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NFL Copyright Conflicts


hawk36

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Tried to get this "gag" gift printed recently and was denied as the printer said it was in violation of the NFL copyright. As an artist I'm all in favor or protecting brands but I honestly don't see how this infringes. Printer said the use of the word Chargers, the blue and yellow, and the roman numerals combined to create a copyright violation. Wondered what others thought and if you've ever had similar issues.

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Did he mean trademark? Copyright is usually used with a creative work of some kind like a book, painting, photograph, etc.

And If simply using the word 'Chargers" is a violation than the NFL has some pretty big issues with every maker of smart phones, ever. lol

That person doesn't have a clue. You only really violate a trademark if you try to profit from something someone else owns. Simply printing something, even if it was their lightning bolt logo, wouldn't necessarily violate the law unless you tried to sell it and were going to create brand confusion. This is merely words and numbers which are basic and can't be copywritten, trademarked, etc. They may just be taking the "better be safe than sorry approach" here.

I brew my own beer, and in 2008 I brewed a batch called 'Epic Fail Ale" to commemorate the Lions winless season for my fellow fan friends. On the labels I used the Lions actual logo (with an "X" over its eye) and the printer did it, saying just don't try to sell these.

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I think there's at least a colorable argument about the likelihood of confusion under the various tests for trademark infringement set forth by US Courts. The words, colors, imagery, and overall look and feel of the design are all elements which viewed in combination could contribute to the possible confusion. That the design is not used for profit would not preclude a finding of trademark infringement--it would only be one of the factors a court would weigh in its determination of infringement and damages. Unlike copyright law, where a fair use affirmative defense includes the portion of the copyrighted work used and whether the user profited from the use, fair use in trademark law makes no consideration of the alleged infringer's profit from the use.

That said, I doubt a court would find infringement in this case--in fact, I don't think this would even get past summary judgment--and even if a court were to somehow find infringement, damages would be nominal.

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I agree totally that there is chance for confusion, and if for profit, definitely a case. Basically everything you said. Therefore the printer, while probably being way over cautious because a single shirt is clearly not for commercial purposes, was probably technically correct (not about terminology though).

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This is merely words and numbers which are basic and can't be copywritten, trademarked, etc. They may just be taking the "better be safe than sorry approach" here.

I think that could well be the case. He may not have wanted to get anywhere near the line.

Although I think you're wrong about what can or cannot be trademarked. Universities can trademark their colors in context, so I'm pretty sure that the word "Chargers" in team colors (even historical ones) is a violation. If the OP had used "San Diego" instead, he might have been okay.

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This is merely words and numbers which are basic and can't be copywritten, trademarked, etc. They may just be taking the "better be safe than sorry approach" here.

I think that could well be the case. He may not have wanted to get anywhere near the line.

Although I think you're wrong about what can or cannot be trademarked. Universities can trademark their colors in context, so I'm pretty sure that the word "Chargers" in team colors (even historical ones) is a violation. If the OP had used "San Diego" instead, he might have been okay.

That's tricky...because there are probably 100 high schools that use "Patriots" and red and blue, or "Cardinals" and variations of red/black. This Chargers design could easily be for a softball or high school team (in theory) and it seems to me the NFL would have a tough time conjuring up a trademark violation.

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At my old job (which dealt with embroidery), we weren't allowed to do anything that combined a team's name, whether it be location or mascot, with the team's colors. If someone wanted "Vikings" embroidered, it could not be in purple (whether it referred to the NFL team or not). I imagine at the very least it's a safe way for companies to avoid legal issues, though I don't know that such things are specifically trademarked right down to the aforementioned examples. Again, probably just an easy way to play it safe.

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I don't think so. The NFL could make a claim that royal, navy and sky blue are all associated with the Chargers. Especially when paired with gold. Try to find a shade of blue that the average person can't associate with the team; the standard is extremely low.

But again, colleges can trademark color schemes without the name itself. Using the name as well would push it into tricky territory.

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When I worked at a silkscreen shop in the late 80's we had posted a list of cities and nicknames that customers were not allowed to order for print in specific colors... but that place was obviously a for-profit operation.

(I remember going to my boss to explain that some of the teams were incorrect... they had the word "Lakers" listed as off limits in blue and gold... he basically told me to get out of his office.)

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Thanks for all the comments. As I mentioned to the printer, apparently they wouldn't be able to print anything for a local high school named the Chargers whose colors are blue and yellow. Maybe that would be different though if it combined the name of the school with the Chargers and colors.

Guess everyone has to be worried about lawsuits though. But as long as it's not being sold, seems it should fall into the loophole that I believe Girltalk uses by sampling famous songs without paying royalties since he doesn't charge for his albums.

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But as long as it's not being sold, seems it should fall into the loophole that I believe Girltalk uses by sampling famous songs without paying royalties since he doesn't charge for his albums.

The not being sold "loophole" (the fair use affirmative defense) works for him because songs and albums are analyzed under copyright law, where the user's profit is a factor for fair use. That doctrine would not apply here because the primary concern is trademark infringement instead of copyright infringement.

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But as long as it's not being sold, seems it should fall into the loophole that I believe Girltalk uses by sampling famous songs without paying royalties since he doesn't charge for his albums.

The not being sold "loophole" (the fair use affirmative defense) works for him because songs and albums are analyzed under copyright law, where the user's profit is a factor for fair use. That doctrine would not apply here because the primary concern is trademark infringement instead of copyright infringement.

So what exactly is the trademark in question here? Is it like the printer said the combination of the whole? I don't see how trademarks can apply to:

- Chargers (doesn't say NFL or San Diego or even football)

- Blue and yellow (obviously thousands of teams and companies use that combo)

- Roman numerals (again many use Roman numerals for many different things)

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The courts have ruled that universities can trademark their color combinations even when the name of the university is not present. That may seem strange, but it is the law.

So yeah, the actual name "Chargers" in team colors seems like an obvious infringement.

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The courts have ruled that universities can trademark their color combinations even when the name of the university is not present. That may seem strange, but it is the law.

So yeah, the actual name "Chargers" in team colors seems like an obvious infringement.

John Deere green/yellow. Mickey Mouse red. Kodak gold (when they existed) are other examples. and when used in the context of "sports logo" you start to push the boundaries.

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The courts have ruled that universities can trademark their color combinations even when the name of the university is not present. That may seem strange, but it is the law.

So yeah, the actual name "Chargers" in team colors seems like an obvious infringement.

Wait, colors ONLY? Really? So if Auburn has done this then any blue and orange team could be in possible violation of their trademark? I can't believe that can be true. Unless they're doing the "PMS 289+1% more black" thing as their navy blue.

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