T-shirts containing characters or logos from famous films and brands tend to sell well. Unfortunately, you do not own the intellectual property of those copyrighted materials, which means you can get into significant legal trouble if you do not obtain the licensing rights to use the copyrighted material on your t-shirt.
So how do you get the licensing rights for t-shirts?
To obtain licensing rights for t-shirts, such as t-shirts with famous logos, you must contact the copyright owner of the intellectual property (IP). Next step is negotiation on how their IP will be implemented on your t-shirts and the cost for the use of the intellectual property.
Above is the most common way to obtain the licensing rights for intellectual property t-shirts, such as popular film characters, logos, and famous catchphrases. It can be expensive depending on the popularity of the intellectual property.
Still, it is much less costly than facing legal consequences by not obtaining the correct license to use the intellectual property on your t-shirts. Below I elaborate on the common ways of getting intellectual rights for t-shirts.
Basic Steps to Obtain A License To Use The IP?
Below are the most common steps to take to obtain a license from the copyright holder of the intellectual property on your t-shirts:
- Search For The Copyright Owner Of The Intellectual Property: If your T-Shirts contain a design, whether it be anything from a character from a film, a logo of a brand, or even a quote from a book or movie, search for the copyright owner. This process can commonly be done by going on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website and searching for the copyright owner of the intellectual property there.
- Contact The Copyright Owner To Use Their IP On Your T-Shirt: Once you have determined who the copyright owner is of the intellectual property, take the necessary steps to contact them. From there, you will begin to negotiate with the copyright owner of the IP on how you want to use their IP on your t-shirts. This negotiation will differ from IP to IP.
- Make A Proposal On You Intend To Use The Intellectual Property: In the proposal to the copyright owner of the intellectual property, explain precisely how you want to use their IP on your t-shirts, how you will market them, how you will produce them, and finally, and most importantly, the profit you expect to gain from selling t-shirts containing their intellectual property. The copyright owner will want to make sure your t-shirts will sell.
- Once You Obtain A License To Use Their IP, Pay Them: If the copyright owner approves your proposal, they will grant you a license to use their intellectual property on your t-shirts. The obtained license from the copyright owner will explain what and what you are not allowed to do with their IP on your t-shirt. For example, you could promise not to use the intellectual property to make a damaging mockery of the owner’s IP.
You will also need to pay the copyright owner of the intellectual property upfront. This form of payment is usually a percentage of the profits you expect to earn from selling the t-shirts. You may also need to pay royalties, which is a percentage of the profit made from selling the t-shirts paid to the copyright owner of the IP. Each scenario differs depending on the copyright holder of the IP that you want to use on your t-shirts.
Above is the most common way to obtain a license to use the copyrighted intellectual property on your t-shirt.
Obtaining a license to use an IP is an expensive endeavor. It is much less expensive than the legal troubles you may most likely find yourself in if you do not obtain a license to use the IP on your t-shirts.
Despite the licensing cost, you will very likely make a profit that outweighs the expense.
Sample Steps to Obtain Licensing Rights from Companies like Disney
The most common way to obtain the right to use intellectual property material on your T-Shirts is by contacting the copyright owner of said material and negotiating a license. A license from the copyright owner will allow you to use their intellectual property on your t-shirts.
A typical licensing process for larger companies like Disney and Marvel looks like this:
- Contact the IP owner and let them know which products you are looking to license.
- Provide details about your current business, products, and sales revenue numbers.
- The IP owner will respond with their interest, depending on their existing business strategy.
- If the owner is interested, create a business plan for the licensing term with an estimate of the projected revenue.
- Based on your revenue projections there is usually a minimum guarantee of business and % royalty on sales for products. Royalties usually range from 3-12%.
- There will be an approval process of the licensed product.
- Once there is an agreement the IP company will provide brand requirements.
- You may be required to submit a marketing & promotion plan.
- Royalties are typically reported on quarterly basis.
This process will differ if the material you want to use is in the Public Domain, which means that the copyright to the intellectual property has expired. If you want to use intellectual property material in the Public Domain, you can usually go ahead and use it freely without paying anything.
But to be on the safe side, always make sure that the material truly is in the Public Domain and that the intellectual property’s copyright has not been renewed or sold to anyone.
What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property is a tangible creation that originated from the creator’s mind in its simplest terms. For example, a popular comic book superhero is intellectual property as it’s a character that appears in original tangible comic books. For your creation to be intellectual property, it must exist in a tangible form and not just in your imagination.
If your creation is not tangible and only in your head, it is not considered intellectual property.
Can Shirts Be Copyrighted?
Shirt designs can be copyrighted. A copyright is the protective right over your intellectual property. Commonly, to receive copyright on your apparel designs, you must create the tangible IP and declare it is your creation.
An owner has the rights to a design when that design goes live. First rights to a design can be proved by transactional documents with a designer, as well as digital documentation when the design goes live online.
Although it is not necessary to apply for copyright on your intellectual property, it is best to do so to protect your IP from being misused by others. As of 1978 and onwards, copyright lasts, in the United States, throughout the entire copyright owner’s lifetime and seventy years after their death.
From there, it commonly enters the public domain. Public domain means that anyone can now use the IP without obtaining permission from the owner.
Copyright protects the tangible intellectual property of the creator.
What is a Licensed Shirt?
In its simplest terms, a shirt license is permission granted to another person or organization from the copyright owner to use their intellectual property on their apparel.
This license is commonly paid for and may contain royalties payments, which is a set percentage that the license owner needs to pay from their earnings on the products, such as t-shirts with IP material, to its owner.
A license is permission given to another person or organization to use their creation on their products.
To get licensing to create and sell t-shirts with intellectual property material, you must contact the intellectual property copyright owner.
To do this, find out who the owner is of the IP you want to use, negotiate a license with the IP owner through a proposal, then pay them a fee for a license to use their creation on your t-shirts.
Bryan E. Robinson is the owner of TshirtGrowth. He has sold t-shirts since 2006 through dropshipping, screen printing, vinyl printing, DTG, Print on Demand, and more. Bryan has created his own t-shirt designs through Photoshop, Canva, and other platforms, as well as worked with freelancers to create many of his designs. Besides t-shirts, Bryan has 18 years of experience in online marketing with eCommerce, B2B SaaS, B2C products, and more.