Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sports logos on band t-shirts

Dear Rich: I had a question about the use of professional sports logos. I've seen a few bands use them on their shirts. My band came up with an idea similar to that, but I disagreed because I thought I learned in my business law class, that it would be infringement of their copyright. They went on to show me tons of shirts like it. I still think its illegal, but how do they get away with it? We're not sure we're understanding this one. Do you mean the band includes the sports logo along with the band's name on a band t-shirt... like you buy a U2 t-shirt and it also has the logo for the Knicks? If that's the case, it sounds kind of confusing to us. Is it because the band wants to express its likes and dislikes -- y'know the whole thumbs up/thumbs down thing. Miami Heat: Like; Colonscopy: Dislike. If that's the case, the Dear Rich Staff is definitely out of it(we thought kids formed bands because they were crummy at sports).
Names and logos = trademarks In any case, the issue of using a sports logo isn't a copyright issue (Don't worry about the confusion -- apparently even the editors of the Daily Beast can get it wrong -- see above.) The unauthorized use of a team's name or logo on a t-shirt violates the team's trademark rights (as does the use of peripheral marks such as "March Madness").
How do they get away with it? People "get away" with trademark infringement for two reasons: (1) the trademark owner isn't aware of the infringement, or (2) the owner is aware of the infringement but doesn't consider it worth pursuing financially (or from a PR point of view). If you wish to obey the law, then you shouldn't use the logo or name. If you want to use a sports logo anyway, then, (as you can probably guess), you're more likely to run into problems, the more well-known and well-publicized your band becomes.