New to this...? about copyrights/intellectual property

Hi all, apologies if this has been covered elsewhere, I did search the site FAQ before posting.

How far are we allowed to go with likenesses of licensed/cartoon characters? I have an idea for a shirt design which involves a cartoon kid looking like a Peanuts character. I don’t know if there’s a copyright on the “look”…round head, black dot eyes with “parentheses” next to them, C-shaped nose, squiggly mouth? Is this likely to fall into the category of “we can’t run this”? If so, is there a way I can make it acceptable?

There’s no clear cut answer to this as the line between “this is a parody and homage” and “this style is too close to the original” isn’t well defined. Even if a design falls into the former, it’s no guarantee that IP owners may think otherwise, hence the C&Ds that Woot has received over the years.

thank you!

(And I too am thrilled that AA shirts are back!)

A lot of what woot does falls under fair use or parody. An easy way to think of it is
that if what you make is could ever be confused with the original, then you could land yourself in legal trouble. For instance, Selling a this would get you in trouble,

whereas this is obviously a parody

That doesn’t mean Disney won’t send you a Cease and Desist that threatens legal action though. They have a lawyer send you a scary looking letter saying “we will sue you”, even if they don’t have a legal case. They have billions of dollars and thousands of lawyers- they can afford a long fight, and you can’t. So most people back off

Woot will often turn down designs that they don’t feel comfortable with, and you’ll sometimes see shirts disappear from their catalogue, like all of their LOTR designs.
But they also have a legal team, so they can push the envelope more than you or I could.

Another thing to know is that copyright policing is pretty much up to the copyright holder, and some are more lenient than others. Woot has a general idea about who not to mess with. Newline Cinema (LOTR) might be d**ks whereas BBC seems to be pretty safe.

What I do is stay away from copyrighted words, phrases, names, and logos. I would never put “Dr Who” or “Gallifrey” on a shirt, but it’s harder to copyright a man in a tweed jacket, red bowtie and a fez. The Police Call Box existed before Dr Who, so that too could be used. You can also change, or obscure copyrightable portions of a character, like the bat logo on Batmans chest to cover your bases. Woot will print a caricature of Captain Picard, but not the Star Trek insignia.

There are lots of ways to get around it but it is always kind of a risk.

I am really late replying here but thank you for all the info…working on parody #2 now…first one didn’t get rejected so that was encouraging :slight_smile:

Yeah, this made us all sad.