Referencing company logos within a tshirt design

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Referencing company logos within a tshirt design

Post by Randomnam3 »

Hi There,

I've been thinking of a t-shirt design that would be of a fictional board game called "monopolies", the premise is that the board game would be various aspects of life (instead of properties) and the "pieces" i.e. players are large companies that go around buying them up.. So, my questions are around how this fits in with copyright law and whether I can use this idea without infringing on anything;

Can I use this idea the representation of the board game?
The use of company logos as players?

I have no intention of making an actual board game, its just for a garment design etc!

Thanks in advance
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Re: Referencing company logos within a tshirt design

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Randomnam3,

Company logos are usually protected both by copyright (as artistic works) and by being registered as trade marks. This means that what you propose to do faces a number of hurdles. Let's take trade mark law first.

A registered trade mark can be infringed in two ways; both involve use of the potentially infringing mark in the course of trade. By being visible on the shirt at the time the purchaser buys the shirt, that use would constitute 'in the course of trade' because it would be similar to the actual use of a logo, namely to indicate the origin of the goods. The first way infringement is said to occur is when the identical or similar mark is used on goods which are identical or similar to the goods for the mark is registered, so in your case, clothing, and specifically T-shirts. The owner of the registered mark doesn't have to prove that customers would have been fooled into thinking that a shirt bearing their logo was produced by the mark's owner, so you need to ensure that you do not use any logos which have been registered in connection with clothing (Class 25). You can do this on the UK Intellectual Property Office website. The next species of infringement occurs when the same or similar mark is used on goods which are not in a class of goods or services for which the mark is registered, but which the claimant can show would cause the buyng public to be confused as to the origin of the 'new' goods. You might think it would be all right if, say, you selected the logo of a car maker like Mercedes Benz and used it on a T-shirt, because obviously Mercedes are not known to make clothing, therefore why would anyone think your shirts originated from Mercedes? However, Mercedes, like a good many well known brands, do licensing deals with the makers of all sorts of other products which may have little actual connection with the motor trade, but which are desirable based on the prestige of Mercedes as a well-known brand. So it is quite possible that the owners of a registered mark could provide evidence to show confusion was likely, and if they could also show that their brand would suffer reputational damage (possibly if the goods bearing the 'new' mark were of inferior quality), then their claim would no doubt succeed. And lastly, allied to trade mark law is passing-off, which is somewhat similar to the previous example, but rests more on the concept of misrepresentation which causes reputational or financial damage to the brand. In none of these three scenarios is there a defence of using the logo in the form of a parody.

Turning to copyright, if you copy a logo which can be said to be an artistic work (ie a graphic rather than just some letters in a particular font), then infringement will occur unless one of the statutory exceptions can be relied on. The most likely one in your case would be that found in section 30A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, namely for parody, pastiche or caricature. However this is a recent amendment to the Act and we have virtually no idea how the courts will interpret it, and what will actually constitute a fair dealing use of a copyright work in this way. You may need to get more detailed legal advice on your specific example.

So to summarise, you face a few risks if your use these logos without permission, and because you intend to use the logos of several different companies, you multiply the chances that one will take action to protect both their intellectual property and their brand image. Clearly some companies will be more tolerant than others to a bit of light-hearted fun. Alternatively, you could consider getting permission from the brand owners, and just discard those who either decide not to engage with you or who want to charge a fee for the privilege.

I hope this helps.
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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