Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Does drawing a trademark prevent getting sued for infringement?

Dear Rich: In response to your recent question about a children's book ... I have done a book for children that features some of their toys, but instead of using photographs of these, I have drawn them, so they resemble the toys. I believe there is no issue with trademark infringment. Can you please clarify this for me? For those readers who don't have time to wade through a few paragraphs, the short answer to our blog's question for today is "Not necessarily."
Please Don't Sue Dept. By way of example, today's thumbnail image, Ed Ruscha's "Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights," (a painting of the 20th Century Fox logo), does not infringe under trademark law because Ruscha is not using the mark to sell anything (other than the art work itself). It's referred to as an informational (or "editorial") use. It's generally fine to use most trademarks for such artistic or news purposes without worrying about trademark infringement but if the trademark has substantial decorative features, it is also protected by copyright (we explain the diff here).  Any reproductions might be considered infringing derivative works (unless declared a fair use).
Walking a Thin Line Dept. Where Ed Ruscha could run into problems would be if he licensed the use of his painting for t-shirts, merchandise, or for use in connection with films or TV shows. In that case, the use shifts from informational (artistic or news) to commercial and 20th Century Fox might argue that consumers are likely to confuse its products with those offered by Ruscha.
"That Said"Dept. In summary, the fact that you drew the marks may not shield you from a cease and desist letter. In addition, some users of trademark images lose the "editorial shield" when they modify the appearance of a trademark. That said, you should also factor in the bigger question of whether the trademark owner will notice your use (or care if they do notice). If the answers are "no" and "no" then you're good to go.