Asked in Trademark

Q: if I was to use a trademark from a movie , on a tee shirt for me and my friends am I breaking the law ? i

pretty much the logo from an 80's movie, lets say it was ghostbusters logo , on a tee shirt . Im putting the order in and my friends are giving me the money for what the tee shirt cost. not making money off it .

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1 Lawyer Answer
James D. Williams
James D. Williams
  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • Richmond, VA

A: Your question raises several potential legal issues that can't be answered with the limited info you provided.

Generally, if there is is a registered trademark, then it is registered with a specific class or classes of goods. If the logo is registered on t-shirts, then you have a problem. If you're using a trademark in commerce (selling products/services with the branding), then that's the main basis for an infringement suit. If you aren't selling it or using it like a trademark, it's possible there's no trademark infringement. I want to point out that most people who try to use logos on t-shirts usually just have a large logo on the front - which doesn't function as a trademark. The hang tag or using the logo like the Polo Ralph Lauren logo are generally accepted trademark uses.

Even if the logo isn't protected by trademark laws, there's a decent chance the logo is covered by copyright law. This involves an important distinction because mere copying of a logo, even if it's a non-commercial use, can be copyright infringement. Whether you change the logo at all may impact the analysis, but there's no magic number or rule for transformation in terms of potential fair use. That's a legal defense which means you have to be sued before it applies, and the judge/court are the only figures who can determine what is actually fair use.

If you end up hearing from the movie owner/rights holder, then you should consult an attorney right away before responding.

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