How Not To Be A Copyright Jerk

Let’s be fair. At some point you’ve seen a kick-ass design somewhere and though, “that would look great on my jersey.” With the magical powers of Google, Instagram, and Pinterest (or AOL if you’re 55+), it’s pretty easy to find those images and copy them to upload here later. In many cases, that’s a big NO NO and may be illegal or considered copyright and/or trademark infringement. In the US, the registrations that impact designers include trademark and copyright and protect two distinct types of intellectual property.


Copyright is ownership over a piece of work or art and the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, commercially exploit, and otherwise profit from it. Work is automatically copyrighted when it is created; however, registering the copyright with the The U.S. Copyright Office is required if a business wants to sue over the use of the material by another party. Copyright tends to be more geared toward literary and artistic works and they protect the following:

  • Books, articles, web content
  • Paintings, photographs, and visual works
  • Songs, movies, television shows and ads


A trademark is a recognizable word, sign, design or expression that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods of one party from those of others. Trademark tends to protect items that define a company brand.  and they protect the following:

  • Business name, brand, or product names
  • Logos or marks used to identify a company or product
  • Company slogans or phrases

Why does this matter? Because using just any artwork from the internet that you don’t own or didn’t make could get you in trouble.

What you CAN use

  • Any image or graphic that is royalty free for commercial use.
  • Any image or graphic that is considered public domain.
  • Any image or graphic that you created or is 100% your design.
  • Any image you received permission from the copyright or trademark holder to use. Sometimes, just shooting a quick email to them will make sure it’s okay.

Here are some extra resources:

Trademark: In the U.S. search USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)

Copyright: Visit the U.S. Copyright Office.