Whether you are a designer, a business owner, or a merchandiser, well-designed shirts can be a hit. In recent years, shirts with song lyrics have gained popularity as a fun and poetic way to advertise one’s music taste. However, you may be wondering if it is technically legal to print and sell shirts with song lyrics on them.
Although it is possible to sell shirts with recognizable song lyrics on them, a business often has to obtain a licensing agreement with the copyright owner of the lyrics. This can be difficult to manage and potentially costly. If a business does not obtain this permission, it may be subject to a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Navigating legalities, especially when you are a business owner or designer, can be difficult, especially when you are dealing with information that is legally owned by someone else. Keep reading to learn more about why it is difficult to sell shirts with song lyrics on them and how you can get permission if you wish to do so.
Is it Legal to Sell Shirts With Song Lyrics on Them?
Maybe you are a business owner with an established line of clothing or an aspiring designer with an idea for a great t-shirt. Either way, if your design requires the use of song lyrics, there are several reasons why it can become legally tricky to sell this product.
The Rules of Copyright
Copyright law is an intricate field that many people spend years studying to become knowledgeable professionals. When there is intellectual property, such as songs, it usually belongs to one or more of the following entities:
- Individual artists
- Record labels
A hit song is likely to be heavily copyrighted and finding out who owns them can be a challenge.
The Price of Copyright Agreements
If you are determined to have the lyrics of that new hit song on your shirt design, you may have to face the reality of a hefty price tag. Negotiating copyright agreements often involves legal fees and also money you will have to pay to the artist or individual who owns the lyrics. Even if this is a fairly obscure song, the prices can quickly add up.
How to Legally Design Shirts With Song Lyrics on Them
First and foremost, the borders between what is a song lyric and what is just a collection of words may seem difficult to distinguish. In general, if the lyrics are recognizable and can be attributed to a certain artist, that most likely means that these lyrics fall under the protection of copyright laws.
If you are determined to include song lyrics on your shirts, it is essential to follow these requirements.
- Talk to the copyright owner: Whether this is the musician or an agent, you will need to somehow get in touch with a representative who owns the rights to the song to negotiate permissions.
- Talk to a copyright lawyer: Having someone on your side who understands the intricacies of copyright law can be very helpful. Schedule a consultation with an attorney who specializes in matters of copyright law.
- Make the lyrics unrecognizable: If all else fails and getting an agreement for certain lyrics is unattainable or too costly, you can choose just a few select words from the lyrics to avoid recognition. Though this may seem to defeat the point, it can still result in an eye-catching design without the potential legal repercussions.
These different strategies will help you should you still choose to include lyrics on your shirt design.
What Happens if You Do Not Ask for Copyright Permission?
If you decide to print lyrics on a shirt and sell it without copyright permission, you may find yourself the recipient of a cease and desist letter at the very least. If you intend to sell your merchandise to a wide audience, it is inevitable that sooner or later someone will investigate the copyright. When they do, you may even find yourself subject to a copyright infringement lawsuit.
It is up to you to make sure you have the permissions in place before you start circulating shirts with song lyrics widely for public sale.
The appeal of words as a design tool is undeniable, especially when the words in question are catchy song lyrics. However, if you choose to print song lyrics on a t-shirt design intended for sale, you may run into some legal issues. Most song lyrics are protected by copyright laws, and you may need to arrange an agreement beforehand to legally sell them on a shirt.