Switching your print on demand supplier? Get in touch with us here

1. What is print on demand copyright?

Print on demand copyright: How to avoid legal pitfalls

Starting a print on demand (POD) business? There's plenty to learn, and one critical area you must pay attention to is copyright. This comprehensive guide will demystify the complex landscape of copyright in the POD industry. From understanding the basics to distinguishing copyrights from trademarks, awareness of potential risks, and rules of thumb for ensuring originality, this guide will cover everything you need to know. It will also highlight how Gelato's platform promotes originality, offering sellers the confidence to exploit the benefits of the print on demand model without stumbling into legal challenges.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Copyright in print on demand (POD) protects creators' rights to replicate and distribute their artwork. It's crucial for POD entrepreneurs to understand these rights to avoid legal issues.

  • Copyright covers original creative expressions (like art and music), while trademarks protect brand identifiers (like logos). Both are important in POD, but they serve different legal purposes.

  • To avoid copyright infringement, create original content, understand and respect licensing and permissions, avoid using copyrighted material without authorization, and be aware of the fair use doctrine and international copyright laws.

  • Copyright infringement can lead to significant financial penalties, legal issues, damage to business reputation, and loss of trust from partners and customers.

  • To ensure originality, get inspired without imitating, research extensively, create from scratch, keep records of your design process, and consider registering your work. Gelato's platform supports creators with tools to create and sell original designs.


What is print on demand copyright?

Think of print on demand copyright as an invisible shield, protecting your original creations from unauthorized usage. It's the legal framework that secures your rights as an artist or creator against infringement. When you produce an original design, poem, photograph, or even a catchy t-shirt slogan, U.S. law automatically grants you copyright protection. This protection extends to your work in the print on demand (POD) universe, safeguarding your unique creations from being replicated or sold without your permission. 

Why does print on demand copyright matter?

Consider this: you've spent hours, perhaps days, meticulously crafting a unique design for a new line of t-shirts on your POD store. Then, without warning, you notice your identical design used by another seller on their products. This realization is not only deeply frustrating, but it also dilutes the value of your original work and compromises your potential sales. This is where understanding print on demand copyright becomes crucial. 

If you overlook the significance of POD copyright, you’re not alone―it's a frequently misunderstood area. But the fact remains, in the print on demand world, originality is both your asset and your responsibility. Without it, not only can your business suffer, but you can also end up facing legal repercussions for unknowingly infringing on someone else's copyright.

The difference between copyright and trademarks

Intellectual property protection, which includes copyright and trademark laws, safeguards various aspects of artistic endeavors, each having its unique role and function. 

Copyright protects original creative works such as literature, films, music, software, and visual arts. It prohibits unauthorized replication, distribution, or presentation of the creator's work, reserving these rights solely for the author. On the other hand, a trademark shields the identifying attributes of a business or product, such as the name, the logo, or the tagline. The purpose is to prevent others from using similar identifying assets, which could confuse consumers or tarnish the brand's image. 

Unlike copyrights, trademarks require a formal registration with the government for protection to be effective. Consulting with a knowledgeable trademark attorney can help navigate the intricacies of the trademark law and ensure you protect your brand effectively.


Understanding the copyright basics

Despite seeming like a convoluted legal concept, it's imperative to understand the basics of copyright to thrive in the POD industry. Let's navigate the intricate ins and outs of copyright principles below. 

Original content creation: The designs, artworks, and text used in POD products must be original creations of the seller or created by someone who has given the seller explicit permission to use them.

Copyright ownership: The copyright holder (creator of the work) has exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, perform, and create derivative works based on the original.

Licensing and permissions: If using someone else's work on, say, t-shirts, it's essential to have a licensing agreement or explicit permission. This includes artwork, photographs, quotes, and other intellectual property. You may print famous quotations freely if they're not attributed to any one person.

Avoiding infringement: Infringement can lead to legal consequences. Do not print copyrighted material, such as logos, branded characters, celebrity images, and specific designs, without authorization.

Public domain and royalty-free works: Works in the public domain can be used without permission. Royalty-free assets can also be used, but it's important to understand the terms and conditions of use.

Fair use doctrine: This is a limited exception that allows the use of copyrighted material without permission for purposes like criticism, news reporting, or research. However, fair use is a complex legal area and not a guaranteed defense, especially in commercial ventures like POD.

Trademark considerations: Trademarks protect brand names, logos, and slogans. Using trademarked material without permission can lead to infringement claims.

International copyright laws: Copyright laws vary by country, but international agreements provide a framework for basic protection standards. POD businesses operating internationally need to be aware of these differences.

Monitoring and enforcement: POD operators should actively monitor and enforce their copyright, addressing any unauthorized use of their materials to protect their rights.


How to avoid copyright infringement

You're keen to make your mark in the print on demand world, but how do you steer clear of the hazards of copyright infringement? Here are some practical strategies to keep you out of legal trouble: 

1. Research and understand the basics

Educate yourself about what materials are protected by copyright and which ones are not. This understanding will help you to create content without infringing on the rights of others. Also, understanding what constitutes fair use can be instrumental in avoiding crossing the line.

2. Create original designs

This is the most straightforward way to avoid copyright issues. By producing your own custom designs, you remove the risk of unintentional plagiarism. Emphasizing originality not only safeguards you legally but also boosts your brand's identity and customer appeal, setting you apart in a saturated market.

3. Use only licensed or public domain content

If you wish to use someone else’s creative work, make sure you have the proper licenses or permissions in place. Sites like Shutterstock or Getty Images provide licensed images for a fee. If you don't want to bear fees, you can use public domain material. However, content in the public domain is not always protected by copyright law, so make sure to take advice on what is actually in the public domain.

4. Clear permissions before altering or selling other people’s work

When you find something online to use, contact the copyright owner to obtain permission before altering and sharing the work. Do mention that you aim to sell the design and earn a profit from it. While sometimes that’s all you need, most artists will expect a commission for each of their creative works.

5. Retain license and selling agreements

As you venture into any trading activities related to your store resources, it's essential to keep all licensing and selling agreements at hand. Particularly if you've been granted rights to utilize creative work on a pro-bono basis, the original creator may experience a change of heart as your profits start to outpace theirs. Be vigilant and maintain all contracts and receipts for an indefinite time frame.

6. Solicit legal advice in case of uncertainty

In case you are unsure about the legality of your content, you must consider seeking legal counsel. This can help you avoid potential issues down the line and work on creating your designs with peace of mind.

The repercussions of copyright infringement in print on demand sector

Engaging in copyright infringement in the print on demand sector can lead to a series of unfortunate consequences. 

First, you may encounter significant financial penalties for copyright violations. These penalties can impose heavy fees that not only compromise the profitability of your business operations but could potentially damage its financial stability. 

Next, legal repercussions may extend beyond monetary penalties. In some severe instances, committing copyright infringement could result in a lawsuit that could potentially tarnish the business's reputation. Furthermore, incurring legal issues often means substantial time and resources are spent addressing these allegations, which in turn distracts from business growth and development. 

Finally, on a more ethical note, copyright infringement may bring about an adverse impact on your professional relationships. This doesn't just involve legal entities or transgressed parties but also extends to customers and partners who may lose trust in your business as a result of the wrongdoing. 

Maintaining originality and respecting copyright are not only legal necessities but also may be seen as indications of your business's integrity and professionalism.

Follow these best practices for ensuring originality in design

If you're keen on keeping your print on demand business above legal waters and avoiding copyright problems, the best defense mechanism is to create completely original designs. The task might seem daunting, so we've curated a list of best practices you can adopt: 

  1. Get inspired, don’t imitate: It's perfectly fine to seek inspiration from existing works. However, this doesn't mean copying! Find elements you admire and incorporate them into a unique design that doesn't violate copyright laws.

  2. Research extensively: Before delving into a design, conduct extensive research. Ensure no one else has copyrighted a similar design. The US Copyright Office or similar governmental IP databases can be invaluable tools for this.

  3. Create from scratch: There’s no better way to guarantee originality than to create your graphics, illustrations, or designs from scratch. This way, you can be confident your work won’t be a copyright infringement.

  4. Keep records: Document your design process every step of the way and keep updating your portfolio with your original works as chronological evidence of your creative journey and growth. This is good practice and also serves as proof of your work's originality if you're ever questioned.

  5. Register your work: Though not always required, consider registering your work with a copyright office. This offers extra protection and can be beneficial in any legal disputes. Having your work registered also helps deter potential infringers, maintaining the integrity of your designs.


Create and sell original designs using Gelato's print on demand platform

At Gelato, promoting authenticity and originality is a cornerstone of our business. We firmly believe in supporting creators and designers with our platform's powerful tools to create bespoke products, such as t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, photo books, wall art, etc., and thrive in the POD realm. Here's how: 

  • Superior quality: Gelato promises consistent quality for every printed product. This is achieved by partnering with leading print providers worldwide. Users can be assured their designs will come to life as envisioned, boosting their brand reputation and customer satisfaction. 

  • Sustainable approach: Gelato operates on a sustainable business model by adopting environmentally responsible practices. This conscientious approach attracts eco-conscious customers, allowing sellers to broaden their customer base. 

  • 100% originality: Gelato assures the user's legal protection. Dedicated to promoting originality, the platform ensures that your designs remain your property. It empowers your creative process by giving you the peace of mind that your work is protected.

  • Localized production: Gelato boasts a highly efficient network of local production and delivery hubs spread across continents. This means that sellers can cater to customers from all over the world without facing logistical issues.  

With these impressive features, Gelato instills confidence in ecommerce sellers. By partnering with us, you can streamline your business operations, champion fair practices, and sell high-quality products, thus fostering innovation and customer trust. Sign up for Gelato today and take the pledge of originality!


Next steps

Start selling products with Gelato