I have been making christmas ornaments/wall hangings using hand-painted reproductions of such logos as Superman's "s" and the Starfleet insignia from Star Trek. All my crafts have either been for myself or given away as gifts, etc. Would I be able to continue making these items and sell them without infringing on any laws? I've also been doing the same thing with celebrity images I've gotten on-line.
I bet you know the answer to this question already: no. You would be infringing in a number of ways here. There are both copyright aspects that are protected as well as trademark rights.
The fact that you make no money with these works is not relevant. It may be that an action would be unlikley because you are simply not on the radar, but that does not mean you are legally permitted to do this. If you do it for yourself, like make your own artwork based on these other works that is different. My aunt made me a really nice Darth Vader lamp when I was a kid. That is not going to be a problem. But if she began any kind of meaningful distribution (whether or not there was money involved) it could quickly lead to a problem.
Certain works of art may be considered transformative and thus a valid "fair use" defense. This is a very chewy area and lawyers will fiercely disagree about what constitutes fair use in almost every example where it comes up.
The celebrities (their likenesses and images) are protected by state publicity rights laws as well Some states even protect dead people for a certain time after they pass away.
Let me be clear, making a few knick-knacks for friends is not going to be an issue even if technically speaking it was infringement. But there must be a reason you are writing here today and I have to assume that you are getting concerned at this point.
I advise you to consult a lawyer if you do intend on continuing this practice so you are clear on what the limits of your use are. You may have certain options available to you.
I will link you to some helpful IP info below and you are welcome to contact me if you care to discuss.
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6 lawyers agree
Patent Application Attorney
NO, you cannot do that without being an infringer. There are no exceptions.
USPTO Registered Patent Attorney, Master of Intellectual Property law, MBA I am neither your attorney, nor my answers or comments in AVVO.com create an attorney-client relationship with you. You may accept or disregard my free advice in AVVO.com at your own risk. I am a Patent Attorney, admitted to the USPTO and to the Florida Bar.
1 lawyer agrees
Intellectual Property Law Attorney
If you do it for personal use and not for distribution you are not likely to draw objection since either no one will know who is in a position to sue you or, if they are, they won't consider it worthwhile to do so.
One you begin to distribute, whether as gifts or for sale, you now risk drawing attention. If you do in online, you should expect the enforcement teams of the brand owners will notice as they do their enforcement Internet searching. That could get you crossways with some big players that you cannot afford to fight.
So, for your own ornaments - relatively low risk. For distribution low volume - moderate risk. For high volume or Internet, you are likely toast.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.