is doint some actual artwork with it.
 

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You can't patent a t-shirt phrase either :) Patents are for inventions only.

It's good to know which terminology refers to which and how each is used. That helps (a little) to understand what you can't and can protect with each.

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/doc/basic/trade_defin.htm

In general, trademarks are used to protect brands, not phrases on t-shirts. Sometimes the 2 can overlap (like Just Do It is part of the Nike brand AND is also a phrase on a t-shirt). The trademark office doesn't seem to allow registrations for "t-shirt slogans".

Copyrights protect works that are tangibly expressed. Like an actual specific t-shirt design, not necessarily a phrase.

If you can register one, it helps to prove that you were the originator of the design and helps you collect damages (in the case of copyright registration).
 

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Like Rodney said, there's a difference in the terms. Copyright is not trademark. You CANNOT copyright phrases.

This is DIRECTLY from the US copyright office website faq section:

How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?
Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, 800-786-9199, for further information. However, copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.
 

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What about short quotes? Say John Doe said "xxxxxxxxx" and you design a t-shirt that has the quote on the back "xxxxxxxxx" -john doe (giving credit). Or what if it's a sentence or two quote from a book (one that's all over the internet as it is) but you give credit to the person who wrote it. Doe wrote this in his book "xxxxxxxxxx" and you put "xxxxxxxxxx" on a t-shirt with -john doe (giving credit). Is it a copyright infringement? Just not sure what they mean by phrase. Could mean several things.
 

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just_me said:
What about short quotes? Say John Doe said "xxxxxxxxx" and you design a t-shirt that has the quote on the back "xxxxxxxxx" -john doe (giving credit). Or what if it's a sentence or two quote from a book (one that's all over the internet as it is) but you give credit to the person who wrote it. Doe wrote this in his book "xxxxxxxxxx" and you put "xxxxxxxxxx" on a t-shirt with -john doe (giving credit). Is it a copyright infringement? Just not sure what they mean by phrase. Could mean several things.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to this area is that if you have to question it you probably shouldn't do it.
 

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What about short quotes? Say John Doe said "xxxxxxxxx" and you design a t-shirt that has the quote on the back "xxxxxxxxx" -john doe (giving credit). Or what if it's a sentence or two quote from a book (one that's all over the internet as it is) but you give credit to the person who wrote it.
The best answer for this is "Talk to a lawyer". I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but it makes the most sense.

Even if 20 people in this forum tell you it's ok to use it (not saying that it is), if you get sued for using it, you're probably going to need a lawyer to defend your case.
 

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Rodney said:
Even if 20 people in this forum tell you it's ok to use it (not saying that it is), if you get sued for using it, you're probably going to need a lawyer to defend your case.

I was planning on using Solmu if I get sued. I like to think of him as a paralegal.
 

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monkeylantern said:
I was planning on using Solmu if I get sued. I like to think of him as a paralegal.
lol


I've read through some threads on this forum about copyrighting and its made me wonder if there's really any use in trying to copyright a phrase-design that exploits pop culture, as a fledgling start-up. The "Need more Cowbell" and "Wingman" T-shirts come to mind because you see an iteration of these shirts on different sites around the web. Which leads me to believe that some phrases aren't really protectable <sp?>.

I understand that some people on this board are adament about protecting their designs, but can they truly be protected? I know that I don't have the time or resources to hunt down copycats in an effort to prosecute. And it seems like there is an endless supply of people in the world who want to get by off of other people's ideas.

I can see a benefit in protecting oneself by copyrighting, so that some low-life doesn't steal your design, copyright it and then sue you for using it... (that's just my "American-Way" mind going) But from all I've read, I get the feeling that copyrighting is just the first step in the "protect yourself/your designs" process, with the actual hard work coming from the litigation that may ensue when someone decides to rip you off.

I will more then likely change my tune if I'm able to make my business a success, or if I catch someone trying to rip me off, but from where I'm at right now it just seems like a bit much.

Thoughts?
 

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RAHchills said:
Thoughts?
As you say, registering is the easy part.

Enforcing that registration is, for a small business, extremely difficult and often not worth it. In spite of that, I think registration is worth it (off the top of my head, because 1) If someone tries to sue you it could be useful, 2) If you decide it's worth the effort to sue, you'll want to have registered, 3) Better to register as early as possible, and if you get big later sueing will be a more realistic option).

Even for those who don't care if their design is being used by other people, registering is worth it so that no-one tries to turn the tables on you.

It also means you can prove you are the copyright holder, lending some extra weight to cease and desist letters.

It's also a way of documenting your business if you care about such things (another form of record keeping).

We do what we can, but to be honest sometimes that just means "nothing".

The important thing is that registering isn't expensive, so you might as well do it. You can worry about why you did it afterward ;)

Just some rambling thoughts.
 

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do you plan on doing international trademarks as well,
I don't see that as an immediate concern. I think most countries will honor US trademark registrations, but for the ones that don't, I'm not as concerned.
 

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How about song titles? What if this is on your t-shirt:

"'XXXXX' by John Doe...sorry, really not familar with that song."
 

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How about song titles? What if this is on your t-shirt:
If you didn't create the song title / quote / image / insert-intellectual-property-you-want-to-use-here, then the general rule is that you have to get permission before you are allowed to use it.
 

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Interesting topic.....seems the spoken word is free but once you write or print it ya get into trouble. Example...a cover band can charge admission to an event and basically make a living off playing other peoples songs. If you take phrase out of a song and print it and sell the print you are in violation. Is this correct?
 

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Example...a cover band can charge admission to an event and basically make a living off playing other peoples songs. If you take phrase out of a song and print it and sell the print you are in violation. Is this correct?
Not sure of the legalities of a cover band making money playing other peoples songs. Could be there are problems with that as well, but they may have deals worked out or it may be less enforced.

Sounds like an "ask a lawyer" question :)
 

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Solmu said:
The important thing is that registering isn't expensive, so you might as well do it. You can worry about why you did it afterward ;)
I know I should... I guess that before I got spun up on certain topics (like copyrights) I had this idea in my head about how it all worked. Paying for a copyright equals protection, right? Now I think I have a better understanding of how it does and doesn't offer protection. So I just needed to vent about it... ;)

The right answer is to protect myself, though. I agree. :)
 
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