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My Brilliant Morning Idea
I had this brilliant idea recently over my morning cup of java; at least at the time it seemed brilliant but my excuse now is that I hadn’t yet had enough caffeine to think it out clearly. You see I had recently written several articles on “how to create Inkscape patterns and Inkscape swatches“. I’m really focused on creative design resources that make life easier for content creators, DIY’ers, and designers who use free editors and online resources to make a living.
So I decided it would be a really useful resource to create Inkscape swatches (aka Inkscape color palettes) for all the favorite professional American sports teams. You know the professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey teams that everyone watches on tv. You’ll notice I don’t mention by name or use the magically three-letter synonyms for any of them and I’m about to share why.
Back to my “big brilliant idea”. I thought for sure I had the perfect shortcut for anyone working with Inkscape. My caffeine-deprived brain thought “hey, wouldn’t it be great to have team color swatches to easily make a cool text design or graphic in your favorite team’s colors”. How cool would that be?
I got busy to work and spent most of the day creating an Inkscape SVG template with a layout of the various teams organized by sport and name. After a meticulously search for team logo images, I created a list of each team’s color hex codes. The goal was an easy to use SVG file with the logo colors placed into Inkscape swatch files like I showed in my article “60 Free Inkscape Swatches“.
I saved each team as an appropriately named color palette GPL file, organized in folders by team sport, and placed into my Inkscape palette folder. The GPL palettes provided easy access to each team’s colors by switching between palettes when designing. Better yet, I planned to share this great shortcut with my Inkscape readers since I thought it would be very handy for creating designs.
But towards late afternoon a little voice got me thinking.
I’d named each GPL for the team the colors represented and I had used the 3 letter synonym for the sports affiliation. Mmmm, perhaps I’d been a bit hasty in doing all this work since I knew from working with print on demand designs that creating a design associated with well-known entities can run into copyright or trademark issues. That almost inevitably leads to nastygram emails from law firms representing the parties who feel they have been infringed upon.
I google’d search phrases like “Can I use XXX team colors in my designs?”. Much to my dismay, there’s a lot of other brilliant idea folks out there trying to do what I thought was fairly innocent design work. That is, use colors from well known (aka famous) sports teams on something they could make.
Hey, it’s just a bunch of colors and I wasn’t planning on selling anything as “official team stuff”. Oops. All the “I’m not your lawyer but here are my legal advice answers….” said basically the same thing.
Copyright or Trademark – No it’s called Trade Dress
The answer was simple.
No. Do it at your own risk, especially if you haven’t gotten permission from the parties involved.
Apparently, there’s something in addition to copyright and trademarks called “trade dress”. I’m no lawyer I just draw stuff, so I have to defer to the “experts” explanation. Apparently using team colors and referring to them by the team name can and probably will be interpreted as infringing on trade dress rights.
“…Colors are also available for anyone to use. But if you use a combination similar to the “trade dress” of what some sports team uses, they’ll sue you for infringement….Teams own their trademarks in the classes for entertainment services, clothing, toys, etc., including their team name, plus the colors. They also own the trade dress: the particular configuration of colors (plus their team name and logo using its font in the same size and placement as where their uniforms place it, etc. etc.) that’s acquired what’s called “secondary meaning” in the minds of consumers. That’s what makes the trade dress valuable and is why you want to use it….” courtesy of Arvo.com
Yikes! Unfortunately for me that nix’d my brilliant idea faster than flushing the commode. Fortunately for me, I thought to do a little research before posting my brilliant idea. While I still have my team color SVG files I can use for personal reasons I no longer plan on sharing it for obvious reasons. (I gathered from my research that professional team lawyers are rather zealous in protecting their clients…..)
It goes to show that doing research on what people want versus what you can offer is just part of doing business online. Oh, and I also need to drink a little more caffeine in the morning before I start designing. : p
So do your research and make sure your within your legal rights or find someone who can help you resolve any legal questions you might have.
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