Avoid Content Creation Digital Marketing Mistakes


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.

So back to my “big brilliant idea”. I thought for sure I had the perfect useful 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?

So I got busy to work and spent most of the day creating my Inkscape SVG template with a layout of the various teams organized by sport and name. Then I meticulously searched for logo images where I could determine the team color hex codes. The goal was an easy to use SVG file with the logo colors created into Inkscape swatch files just like I showed in my article “60 Free Inkscape Swatches“.

I’d then save each team as an appropriately named color palette GPL file, organize in folders by sport and place the folders into my Inkscape palette folder. That would let me quickly move from each color palette as I wanted to. And better yet, I could share this shortcut with my Inkscape readers.  I was really thinking about how this would be a great shortcut and very useful with 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 feeling infringed upon.

So I started Google searching phrases like “Can I use XXX team colors in my designs?”. Unfortunately, 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 its called Trade Dress

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 like to draw stuff, so I’ll just 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. On the plus side, fortunately for me, I thought to do a little research before posting my brilliant idea. While I still have my team color SVG file 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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