Fabric Copyright

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Re: Fabric Copyright

Post by AndyJ » Wed Oct 30, 2019 8:37 am

Hi Ann,

The point about copyright is that it protects a creator from having their work copied without permission. However when you use a piece of fabric, you are not copying the design or pattern on the fabric, so in broad terms copyright doesn't come into play. However the likeness of some cartoon characters and logos associated with them are registered as trade marks and this is where the protection comes from in the case of fabrics which have restrictions printed in the selvage. Put simply, it may infringe a trade mark to use it in the course of trade without authorisation in a way that the public is deceived into thinking the product made from the fabric is official merchandise of the owner of the registered trade mark. Thus making a duvet cover from Miffy fabric is fine if it is for personal use, but doing this on a commercieal basis which implied that the duvet cover was official merchandise could lead to a claim for infringement. Theoretically, using the fabric as is does not mean it is being used as a trade mark in the sense specified in the legisaltion, namely for the purpose "of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings". See also section 12 of the Trade Marks Act 1994. But that won't stop claims or threats of claims being directed at individuals who upset the trade mark owners.

Companies don't expect the average user or home seamstress to understand this in detail and so they use the copyright symbol as a kind of shorthand because most people know what copyright is.

Even if the selvage doesn't say anything about copyright or trade marks, there could still be a risk of using fabric bearing a well-recognised brand in a commercial setting, and so it is advisable to check. The best place to start is usually the website of the company which owns the rights to the character, say like Disney or eOne (eOne deal with the rights to Peppa Pig for example). You can usually find this information via Wikipedia. Alternatively you could try searching the IPO database for trade mark registrations for the character concerned. This can be quite tricky to do where graphic marks are concerned, and usually searching on the character's name, or series title (eg Paw Patrol) should bring up all the graphic marks which apply as well as lots of word marks. If you are certain no graphic representation of the character has been registered as a trade mark (just the name doesn't count) then you are on firmer ground. But even if you are sure you haven't infringed anyone's intellectual property rights, that doesn't necessarily mean their lawyers won't hassle you. The big companies protect their rights quite aggressively, because largescale production of fake goods is a major problem for many of them.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007

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