I don’t know whether it’s classy or tacky, but one of my favorite things to buy for my girls is t-shirts with their names on them. Check out these great shirts I bought for my Frozen loving nine year old and three year old:
Etsy, the handmade and vintage goods online marketplace, is my go-to place to buy these memory making t-shirts. Etsy has a huge selection of unique products and is a great way to support female micropreneurs. When I am browsing Etsy, however, the one thing that is abundantly clear is the number of sellers who are violating copyright and trademark laws.
So what are copyrights and trademarks? A copyright is a legal protection for the creator of an original work. This means that if you are not the original creator of your product and you have not purchased rights to sell products not created by you, you are violating copyright laws. The same applies to trademarks, which are phrases.
Even if your Etsy shop is just way for you to earn a little extra money by putting your crafting skills to work, you need to aware of copyright and trademark laws.
Examples of Copyright and Trademark Infringement on Etsy
Do a search of “Disney Frozen” on Etsy and you will find thousands of examples of flagrant copyright violations. Many sellers deliberately disregard any respect of copyright laws; these items are in high demand if they’re illegal. Other sellers just don’t know any better.
So you will know better, here are a few examples of products I found on Etsy that violate copyright and trademark laws.
A t-shirt with a Anna or Elsa from Frozen image on it? While I bought them for my daughters (wrong, I know, but we celebrated their birthdays at Disney World this year and they looked so cute meeting Anna and Elsa wearing those shirts), you can’t sell it on Etsy.
A chalkboard sign with an image of a John Deere tractor on it? Can’t sell that one either. In fact, you can’t even sell an image with a green tractor because John Deere owns the rights to sell products with green tractors (seriously). Want to use the word “super hero” on iron-on transfers for sale in your Etsy shop? Think again. “Super hero” was trademarked by Marvel.
And no, there is no crafty legal language that will make it okay for you to infringe on someone else’s intellectual property. Adding a disclaimer that you are “not affiliated with Disney” or that your products are “inspired by” will not protect you if you don’t have permission and a valid license to sell items that are trademarks or copyrights of another company.
You can’t knock-off anyone else’s design or catchy phrase. It doesn’t matter whether the other person is a mega corporation like Disney or a mom in St. Louis who is making t-shirts out of her basement. While that mom in St. Louis might not have the resources to hire an attorney and sue you, but she can very easily and for free use Etsy’s online reporting form to file a notice of infringement against you. This could result in your shop being shut down temporarily or permanently (see below).
For example, do a search on Easy for “turkey face shirt” and you will come up with dozens of shops selling shirts remarkably similar to these shirts I purchased for two of my turkeys.
What Can Happen to You if You Sell a Copyrighted or Trademarked Item on Etsy?
Not surprisingly, Etsy prohibits listings that violate copyright or trademark laws. Etsy can and will shut down a shop for good if you don’t remove listings that are suspected to be infringing. All of your hard work building a business on Etsy could be gone without warning, even if only one of your many items is alleged to be infringing. Apart from the risk of loosing your Etsy business, copyright and trademark infringement is a crime and you could be sued by the rightful owner for damages (or at a minimum, get a nasty cease and desist letter).
Neither the fact that thousands of other people are selling similar items on Etsy or you that did not know you were violating the law is an excuse or a valid legal defense.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Use your common sense. If you didn’t originate an idea, don’t use it. Also, if you aren’t sure whether or not your items violate copyright and trademark laws or if you have received a notice from Etsy or a cease and desist letter regarding an alleged copyright or trademark infringement, consult with an attorney.
Are you an Etsy seller? Have you experienced someone else copycatting your designs? Share it with me below or send me an e-mail.
Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.