Let's say I want to sell some merchandise that will be colorful (no specific colors) and include titles of popular songs, although most of the songs are simple phrases that could be used by anyone (such as "Black & Yellow" and "Young & Wild & Free"). I was wondering if this would infringe on anyone's copyrights, either the artist's copyright or the Pittsburgh Steelers' copyright if i did make the "Black & Yellow" merchandise in black and yellow colors. (the song is generally accepted to be about the city of Pittsburgh).
Patent Application Attorney
If you use a phrase, title or "look and feel" that can be construed to come from another person's creation, it is likely that you have infringed on someone's intellectual property right. Bear in mind that it might not only be the title, but colors and related parts that make the whole story. You should contact an attorney to determine whether your package is infringing. Short titles that are descriptive of whatever you are selling might not infringe, but the package might be.
This is not a legal advice as I do not have an attorney-client privilege with you. You should retain a lawyer before acting on any generally available advice.
4 lawyers agree
Song titles are not protected under copyright law. This is why there are hundreds of songs that share the same title. But they may be used as trademarks in some way.
That said, your concern is much more likely regarding trademark than copyright in this context. As my colleagues pointed out if it is perceived that you are creating a false association with a particular artist or sports franchise that may give rise to a legal action.
In my opinion, I think the line frankly will be whether the market can reasonable associate your product as coming from a source you are not associated with like the Steelers.
I would strongly advise discussing your plans with a lawyer in private before making any investment just so you clearly understand where the line is.
Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.
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11 lawyers agree
It is best to engage legal advice on the specific graphics and phrases; they can direct you to online searches for copyright and trademark applications or registrations that you might run afoul of. However, without more detail, it is not possible to give you a blanket answer.
It will be worth your hiring an hour of an attorney's time to advise you of the types of liability and issues that your sales will expose you to. Good luck!
veRONIca jarnagin, atty, pc 317-253-7664 provides this response as general guidance and not specific legal advice. If you wish to receive specific legal advice for your situation, please call to schedule an appointment.
Mr. Natoli gives a good analysis, but also keep in mind that - unlike titles - logos, designs, and fonts can be copyrighted, so if you use a design or other graphic on your merchandise that is copyrighted by someone else, then you will be infringing. And knowingly infringing someone else's copyrighted work can lead to triple the statutory fines for infringement. This is separate from and in addition to any damages you could incur from the trademark violations discussed in the other attorney answers. Basically, if you intend to make your merchandise popular by connecting it to another product or brand in the minds of consumers, then you are probably violating someone's intellectual property rights. I agree with everyone else when they say you should consult an attorney. Good luck.