Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Strike Out: Crafts Artist v. MLB

Dear Rich: My husband has made, but not sold, plaques for our nieces and nephews of their favorite sports team (i.e. Yankees, Giants, Red Sox) as gifts. He carves the logo into wood and then paints them. He has been told by our family and friends, he should make them and sell them at craft fairs. Is this legal? The short answer is that no, it's not legal. The MLB controls all rights to commercially exploit its team names and logos and will hassle those who infringe those rights ... even if it's someone selling MLB fabric tissue box covers on eBay. Of course, in order to get into trouble, somebody would have to find out about your husband's work and complain.  For one-of-a-kind (not mass-produced) work like this, we expect your husband's efforts will be below the MLB's radar (just stay off eBay). 
We could just leave the answer like that -- and you're free to get up and move around the blog if you like -- but your question touches on two sensitive issues for the Dear Rich Staff: (1) How come nobody bought the wonderful book we wrote about crafts law? (2) Why don't we like baseball?
Why Nobody Bought Our Crafts Law Book
The Dear Rich staff has written a lot of books and one of our favorites is the now out-of-print Crafts Law. It was friendly, comprehensive and so helpful. But it didn't sell very well. We tried all kinds of things: promotions at crafts fairs, talking to crafts artists mano-a-mano, and writing columns for a crafts magazine. If you had bought this book and looked for the answer you would have found this helpful excerpt:

"Using trademarks in crafts products. Proceed with caution if you're using trademarks as part of your crafts art -- for example, producing a fabric with a repeating image of the American Express card or producing earrings that feature the Apple computer logo. You may be able to argue that your use is informational and is protected by the First Amendment. However, this argument may be a loser if it looks like you're trading off the success of a trademark rather than commenting upon it. For example, a company that sold trading cards of collectible cars was prohibited from reproducing Chrysler trademarks because Chrysler had already licensed similar collectible products. (Chrysler Corp. v. Newfield Publications Inc., 880 F. Supp. 504 (E.D. MI 1995).) Be aware that making a First Amendment argument means that you've already triggered a company's ire, and you will have to deal with the consequences. This isn't to discourage you from speaking out against corporate branding, just to alert you to the potential morass that awaits if you do."

Anyway... we're not giving up on the crafts world. We're going to improve our crafts book and come out with an all-new version next spring ... so stay tuned!
Why We Don't Like Baseball
We've tried. We enjoyed playing it back in the day. We still try to fit in, often repeating newspaper headlines at lunch meetings -- "I hear Beltram's aiming to rejoin the Mets" or "The Giants better look inward for an opener against the Dodgers." But we lack the honest enthusiasm required. Why? Perhaps it's our upbringing. Perhaps it's our fear of stadiums. Perhaps we're concerned about the environmental impact of all those wooden bats. In any case, we'll look into to it and get back to you.