Cambridge College Crests

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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dandude20
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Cambridge College Crests

Post by dandude20 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:16 pm

If I make an original piece of artwork containing the crests of the colleges of the University of Cambridge, can I then copyright and sell that artwork?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Tue Apr 16, 2013 10:01 pm

Hi dan,
I would advise going cautiously here. There are actually three different legal aspects which could potentially apply.

Firstly unless they are very old indeed, most of these crests will be subject to copyright as artistic works. Many institutions periodically spruce up their corporate image and in most cases this would mean that although the college may be hundreds of years old, the version of its crest may be relatively modern. If the crest is in copyright, then incorporating it into a new work would be infringement, unless you obtained permission first.

Next, these days educational institutions are run and behave like businesses, so many will have sought to protect their corporate image by registering their crests as trade marks. This is certainly the case with the University crest, and it may well also apply to some of the colleges. While trade mark law doesn't necessarily prevent you re-using the crests in a new piece of artwork, it is indicative that the owners of the trade mark are likely to want to protect their 'brand' and so may object to your work on the grounds that you are passing-off, that is to say trying to imply through your work that the college has sanctioned the use of their crest. Objection would be even more likely if your use was seen as being somehow derogatory or disrespectful to the college.

And lastly, assuming these crests are actually armorial bearings (commonly referred to as Coats of Arms) as provided by the College Of Arms, then special rules apply. Because coats of arms are promulgated by letters patent under the authority of the Crown, misuse of these arms can theoretically be dealt with by the Court of Chivalry. As you can see from this Wikipedia article, a threat to use the Court was made as recently as last year, although the defendant in that case backed down before it went to court.

So given these three separate problem areas, I suggest that you should seek written permission to use the crests, from each of the collegse concerned.
Last edited by AndyJ on Wed Apr 17, 2013 6:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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

dandude20
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Post by dandude20 » Tue Apr 16, 2013 10:11 pm

Thanks Andy.
I hadn't really considered the first point, and although I'd thought about the other two, I hadn't been particularly certain as to the severity of the matter.
Thank you for clarifying for me :)

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