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Most of my inspiration comes from music, but lately I've more and more wanted to include a few words. So, just a quick copyright question concerning lyrics and how much you can get away with. I'll just give some examples of ideas I have (don't steal them, I'm a ninja.)

"It's my aeroplane" on the front of a shirt with an airplane made up of musical symbols on the back. (The idea is from the Red Hot Chili Pepper Aeroplane with the lyrics "Music is my aeroplane". "It's my aeroplane" are also direct lyrics."

Bold letters on the front of a shirt reading "Just A Rebel To The World". (These are direct lyrics from Lupe Fiasco's Kick Push)

Bold letters on the front of a shirt reading "Use Two Sticks" with 2 drums sticks running down the back spine. (These are partial lyrics from Red Hot Chili Pepper's Can't Stop with the lyrics "Use two sticks to make it in the nature.")


The artist would not be mentioned or portayed in any way on these shirts. If you have an knowledge on the subject please feel free to comment. (Also, remember... I am a ninja.)

Thanks
 

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Any time you use copyrighted material, you are at risk to be sued by the copyright owner. After all, that's why it's copyrighted material to begin with. Its usage is rightfully owned by someone else. You would need license or permission to use it legally.

But to answer the part about how much you can get away with, it depends on what exactly you are trying to get away with. If you are trying to find some clever way to completely avoid being sued, I'm afraid there is no real way to do that. You would have to contact the copyright owner and negotiate a license. Any unauthorized usage of copyrighted material will carry some level of risk.
 

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Common phrases are more difficult to register, but it is possible. There really isn't a rule that defines what can or cannot be registered. It's more about what someone does with the phrase that ultimately determines its ability to be registered.
 

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A very, very, very general rule of thumb that my mom always taught me (she's worked in copyright/trademark law for 20 years, so...this is semi-right, but don't hold me to it) is that if it can cause confusion with the general public, you can't do it.

So if the average person would see that shirt and think "Oh, that's a Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt" then the RHCP would have a definite case against you.

The phrases you mentioned are definitely in a gray area though, a huge fan would almost definitely identify those as being lyrics, while some people wouldn't. It's a risk that I personally would not take.
 
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