A copyright exists upon the creation of something, and protects the creator from others duplicating it in an exact or “confusingly similar” form. When you put a completely original design on a Teespring campaign that doesn’t exist elsewhere (and does not infringe upon the rights of a third party) you automatically own a copyright for that design.
Phrases that are longer, original, and unique are also protected, such as the lyrics of a band. Taking a copyrighted phrase and changing the font or adding additional artwork would still be considered infringement.
A copyright rarely protects ideas, such as “New York is the best city.” Additionally, a copyright does not protect short phrases or common slogans such as “I love my husband,” or “because I said so.” Similarly, generic symbols and designs, such as a star, or an awareness ribbon, are very rarely protected.
You can learn more about copyright law on the FAQ page provided by the U.S. Copyright Office.
Jackson’s Beard Tees
Jackson wanted to launch a campaign to sell to his Instagram community of beard-enthusiasts. He creates the following beard silhouette image using Photoshop, and uploads it to his campaign along with the phrase “beards are best.” His audience loves it!
Mike sees and really loves the design, and wants to put it on a t-shirt to sell to his friends participating in “No Shave November.” He takes a screenshot of Jackson’s design, and uploads it onto a campaign on his own. He changes the shirt color, the font, and the spacing of the image.
Although Mike made very slight changes to Jackson’s design, the changes were not substantial enough to make the new design Mike’s original work. Should Jackson submit a report outlining Mike’s use of his design without his permission, Mike’s design would be removed for a copyright violation.
Mike took time to make sure his next campaign featured an original design - he used The Noun Project to search for royalty-free vector graphics of other beards. He made sure that any images he wanted to use were denoted as “public domain,” like this one:
Though still inspired by the original beard shirt he saw, Mike made sure not to use any of Jackson’s (or anyone else’s) intellectual property. His shirt is therefore not infringing upon Jackson’s design, and is ready for sales.
Melissa’s Country Girls Tees
Melissa has a Facebook community called “Dirt Road Ridin’ Country Girls,” and was racking her brain for a new tee design her audience will love. She was browsing Deviantart (a site where artists post their original works) for inspiration and sees the following image.
She decides to save the shirt image to her computer, remove the background, and upload it onto a campaign of her own. Melissa also changes the type and color of the shirt.
The artist who created the work and uploaded it to Deviantart then submits a cease and desist to Teespring on behalf of Melissa’s campaign. Because the design is the artist's original work, it’s automatically copyrighted and protected against exact duplication. After the artist provides dated photoshop files to prove his ownership of the artwork, Melissa’s campaign has to be removed for copyright infringement.
This time, Melissa knows that she needs to make substantial alterations to the design (such as font, color, and lay-out changes) in order to make it her own. She uses several different fonts found in Teespring’s designer tool, and comes up with the following shirt. This new design no longer infringes upon the artist’s intellectual property, and is ready for Melissa’s audience to purchase.
Gracie’s Supermom Shirts:
Gracie is a prominent blogger, who often writes about parenting. She wanted to launch a Teespring campaign to her community of other bloggers, and pays a friend to create the following original design for her.
Amanda is another blogger with an audience of moms. She, too, wanted to create a Teespring campaign, and came up with the following design. She changes the phrase used on the shirt, and substitutes different fonts.
But because Amanda’s design still uses Gracie’s caped woman image in its entirety, it would subsequently have to be removed for copyright infringement after Gracie provides evidence of ownership. Although Gracie didn’t make the design herself, she paid her friend for its creation. This transaction makes the design Gracie’s intellectual property.
After Amanda’s campaign is removed, she decides take the time to create something wholly original. She grabs inspiration from Gracie’s design for parents, but includes all of her own artwork, text, and images. Though the two shirts can be considered similar, Amanda’s design no longer infringes upon Gracie’s design.