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Using famous musicians in t-shirt designs

1367 Views 4 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  royster13
Hello all, I am new to this forum. I am a graphic designer, working on starting a t-shirt design company, and I had a question about using famous musicians as part of your design on a t-shirt. I have created several designs, which are the abstract silhouette of a 1950's microphone with an image of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash or Elvis inside. because of design elements the original images I have chosen have been altered a fair amount. These are all images I have found in a Google search. I have tried to use images that were not typical. I was wondering if anyone has any experience with using imagery like this in a t-shirt design? Obviously I want to follow the correct procedures, as I do not want to get into trouble later. I have never sold images like this before, so I am not sure of the right way to go about it. Do I need to have permission to use any image, no matter the source? Or does it depend? Does the rights usage change if it has been altered? I appreciate any answers you may have, and thank you in advance for the advice?
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You better spend a few hours reading the archives here......This subject has been covered "extensively" in the past...
Do I need to have permission to use any image, no matter the source?
All images are protected under "copyright." So any use of an image without license or permission could get you sued for copyright infringement.

In addition, you need to consider "trademark" and "right of publicity" laws as well.

In your case, you need permission to use a person's likeness on merchandise. Even if it's just a silhouette. If you can tell who the person is, you should contact them (or their estate) to get info on licensing opportunities.

Or does it depend?
The exception are images that have been released to the public domain. You can specifically search for public domain images. But keep in mind, this only satisfies the copyright issue. You need to consider trademark and right of publicity laws as well. If the content of the image contains a trademark or person's likeness, you need additional license or permission.

Does the rights usage change if it has been altered?
No, just because you alter someone's work doesn't negate their ownership or protection of the original work.

If you change it enough to make it unrecognizable to the original, it may lessen the risk of being sued. But no amount of change will make it your own work or make it completely risk free. If the original copyright owner can recognize their work, they will always have the right to take legal action.

That said, there are parody and fair use laws that you can use as a defense in court. But this would only be if your use of the work fits within the guidelines of parody or fair use. You can search the forums and other sources for more info on this.
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Thank you for the information, it is very helpful!
Tim do you have those quotes on "macros".....They must be here 100s of times over....
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