Beginner’s Guide on How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

With the rise of viral street art, pop art and popular inspirational slogans – it’s not surprising that 64 percent of professionals had work stolen over 200 times in 2016. Knowing whether a design includes copyrighted material could mean the difference between success and a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there’s no one site that houses every protected image or vector for you to check before you start printing. However, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to navigate.

How to Tell if Something Is Copyrighted

As a basic guideline, any work published after Jan. 1, 1978, is automatically copyrighted from creation to 70 years after the artist’s death. Anything published before Jan. 1, 1978, was required to be registered with the Copyright Office, and includes a notice of copyright © on the work. Here’s what that means:

  • Any work published before Jan. 1, 1923 is in the public domain (free use).
  • Any work created between 1923-1977 that doesn’t include a copyright notice is in the public domain.
  • All work published between 1923-1963 with a copyright that wasn’t renewed is free for use.

The “©” symbol, a watermark, a trademark, an artist’s signature, or a specific statements of ownership, are easy indicators that a design or phrase is copyrighted. It can also have the words “Protected Design”, “Prot’d Des.”, the symbol “*D*”, or the letter “D” inside a circle. It’s important to note somewhere along the way the copyright could have been photoshopped out – so if none of those options are visible, it may take a bit of research to confirm whether it is free to use or not.

As a common rule, if you right-click on a really cool vector you found and there’s no option to “save as”, it’s protected. If something is iconic, from a movie, of a celebrity, or an outline of a character – it’s probably copyrighted. For example, that really awesome outline of Black Panther probably shouldn’t be mass-produced, unless you’ve purchased the appropriate licenses. Similarly, logos and brand names are trademarked, and thus those items cannot be replicated either.

On the flip side, designs using short phrases (i.e. Weekend Vibes), standard geometric figures, familiar symbols, or anything that has become ordinary or common are NOT protected.

Where To Search For Copyright Clarification

While there’s no foolproof way to determine if something is protected, there are a few tactics you can utilize to help in your research.

First, try reverse searching the image using Google Images or reverse image-search service Berify to track how it’s currently being used. If there are little to no results or it’s not posted on any reputable site, there are better odds that the work is not copyrighted.  


The Copyright Office also has a database of registered works, though you would have to know some detail about what you’re looking for (artist name, title of the artwork, etc), and the original author would have had to officially register it.

Lastly, if you’re handy with HTML you can try searching the metadata – often artists will hide their info there.

Determining Usage Rights and Copyright-Free Images

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the rights associated with a piece of artwork—some are fair-use only, some allow you to modify, others only allow you to print or embroider as is. If you’ve found a copyrighted design that you really love, ask the owner for permission to reproduce the original or modify the medium. If you have a license through a stock image site such as Shutterstock or iStock by Getty Images, there’s usually a note letting you know the use associated with the image before you download.



Additionally, there are resources where you can get license-free artwork because the artists or photographers have relinquished their rights. Sites like Unsplash or Creative Commons house works that are free for anyone to use or edit.

These are just a few ways to figure out if something is copyrighted, tactics you can use to find out, and basics on determining usage rights. What does your company do to prevent running into trademark troubles? We’d love to hear your tips and suggestions in the comments below.

What Makes Bella + Canvas Airlume Cotton So Different?

What makes BELLA+CANVAS T-shirts so Soft? from BELLA+CANVAS on Vimeo.

Bella + Canvas goes through A LOT of trouble to make the softest cotton fabric possible. 25-30% of the cotton during the manufacturing process is combed out to eliminate impurities in the fabric. Lots of manufacturers would put that inferior cotton back into batch during the spinning process, but Bella + Canvas keeps it out.

Only “long-stapled” cotton (long cotton fibers) is used, which greatly reduces stray fibers and creates a smoother surface and much softer feel.

The Airlume process also creates a much tighter and even knit across the surface of the fabric, making it ideal for screenprinting. Why? A tighter weave and less stray fibers means there is more surface area for ink to be placed, giving your customers a much more detailed and cleaner print.

HOW TO SCREEN PRINT on Polyester (feat. The Badger ULTIMATE Softlock Tee)

Trying to print on 100% polyester can be a nightmare without using the right inks and the right procedure. Client’s printed designs can go from a beautiful work of art to a horribly discolored mess, in the blink of an eye, or even worse, days later after they already have the products in their hands. This is caused by dye migration, which happens when dye from 100% polyester fabric turns into a gas and seeps into the ink of the printed design.

To help you out, Geno from, is going to show us what steps you can take to prevent dye migration from ruining your 100% polyester prints. To demonstrate, he’ll be using our BRAND NEW Badger Softlock Tees (style 4020). 

“BEHIND THE INK” w/ Greg Gaardbo

“What I think makes our business successful is CREATIVITY, Number 1.” says Greg Gaardbo, owner of Shockwaves Promotional Apparel. His creativity and ability to think outside the box has helped him build a business that’s continued growing for over 23 years. We sat down with him at his shop, located just outside of Chicago, to find out how he got started, what his inspirations are, and what’s made him so successful. One thing is for sure. He has a thirst for creativity, dabbling in screen printing, embroidery, laser cutting, sublimation, drawing and even woodworking. AND…. that’s not all. In his SPARE time, Greg and his wife, Kristina, run an award winning Texas BBQ restaurant, named the Chicago Culinary Kitchen, on the weekends. This place serves up some tasty BBQ that’s so good, it’s even been featured on The Cooking Channel. A man of many talents, Greg definitely has the recipe for success.

BONUS FOOTAGE: See this dynamic duo talk about their delicious BBQ!

Gildan Brings Down “The HAMMER!”

When we think of a “hammer,” we typically imagine a heavy metal object swinging down on top of nail. NOW, you’ll be thinking of the ALL NEW heavyweight Gildan Hammer Tees instead.

Available in short sleeve, long sleeve and also with a pocket, they have a slight classic fashion fit and a little more weight (6oz.)  to them then the average retail tee (typically around 4 oz.). Combed ringspun cotton adds that softness we all love in our tees and a Tearaway label makes “The Hammer” a complete package!