We have all done it. We take a picture of Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter or Baby Yoda and make a t-shirt or mug from it. Technically these are all copyright infringement. Here are some examples from my site. I don’t expect anyone to complain, but if they do and can prove they own the image, I will take it down.
First and foremost, I am not a lawyer and the statements and advise here is not meant to be legal advise. I tried to verify the facts included in this article to the best of my ability, but they are in no way meant to be a legal opinion and if you have an issue or question, consult an actual attorney.
What is Copyright infringement?
Using copyrighted logos even with slight changes is against the law. In my examples above, even my logo is copyright infringement technically, because I use an image of the Cricut machine. Most companies don’t push the issue as long as they aren’t losing money. They even consider it a sort of advertising for their brand. But they could just as easily send me a cease and desist order and make me take the images down and stop using it. And if they do, I will.
The policy covers images, text, fonts, and anything else that the owner of the copyright produced. And copyright is automatic. You don’t need to file paperwork (but you can) to be protected. Contact a lawyer if you want to file the paperwork.
Disney Will and Has Come After People
You see a cute picture and decide to make a t shirt of Mickey Mouse, sell it at a craft fair and Disney can and has come after people. It usually starts with a cease and desist order which is a letter from a lawyer telling you to quit selling the item or face legal action. If you get one of these, STOP. They mean it! Disney has a whole fleet of lawyers that do nothing else. And Disney will sue and usually win.
But I Bought the Pattern on Etsy, It Isn’t My Fault
Actually it is. The person who sold it to you is more at fault and will face stiffer penalties. But you are guilty too. Use of any image that you do not have permission to use to produce a craft is a violation. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know. The owner of the copyright or trademark can still demand you stop using it and even sue you for money.
How to Protect Yourself
Most places that sell designs will say what you are allowed to do with the image or pattern. Some will sell a commercial license so that you can use the item on things you sell. If you plan to sell it, buy the commercial license. Even if the original artwork was illegally obtained, you are still mildly protected. The owner of the copyright can still send you a letter and if they do and you keep selling it, then you are no longer protected because you knew better at that point.
Cricut’s Angel Policy is one of the most generous out there. If you have Access or pay for the image, Cricut grants you permission to use that item up to, i think in 10,000 items. Don’t take that for granted. Read the Angel Policy. And it specifically says that that does not include copyrighted images like Disney or Star Wars, etc.
You Saw a Cute Picture and Shared It in A Group. Are you Liable?
Technically yes. The owner of the group may be contacted by the owner of the image and asked to take it down. The owner of the copyright can then move on to you and ask you to quit posting it. If someone does this, please quit.
When someone contacts me and tells me that someone posted their property, I remove it and then write the person who posted it and tell them that they should quit posting it and mark them for post approval. If they do it again, they will be removed and blocked from my group. I don’t want to be sued and as a creator, agree with this policy. I don’t want people taking my designs either. I’m not saying you can post what you designed using my instructions, I encourage it. But don’t claim the design was yours.
How to Protect Your Copyrights
Let’s say you drew a beautiful image of a butterfly. You post it online, proud of what you created. Then someone sees it and takes it and uses it and sells it for lots of money. What can you do? First of all, it is your responsibility to protect your image. There aren’t “copyright police” to protect you. It is your responsibility to let the person who took it that it is yours and cease and desist.
I am constantly checking for my name (The Crazy Cricut Lady) online and have told several individuals or companies to stop using it. The more popular my site, the more people try to use some of my “clout” and reputation. Just yesterday I found a store that used periods between the words to use my name and I asked them to stop. I am still waiting to hear and may have to take the next step and contact a lawyer.