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Hi everyone, this is my first post.

I'm having some trouble getting a straight, or at least somewhat definitive answer to some possible future legal issues (I've contacted 4 different copyright and trademark lawyers to no avail!).

It involves the use of automotive images. Now let me say first off that I obviously realize I cant go around directly using say the Mercedes logo (the spade), or the Porsche 911 font and name. But where is the line drawn with rendered or created from scratch designs?

e.g. Say someone draws an obvious Porsche 911, but it bears no real direct emblem (maybe the outline, very, very small if even noticeable) and no direct naming, is this legal?

I've seen some threads that say this is considered artwork and is okay. Some that have said photographing a car yourself then modifying it is okay. But what about artistically rendering or the likeness of?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Re: Need some legal advice! Please help.

jdr8271 said:
I can't believe that the lawyers couldnt give you an answer. If they couldn't give you an answer, you can sure as hell bet that nobody here can.

It sounds like you are in a gray area...you could get sued for doing something like that, but you could also possibly win a law suit.
Oddly enough, 2/4 lawyers said I'm walking a fine line. All of them said it's a huge grey area. They warned me to be cautious, but said I was right to worry about it. It's that fine of a line I guess. In fact, a few of them mentioned that if I were to go ahead with it, just start with some of the manufacturers that are a bit more supportive, like VW and Chrysler. Which I found to be odd advice from laywers. But they were all very nice. :D
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Re: Need some legal advice! Please help.

jdr8271 said:
Are you thinking of printing on demand, or getting a bunch screen printed. If you are printing on demand, there is no harm in doing it. You may get a cease and decist letter, and then you can just stop that design. .
Since I'm just getting into printing, I can't afford to on demand.

But I'm planning on limiting each design to 200. So, that would definitely alleviate much of the problem (I'd rather eat 200, than say 1000).
 

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Re: Need some legal advice! Please help.

I think if you have a lawyer that you have paid for legal advice and they say they think it would be ok, then put the lawyer on retainer (or keep their business card), and give it a shot.

Like Jon said, if a lawyer couldn't help, we probably won't be of much help :)

You could always try asking permission. That could be an easy way to get a yes or no answer from the intellectual property owner (the car maker).

I know one of our members used to sell a VW t-shirt from his site. It didn't have a vw logo, but it was clearly a "bug" and he got a cease and desist from VW.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Re: Need some legal advice! Please help.

Rodney said:
I think if you have a lawyer that you have paid for legal advice and they say they think it would be ok, then put the lawyer on retainer (or keep their business card), and give it a shot.

Like Jon said, if a lawyer couldn't help, we probably won't be of much help :)

You could always try asking permission. That could be an easy way to get a yes or no answer from the intellectual property owner (the car maker).

I know one of our members used to sell a VW t-shirt from his site. It didn't have a vw logo, but it was clearly a "bug" and he got a cease and desist from VW.
What it a photograph? A C&D from VW uhn? Wow, first time I've heard of such a thing. Usually their incredibly lax / supportive.

One of the lawyers said asking would be worthless as they'll just say "no" to avoid any problems or complications.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
If anyone else has any input, please let me know.

As well, if you know of any possible connections / leads / contacts to try, I'd appreciate that also! Thanks!
 

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Working in the auto studios in Detroit most of my life I can say they hold their property very close. But, a car is an abstract, much like a flower is or a letter of the alphabet, which is public domain. I suppose if you use an actual car where the artwork is owned by a manufacturer you could hear from them if they don't like it.

Badging is also where you might get some feedback from the owner.

But then again, there's so much car stuff in this area the lines between ownership and public domain get blurry. If it's friendly to the car/company I'd print the shirts myself.
 

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mreicher said:
But, a car is an abstract, much like a flower is or a letter of the alphabet, which is public domain.
"A car" yes, but a specific car... no. Industrial design is still intellectual property.

mreicher said:
It's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
Easier, but potentially a lot more expensive.
 

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(glad you edited out the forgiveness/permission line... personally I've never supported that "worry about who you're hurting afterwards" attitude)
 

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The design, likeness, car whatever you want to call it is the property of the manufacturer - look at the designs that are Ford Mustangs or Chevy whatever - they have the tacky "Officially licensed product" logo way to prominent in the design. Yes - you can draw anything you want to and sell that drawing - the trouble is reproducing that drawing and what you reproduce it on as well as how many. Ultimately the owner can and may pursue action against regardless of what your lawyer or any number of lawyers tell you - you may win in court - you may lose in court but you MUST weigh the decision in your own case. I am not advocating the "it's not wrong if I dont get caught" line and I'm not saying it's wrong (or right) - just be prepared to defend your decision in court. Anyone can pretty much file a suit against anyone for anything and Mercedes/Porsche/etc probably have more resources that most of us not to mention offices full of semi bored lawyers looking for something to do
 

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Yeah, the designs are owned properties but it depends on what you do with them. Putting a Mustang on a t-shirt as the main image with a caption of Ford Mustang is blatant, but a parody or a spoof I believe wouldn't cross the line. Similar to a photograph printed in a newspaper or magazine.

You can also tread water and just do it knowing that the large corporations can't possibly chase down everyone who uses their images. The cost to the company to bring out their stable of lawyers is incredible.

The Woodward Dream Cruise is next weekend here and there'll be more "Officially unlicensed" stuff sold on the avenue than you'd see at a travelling carnival.

I personally don't support that stuff but it goes on.
 

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Agreed however a photo in a newspaper is usually treated much different mainly because it isn't the main reason for purchasing - the actual news is while the image on a T-shirt likely is the main reason for purchase. Parody is specifically allowed however anything can be challenged in court which is all I was saying. You are again correct that they can't chase down everyone and it may cost them tons to chase anyone but they do protect their interests so anyone thinking of using this kind of art needs to decide if it would be worth it.
 

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There are multiple types of patents and marks out there. Sounds like even if you remove any signage from the borrowed image the overall design is still recognizable as a porsche and this could potentially violate any design patents etc., out there and infringe their marks. Will they catch you? Unlikely, but any patent, trademark, copyright etc holders have a legal responsibility to aggressively defend any challenges and all violaters. They do make examples of "mom and pop" shops from time to time and that is the risk you run.

IP firms do not give free opinions, their insurance is on the line. An opinion letter run typically between $750-$1,250 on something like this. For grins go to www.USPTO.gov and do some word mark and image searches. You may answer your own questions with a few simple searches.
 
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