T-shirt sales in the United States are expected to exceed $516.4 million in 2021 (according to IBISWorld), indicating that the T-shirt printing industry is extremely profitable. More information about the profit of the T-shirt business can be found by clicking here. And I'm sure you have a plethora of fantastic ideas for custom T-shirt designs. Are they, however, legal? Why do we need to spend time on this issue? Many cases of dispute involve copyright infringement. More information is available here.

1. What exactly is copyright?

"Copyright is a type of intellectual property that grants its owner the exclusive right to make copies of creative work for a set period of time." The creative work could be literary, artistic, educational, or musical in nature. The purpose of copyright is to protect the original expression of an idea in the form of creative work, not the idea itself. "Copyright is subject to restrictions based on public interest considerations, such as the fair use doctrine in the United States," according to Wikipedia.

In other words, no one has the right to use someone else's intellectual property; only the owner has the right to clone, copy, and duplicate it. If you use them without the creator's permission, you may face serious legal consequences.

If you are a t-shirt designer, you must have copyright so that no other person or entity can illegally use your design for any commercial activities or purposes. If you want to open your own designer t-shirt shop, you must ensure that your t-shirt concepts are not stolen. So, how do you know if your t-shirt concept is sound? Continue reading to find out more about piracy and how to avoid it.

What are some examples of things that can be copyrighted?

  • Works of literature
  • Musical compositions
  • Works of drama
  • Choreographic pieces
  • Works in graphic, pictorial, or sculptural media
  • Audiovisual and film
  • Audio recordings
  • Architectural projects

So How Does T-Shirt Design Copyright Infringement Work?

Reading of the United States' Copyright Laws if you want to run a successful T-shirt business without getting in trouble with the law. If you want a specific image or a celebrity's face on your t-shirt, you must first determine who owns the image and contact them before proceeding.

2. Consequences of Copyright Infringement

Consequences of Copyright Infringement

If a copyright holder discovers that you are using their material without their permission, they will send you a cease and desist letter via email or snail mail. This letter informs you that you have violated copyright or trademark and includes images demonstrating the violation. When you receive this cease and desist letter, you must immediately stop using the copyrighted material, especially if you are doing so commercially.

Furthermore, you must provide a written guarantee that you will no longer violate the copyright or trademark, and that you will not attempt to register the trademark in your name.

If the owner of copyright asserts a claim on your T-shirt design, you may receive a takedown notice and may be required to pay penalties. But that isn't all. Your new T-shirt company may also face the following consequences:

  • Loss of customers and business
  • Invested funds are squandered
  • jeopardized the fan base of a T-shirt brand

To make matters worse, you may face additional criminal and civil penalties under copyright laws in the United States and Canada. These are some examples:

  • A five-year prison sentence is possible.
  • A $250,000 fine
  • The copyright holder was awarded total damages ranging from $750 to $30,000.
  • A maximum fine of $150,000 per infringed work

For violating copyright rules, large corporations will usually take you to court. This means you may have to pay for a lawsuit, as well as attorney fees and copyright fines and penalties.

3.  How To Check Material For Copyright

You should know how to check to see if the material you want to take has already been protected by copyright laws. To do so, first determine whether the content you want to use as one of the t-shirt design ideas incorporates the symbol. The copyright symbol is shown here. It will be written in fine letters somewhere near the bottom of a picture or other piece of media.

If you see a watermark, it means the material is copyrighted and you should avoid using it. Many owners mention the ownership note, which you should look for in the content. If you are unsure about the copyright of a material, the best way to ensure it is to visit the copyright office. You can also search for copyright files. You can also use a reverse image search to find out where it came from.

How To Check Material For Copyright

4. Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement

Before using any material, ensure that it is not infringing on anyone's intellectual property rights. The first step is to determine whether the design you want to use on your T-shirts is copyrighted. A copyright symbol, such as "," is one red flag. A design watermark is another option. If you come across either of these, please do not use the design without permission.

That classification is Creative Commons. It's the name of a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the number of creative works that are legally available for others to use and share. It has developed a number of Creative Commons licenses, all of which are free to the public. Each of these licenses allows creators to specify which rights to their work they want to retain or waive.

4.1 Look for non-copyrighted materials.

The Public Domain

What Exactly Is the Public Domain?

All of the images, slogans, quotes, and graphics that you see in the public domain are free to use in your T-shirt designs. But, exactly, what is the public domain? Well, the domain contains creative material that is no longer protected by any copyright law, and you are free to use it without seeking permission. Such content in the public domain is typically donated, forfeited, or whose copyright has expired. So, feel free to use anything you find useful in the domain.

However, this does not guarantee that content in the public domain for free users will not be subject to copyright laws in the future. While the chances of it falling under copyright are slim, you should still check to see if someone has acquired its copyrights before borrowing one such design or any other material.

There is a type of creative work that is exempt from the rules of exclusive intellectual property. It's known as the Public Domain. Intellectual property rights have been waived (usually by the creator), forfeited, or have expired in these cases.

That's right, copyrights have an expiration date! According to US copyright law, any work created on or after January 1, 1978, is copyrighted for: -the life of the creator AND -70 years after their death.

Any work that exists 70 years after its creator's death enters the public domain, where others can freely use it, as does any work that existed prior to the concept of copyright.

That makes a lot of creative work available to the public! Shakespeare's works, Mozart's music, and the first films are all in the public domain. So go ahead and slap your favorite Twelfth Night quote on a t-shirt!

But the public domain isn't just made up of old things. Some artists willingly release their new, original work into the public domain. Others prefer to categorize their work differently.

4.2 Images with Royalty-Free Status

A royalty-free image license typically requires the user to pay a one-time fee and then use the image as many times and in as many places as they want without incurring additional royalties. By filtering to display license-free results, you can easily find royalty-free images from Google or other search engines.

Are you looking for free T-shirt designs that can be used for commercial purposes? Some print-on-demand services also offer royalty-free images. Printcart, for example, provides their customers with a library of royalty-free images. For your T-shirts, you can have any design printed on them.

– Flags – National symbols – Portraits of political figures – Coats of arms

These images are not protected by copyright or trademark. That means you won't be sued if you use them in your t-shirt design. It should be noted that this does not permit you to use someone else's work that incorporates the said flag, national symbol, or whatever. As a result, a famous painting or photograph of any of the above is subject to the same copyright rules as artwork.

BUT there are photos and works of art (of flags and other things!) that you can use without the creator's express permission.

Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement

4.3 Design fees must be paid.

The most secure method is to simply purchase the design you want to print. Just make sure to get a legitimate license for your design. Here are three places to look for paid designs:

Images from the Internet

There are stock image websites where you can buy images that you like. You must, however, adhere to their terms of service. These websites also provide memberships for people who want to buy images and designs for commercial use. Envato and Placeit are two examples.

Employ a Graphic Designer

You can also hire a graphic designer to create what you desire. Simply ensure that your contract with the designer specifies how the design will be used on your T-shirts. View more Top 10 T-Shirt Design Ideas For 2021

Make existing designs your own by modifying them.

You can change the design of any existing source as long as you follow the rules of fair use, according to the transformative copyright law. This law allows you to modify and create a copyright-free design by using a minor portion of the design.

However, your changes should add something new, such as a new purpose or a different character, while not replacing the original use of the work. Some T-shirt sellers, for example, claim that their design is a "parody" of a character or movie. In some cases, this may be considered fair use.

If you are looking for online design solution for your tshirt idea, don't ignore Tshirt Solution with Online Design Tool

Make your designs from the ground up.

Do you want to avoid the hassles of copyright infringement? The best method is to start from scratch with your designs. You no longer need to be an expert in graphic design. Print-on-demand services provide you with a full interface for designing graphics to print on your items.


If you have a great new T-shirt idea and need to legally defend it, you must show that you are the original owner of the work. You could take a chance and get your proof that way. This is accomplished by obtaining an official time stamp when your original work is first produced. You can also legally protect it by copyrighting your design concept or layout.

You have three options for copyrighting your layout with the Copyright Office: online, using the scanned CO form, or mailing in a paper submission.

While copyright certification may take several months, your T-shirt design is legally patented, licensed, and protected as soon as the Copyright Office receives a full submission, invoice, and copies of your design.

Rose Helen

Shop Owner