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What constitutes "written permission" in online purchases?

San Jose, CA |

I run a business that prints hard copies of certificates issued online only. Recipients send me a link and ask that I print it out. Some ask that I add a generic gold sticker as embellishment (i.e. make it nicer). Can they just check off a box agreeing to a statement OR do they need to actually type it out?I want to avoid problems with copyright/trademark infringement, claims of authenticity etc..

Many thanks for your help!

The certificate is issued by an online school in digital form only (up to recipients to print it out). If checking off a box is suffice, can I use this statement: Yes, please add a gold seal to my certificate! I understand that the seal sticker does not authenticate the certificate, is not endorsed by or an endorsement from the school or education company, and is solely for decorative purposes only.

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Attorney answers 3


You are not the school. However, I see no legal liability in your adding a gold seal provided it is a generic seal not something like a school logo or embossed with any school motto or official indicia of any kind. The problem is printing certificates without permission. You violate both copyright and trademark law when you do this. Likely the school would provide you a permission letter if you ask, as the school is surely doing online certificates just to save money and pass the cost of printing on to the students. There is some chance of an implied license here is the school chooses to force students to do the printing and authorizes students to print out certificates.

The agreement you need is not from the student, it is from the school. The student is not going to sue you for infringement, but the school might. However, I think since the school has a vested interest in having its certificates look good, I think it's actually quite likely they would approve of your doing this.

Look for the win-win opportunity in any problem like this. Why not approach the school and pay a small royalty to the school in return for being an "official printer"? The school is obviously cutting certificate printing costs to save money, so it seems quite likely they would be eager to turn the certificates into a money maker through licensing some printer like you to be their "official printer". There's where your real opportunity lies. Good Luck, and, you're welcome.

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.


Checking a box with the agreed statement is sufficient to create a contract. But that is the least of your problems here. You cannot legally add this gold sticker to the certificates without approval from the on-line school that issues the certificates. In so doing, you are creating a derivative work in violation of copyright law (unless you receive permission). Further, you may also be violating trademark law by associating the trademark of the institution with a form of certificate that it did not approve. Without approval from the on-line school that issues these certificates, you should not be printing copies of the certificates in which you add a generic gold sticker. That can land you in hot water (i.e., an expensive law suit).

I am not your lawyer and this is not intended to be legal advice on which you rely. My answer is merely intended to assist you in understanding some of the issues that you face so that you can make an intelligent choice when you hire legal counsel.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


I doubt a judge would be very sympathetic to the school in this situation, since it is of the school's own doing when they tried to cut costs by forcing the printing onto the students by only issuing online certificates. The school cannot reasonably expect to be successful in legal action objecting to students having a nice certificate made at their own expense when the school is deliberately forcing the students to do it by not doing what almost every other institution does.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


Also, talk about a potential publicity disaster, this would be it! The media would have a field day embarrassing this institution and labeling the institution as a cheapskate that doesn't care about its students.

Maurice N Ross

Maurice N Ross


Bruce: On-line schools are under tremendous pressure to comply with federal and state regulatory requirements, including requirements of quality control on issuance of degrees. The look and contents of certificates, whether printed on-line or off, is a matter of great concern to these institutions. Many of them want to keep it simple and straight-forward to avoid implying that the certificate means more than it does. State attorney generals and the FTC have been investigating these on-line schools and several have already reached settlements. I don't think this would embarrass the institution at all--rather, it would help it maintain its credibility.


Checking off a box online is sufficient to create a binding contract, however you have additional problems with potentially infringing the intellectual property rights of the organization which issues the certificates. I would recommend that you hire an attorney and work directly with this organization to avoid liability and protect yourself.

This response to your inquiry is for general purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or establishment of an attorney-client relationship.

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