college T-shirt design


It can be a challenge to be sure of what you can and cannot print on your T-Shirts. Copyright laws for Custom T-shirts printing can be somewhat confusing. In this piece, we’re about to break down what you can and cannot print on your t-shirt designs. It would be extremely convenient if we could just go ahead and print anything we wished for on T-Shirts. However, intellectual property regulations apply and they can be complex to deal with.  It also depends on a copyright owner’s will to pursue a case but the intensities of copyright infringements vary significantly.

All laws with regards to copyright infringement are essential to be taken on a case-to-case basis.  Many people use unlawful/sketchy practises and many a time they get away with it, but it’s always healthy to stay within the bounds of the law governing the very core of your business.

The History of Copyright laws

The protection from copyright infringement and its regulatory laws were established first in the US in the year 1790 and other nations have been following suit ever since. These laws have had various amendments to them along the way as and when governments saw fit. In the US itself, the handbook to copyright infringement laws has become as extensive as 370 pages in total!

These laws were of course framed with protecting a creator’s work by defending the monetary value of their work. It might not feel savoury to pay up just to make use of an image, however, we can all understand the intent behind it. Artists deserve to be recognized and paid monetarily for their outstanding work, if these laws weren’t in place, artists don’t stand to earn anything for their ideas and vision which doesn’t stand right with anyone.

Summary of Copyright Laws

Most of the content of the handbooks for the protection of intellectual property boils down to amendments and exceptions to the rules rather than the law itself. 

Copyright protection covers all original works by an author. The copyright laws have been made to keep up with the cutting edge of technology and taking into account future developments also known as ‘works now known and later developed’. A list of things to keep in mind while manufacturing custom t-shirts like a college T-shirt design in order to avoid since copyright infringement can include the following:

  • Literary Works
  • Musical Works
  • Dramatic Works
  • Choreographic Works
  • Graphical, Pictorial, or sculptural works
  • Film and Audiovisual
  • Sound Recordings
  • Architectural Works

The clarification on the law is as follows:  “ideas, procedures, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle or discovery involved  in the creation of work that is not protected by the law.” A similar methodology can be followed as an artist. There is no chance that you can just steal their work.

The Public Domain

Obviously there is a lifespan to copyright infringement and beyond that period, the work/creation enters what we have now come to know as the ‘public domain’. Various countries have defined their metrics as to what constitutes a healthy lifetime for copyright. It, of course, includes the lifespan of the creator, until and unless they waive copyright infringements, in addition, the copyright infringement laws stay in place even after a few years after the author has deceased.

Beyond that, all work of art can be used in any way, shape or form you desire. However, some complications might still arise if you compile large pieces of work from a particular artist. This in itself has a copyright of “collective work”

Fair Use

Fair use of a copyrighted work “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

If you’re commenting on or teaching about anything that’s currently copyrighted, you don’t need to worry too much about using or even reproducing a small amount of the material. But if you’re not sure if what you’re doing is fair use, you should probably lean on the side of caution.

If you’re using your t-shirts for non-commercial use, you have a much better chance of fitting into the category of fair use. Just to get ahead of the question, however, company t-shirts are commercial use. But if you and a couple of friends are big fans of Star Wars, you should be ok making a small fan club if nobody’s making any money out of it.