I often have buyers ask, “Will you make something with X?” when X is Minecraft, the movie Frozen, Sponge Bob, a specific superhero, Dr. Seuss-themed… You get the idea.
Here’s the thing – you won’t ever see identifiable characters in any of my products or on my blog. Do you know why? Because those characters are protected by copyright – plus, the names are usually trademarked.
“What’s the big deal?” you wonder. “I make stuff like that for therapy all of the time – I just googled the images and put them in my document.” That is fine. The “fair use” section of United States copyright law allows teachers and other educational personnel to use copyrighted materials for teaching purposes. What you make in your therapy room stays in your therapy room. However, the line is often confused with posting materials online.
I often have sellers and bloggers ask me where exactly that line is, and I decided it would be easiest to address some of the most frequently asked questions here. This is meant to be a helpful guide. (Please note, I am not a lawyer, and if you have a serious legal question, you should consult an attorney, not me!)
Frequently asked questions:
“I’m not charging anything for it. That’s not a copyright violation, is it, since I’m not earning a profit?”
“I bought this Frozen clipart to make this product, and it said commercial use was ok.”
“No one told me that this was a problem, so I can’t get in trouble for not knowing, right?”
“I’ve never gotten a cease and desist letter, so my product is fine, right?”
“How do I know if a name is trademarked and to stay away from it?”
“What about making materials to go along with a program like ‘Reading Street’ or the ‘Expanding Expression Tool’? Can I use those names in my product title or description?”
It depends on the publisher/author. If you are not sure, contact the company directly and see what they have to say.If a title is trademarked, you cannot use it without permission from the trademark holder. “Reading Street” is trademarked by the publisher for educational use, which means it is off limits. As far as I know, the “Expanding Expression Tool” (EET) does not yet have a registered trademark, but I believe the author is in the process of having this done. Unless you obtain direct written permission from the owner of the trademarked name, do not use it in your products or the description.
Additionally, the EET itself is a copyrighted idea; the author has stated before that you may not use the colored circles and the corresponding labels together in any product. Use of the colored circles with no labels *may* be allowed with attribution, but you really need to check with the author first.
Terms such as the Super Bowl, Read Across America Week, March Madness, and the Olympics are all trademarked and should not be used.
“Can I make a companion activity to go along with a certain book?”
“Can I use whatever images I want on my blog/free product? I’m not making money from it.”
“Other people have items with Dr. Seuss or Frozen characters posted. Why shouldn’t I?”
I hope this post has been helpful! If you have other questions, feel free to contact me directly or post them below, and I will do my best to point you in the right direction for an answer.
Great post Natalie!!
This was an incredible post, Natalie! Thank you so much for writing this. The information was very clearly explained and I definitely have a better understanding now. It's a good thing I'm not a big TpT author!
Talking in the Classroom says
Thank you! I was wondering about wording for a book companion that I am working on.
Linda LooksLikeLanguage says
Thanks so much, Natalie! Great information!
Abraham Douglas says
Copyright and Trademark 101: Why You Won’t Find Featuring The Feline With The Striped Chapeau in My Store What’s your favorite cat story? Have you ever considered adopting a pet from the shelter or adoption center but didn’t know what to expect when it comes time for them home? Let me tell ya. Although I’ve been fortunate enough get some great cats (like Marcy), there are still those unfortunate ones out there who we wish could have had an entire family with them sooner rather than later.