Will using a altered Superman logo on t-shirts for a university leadership organization cause problems?

Asked 8 months ago - Cleveland, OH

I'm part of the leadership for a major student organization at my university, and for our fall member training retreat we want to have custom t-shirts made. We've made a mockup of the design, which is an altered Superman logo, red on blue, with our organization's logo where the S usually is. You can see the logo here:http://i.imgur.com/LV9Ltms.jpg

Our advisor is worried DC might have a problem with this. I'm pretty sure that since this is not for profit, parody, and educational we shouldn't have a problem.

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Bruce E. Burdick

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . Your advisor is prudent.That logo likely infringes DC, which FYI is owned by Time Warner & Warner Entertainment. I doubt that Warner is going to bother with this infringement if you keep it limited to a summer retreat, but for heaven's sake why did you post the thing here where they will likely see it?

    THAT it's NOT parody and is not educational, so you are wrong in what you were "pretty sure". However, you were wise to doublecheck her on Avvo.

    Bottom Line, wrong but you will likely slide.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is... more
  2. Michael Charles Doland

    Contributor Level 20

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    Lawyers agree

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    Answered . Mr. Burdick is correct in that technically it is a copyright violation, but the liklihood of discovery is quite small and the damages, if the shirts are not sold, potentially modest. There is no "safe harbor" or assured defense here, so your advisor is technically correct to be concerned, and you to check. In the end, it's a judgment call.

    The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may... more
  3. Anne Marie R. Segal

    Contributor Level 7

    Answered . I agree. It is a trademark violation, even if you mean no harm. While you may wonder why DC would care, in order to protect the trademark they need to police it. They will not go after every single violation but can if they choose. I agree with my colleague, posting it here is kind of asking for trouble....

    I don't see how it's a parody (alteration is not enough to make it a parody), and the fact that you are a nonprofit doesn't change the analysis. If you don't want to take legal risks, don't do it.

    Law Office of Anne Marie Segal provides legal counsel to small businesses, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, artists and... more

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