Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A discussion of copyright

On the Zazzle forums, we often get a lot of questions about copyright. Unfortunately most of the time those questions come after someone has had a design or designs pulled by Zazzle for copyright violation.

It must be frustrating to put a product up, only to see it disappear. However, copyright is the law. And even though not everyone contributing designs to the Zazzle marketplace is from the U.S., because Zazzle is located in the States, their User Agreement is based on U.S. copyright law. Zazzle's User Agreement also prohibits things such as copying slogans, quotes, or trademarks without express permission. The complete User Agreement is here: and everyone should read it. Slowly. With comprehension in mind. It's very important.

The basics of copyright are very simple. If someone else created it, you can't steal it. If you created it, nobody else can steal it. So the best way to avoid copyright violations is to only use your own original creations.

What constitutes "creation?" Well, the words I am writing on this blog are mine. I own them. You who are reading this blog cannot copy or paste my words onto your own blog without my permission. That's stealing. You may link to my words here, but you can't take them. If I take a photo, write an essay, draw a design, make up a slogan, all that is mine. If you take my photo and make a drawing from it without my permission, you're stealing, because you're using MY artistic inspiration for your work. If my artistic inspiration was not there, your work also would not exist. That's called derivative artwork, and derivitaves ARE covered by copyright law.

And here's a really important thing. If something appears on the internet is it NOT free for the taking. Designs, photos, and writings posted to the internet are just as much covered by copyright law as anything else.

It's worth the time to pursue the basics of copyright at the site.

So what do you do if you want to sell things on Zazzle but you aren't an artist?

There are several routes you can take. There are some free clipart resources available, some posted to Zazzle. But, this is very important, you MUST review their terms of use. Many royalty-free clipart vendors allow a single use but do not allow multiple uses and never allow an image to be used on items for sale. You can also go out and take your own photos. Or, if you find a photo you love that you'd like to make into an item, ask for permission. Often photographers are amenable to that if you just ask. But keep in mind that if the photo shows a person, that person's permission should also be given.

I do a lot of dog design, and some of my items are photo-based. In each case, I got specific permission from the photographer to use the photo. Many of my items are not able to be identified as a certain dog, but in the case where it is, I often try to get owner permission too though it's not required. The photographer owns the copyright, not the person (or dog!) in the photo.

Another option is to just use the suite of fonts available at Zazzle and make up some fun original sayings.

But whatever you do, do NOT steal work from others for your own profit. It's more than against the law, it's tacky and rude.

Remember that copyright also protects YOUR work. When thinking about this, put the shoe on the other foot. How would you feel if you spent hours of your time and energy coming up with a great design to sell on Zazzle. Then, a month or so later, you found that somebody else had stolen it and was using it on *their* site to sell shirts. They were making money off your work and you were getting nothing. Me, I bet you'd be pretty mad about that. I know I would.

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