Selling Small: Learning About Copyright

Do you sell products at a small scale?

If you build signs or print shirts there are a few things to be mindful of during the creation of these works.

Stay away from making products that include famous lyrics, quotes or sports team logos. You are infringing on copyright. You do not own the rights to these items, therefore using them for your products isn't a good idea. You will likely not be approached to remove the items from your collection if you are selling at a small scale, however it's simply not good karma to continue to do so. It's possible you are missing out on some solid customers who understand copyright and know you are breaking some key rules.

If you collaborate with a designer, or any type of artist, to create elements for your products draft a license agreement that protects both parties and outlines a win-win selling model.

A license agreement should include:

  1. Reproduction:How many times the design can be reproduced over a time period.
  2. Application: What the designs can be applied to over a time period.
  3. Rights: Who the owner is of the artwork and who can use it with exclusivity over a time period.

You don't need a fancy agreement and you shouldn't have to hire someone to create this for you. As long as you and the seller have a strong working relationship, you're likely golden.

The designer is in the very least a co-owner of the copyright since they've likely created the work using their own skill, space and software. As a result, any commercial activity should be approved by them.

Paying to copyright artwork can be quite costly for a small business and it may not be necessary when selling at a small scale. However, if you choose to invest, ensure that you will see a return on the investment.

If you are not working one-on-one with a designer or artist and using artwork from sites like Creative Market, be sure to protect yourself by purchasing a license agreement during the transaction. You will be given a choice to go with personal use or commercial so if you are planning to sell, go with the commercial use. It will increase the price tag but you have peace of mind you are running your businesses properly and you are respecting the artist's investment. 

You should always sell what's yours and all parties involved should benefit from the work.

If ever in doubt, reach out to a lawyer for some advice. In most cases, they will hop on a quick consult at a minimal fee.

You got this!

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