Can I rework album covers for t-shirts?

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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em_lysk
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Can I rework album covers for t-shirts?

Post by em_lysk » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:31 pm

I'm part of a not for profit sports club and we'd like to rework famous punk album covers into our team colours and name for t-shirts to sell - can we do this?

For instance, we have a design that has been reworked from Green Day's Dookie album with our team name and colours in it instead. The layout and style would be the same as it is so iconic.

As we are not for profit and have CASC status (certified amateur sports club) any money we make would just go to our running costs.

If we can't use them as t-shirt designs, can we showcase them on social media?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Tue Aug 12, 2014 7:59 pm

Hi em_lysk,
The short answer is the album covers are covered by copyright as artistic works, and so copying a substantial part of them without permission would amount to infringement even if they were re-worked in the way you suggest.
It doesn't really matter whether or not it was done for charity, if the record company concerned (and most likely not the bands themselves) chose to object, then you could be in for a rocky ride. This is because the record company usually owns the copyright in album covers along with the actual recording.
Infringement would be the same whether it was on tee-shirts or social media.
However with effect from 1 October 2014 a new fair dealing exception for the purposes of parody or pastiche will be introduced into UK copyright law, and it might just be possible to argue that what you want to do might fall into this category. We have no idea exactly how the courts will apply these new rules, although in a little under a month (on 3 September) the Court of Justice of the European Union is due to deliver its decision in a parody case known as Deckmyn, so that might provide some guidance to the UK courts. In the meantime I think you would be much safer either getting permission from the record companies, or abandoning this idea.

You can find a bit more background to this in these two earlier threads on similar issues: here and here
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em_lysk
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Post by em_lysk » Tue Aug 12, 2014 8:52 pm

Hi AndyJ,

Thank you for your detailed reply. I thought this was the case but wanted to double check.

The new fair dealing exception sounds interesting. And it could fall into that, but I guess we will have to see. Seems such a shame for some small pieces of artwork. I was hoping to just do a fun 'guess the band name and album' quiz on Facebook but this seems out of the question too?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:33 pm

Hi em_lysk,
I think that your Facebook quiz idea is sufficiently non-threatening from a business point of view that if you were to seek permission from the record companies, they might well agree to your proposal. The problem with tee-shirts is that you could be seen as competing with the official band merchandise and so the record company and/or the band's management are much more likely to get excited about that.
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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