Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. This post is not meant to be legal advice. If you have questions about any particular situation, please consult with an intellectual property attorney licensed to practice in your state.
Important Trademark Licensing Information
Are you a crochet business owner? Have you been intrigued by the money you could make selling items featuring Minions, Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Iron Man, Spider Man, and other popular characters from movies, comic books, and children’s book? What about items featuring sports team names, mascots, and logos? What about popular corporate logos such as John Deere? It’s very tempting to create crochet patterns or finished items featuring those items so you can cash in on the hot consumer demand for those products, isn’t it?
However, did you realize those things are trademarked and often times copyrighted as well? That means they are considered the intellectual property of the company that owns them. In order to make commercial use of another party’s intellectual property, you need to have their express written permission to do so legally. This often time involves what is called a “licensing agreement.” These are often quite expensive, which is why we don’t see very many officially licensed products in the crochet industry. The market simply isn’t large enough to enable you to sell enough products to recover the licensing fees.
For more information on how licensing works, checkout the licensing.edu website.
What Can Happen If You Sell or Distribute Unlicensed Products?
If an intellectual property (IP) owner discovers you are selling unlicensed products, a number of different things can happen. Let’s talk about them.
If you’re lucky, you will receive a cease and desist letter, in which the IP owner describes how you are infringing upon their rights and demands that you “cease and desist” what you’re doing by a certain date. In most cases, you must sign an agreement to stop infringing upon their rights and return it to them by a certain date. You also have to stop selling the unlicensed products, obviously. Also if you’re lucky, they may let you know how you could obtain a licensing agreement, but this usually doesn’t happen.
If you’re not so lucky, the IP owner might contact your service provider or the owner of the site where you are selling your products. If you’re selling on Etsy, for example, your shop could be shut down permanently. (I’m not sure if they give warnings or not.) If you pay a service provider for web space and sell through a website hosted there, your service provider could shut down your entire website.
The IP owner could also decide to file a lawsuit. They could ask that all your existing inventory, and in some cases raw materials, be confiscated. They could ask to recover all the revenue you received from previous sales. They could even seek punitive damages. Lawsuits are expensive, so they might be willing to settle out of court. Even so, you risk losing everything you’ve earned from the sales of unlicensed products plus incurring additional fines and attorney’s fees.
Most infringement issues are handled in civil court. In issues of large-scale infringement, it’s possible for a criminal lawsuit to be filed. However, I believe that most indie crafters are not at terrible risk of criminal charges related to copyright or trademark infringement.
More Information about Trademark and Copyright
You can visit the US Patent and Trademark Office website to find a lot of great information about trademarks and how to make sure you are not infringing upon another party’s intellectual property. You can also conduct a search to check on the current trademark status of a word, phrase, name, etc.
For information on copyright, you can visit the US Copyright Office website.
If you have general or specific questions, you may want to contact an intellectual property attorney and ask for a brief consultation. Many attorneys will offer a 30-minute consultation for free or at a reduced price.
If you really want to sell a pattern or crocheted item featuring a popular character, sports team or corporate logo, or similar item, contact the company whose IP you want to use and ask about their licensing requirements. Some companies have “fan art” policies in which they’ll agree to distribution of free patterns or perhaps sale of products on a limited scale (such as fewer than a certain number of items or less than a certain dollar value of retail sales per year). Some colleges in the NCAA also have a cottage industry policy in which they allow crafters to sell a certain number of handmade products per year.
The list below provides contact information for some of the companies whose characters and logos seem to be the most popular:
Disney Licensee Requirements:
Hello Kitty Licensing information (Sanrio brand):
John Deere Licensing Application:
Marvel Licensing Contact info:
For any questions about licensing or toys, please contact:
Marvel Consumer Products
MLB Licensing Contact info:
Nascar Official Licensee Application:
NBA License Application:
NFL Licensing: www.nfl.info/NFLConsProd/Welcome/CpPrequalify.htm
David K. Chan
One Lincoln Plaza
New York, NY 10023
Universal Studios (Despicable Me Minions, etc):
Website contact form
New York, New York 10036
(212) 258-6000 – See more at: http://blog.viacom.com/contact/#sthash.uBMUspQW.dpuf