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Wearables Readers Share Thoughts on Copyright

Apparel distributors and decorators have a lot to say about copyright issues, so much that I couldn’t fit all their words into my April cover story for Wearables. Below are some more of the stories and thoughts readers shared, regarding the tricky terrain of intellectual property.

Don Webb, Thread Works Embroidery & Screenprinting (asi/344319), Fairborn, OH:

A few years back, we had a client from a nationally known day-care center approach us to do its staff wear. This client was the regional representative for the firm and presented us with a signed letter of approval to use its logo. He even went so far as to have us set up a dedicated website where employees could order online.

Almost a year later, we received a cease-and-desist letter from the corporation, which looked to me to be about two weeks of work for their law firm, judging by the size of the documents sent to me. The entire set of documents, including screenshots of every page of the website, a complete set of logo and usage guidelines and the proposed penalty fees, interest and legal fees, was almost 4 inches thick and arrived in a box, not an envelope.

I immediately responded with the copy of the letter the regional manager had signed and given us. Representatives of the corporation called me the next day with an apology and suggested that this was a matter they would be taking up with the regional manager, who had apparently overstepped corporate boundaries regarding their logo usage. We lost the business because corporate mandated that all the local branches buy through it. 

Jim Mickelson, Northwest Custom Apparel, Milton WA:

I received my first cease-and-desist letter about 25 years ago, for the design: “Whip me, crush me, make me wine.” I ignored the letter, thinking it was frivolous, and then received a second letter, demanding $1,200 in damages. I took the letter to a copyright attorney, who said, “I can win this, but it will cost you $5,000 to defend.” I decided it was best just to pay the $1,200 and apologize to the screen company that owned the design.

Another time, we were making caps that said “ride hard” and selling them on the Internet. I received a phone call from someone in California who claimed he had trademarked the two words. I thought this was a stretch and asked for proof. He sent a copy of the registration and a successful lawsuit he had initiated against the apparel company Wrangler. We paid him $500 and stopped using the words “ride hard.”

Thirty years ago, I would print Seattle Seahawks merchandise without a license. Enforcement was lax back then. Today, we won’t do any licensed product unless we get a release from the holder.

Kathy Nehmer, Kathy’s Kustom Embroidery, Randolph, WI:

I have been a book publisher for 39 years. As such, I know the harm that copyright infringement can cause to the original author or, in this case, designer. I will never understand why in the world embroidery and screen-printing people feel it’s OK to piggyback off the hard work of others in order to make money for themselves. Disney, for example, has spent millions of dollars creating desire for their characters. Face it, would anyone want a rather nondescript mouse on their clothing if Disney hadn’t spent so much money marketing Mickey? I’m sure that embroiderers, printers, crafters and others would feel differently if THEY had created the design or character.

Jackie Tilli, Tilli Custom Flags & Design, Clinton Township, MI:

In the past 20 years, I have been asked to “replicate” logos or modify them slightly. I researched the implications that could be charged against me and always turned down the work. For every shop that says no, there are two or more that will do the work anyway, but it’s not the customer base I seek out or wish to keep. For small mom-and-pop shops, it’s just not worth the risk.

As for customer-owned artwork, I let them know upfront that their artwork is theirs. As long as they pay the setup and art fees, plus my costs, I’m willing to turn over a copy of their original design, though I tell them I’ll keep a copy for future orders. I’ve only had a few customers ever request a copy.

If we design the artwork based on the customer’s request, I consider it a house design and let them know I may take canned art and/or parts from other logos and produce a custom logo for them, but it’s bits and pieces. Then, I only charge art and setup fees, no additional overhead costs.