Sunday, April 4, 2021

Selling on TPT 101: Copyright and Trademark

Selling on TPT 101: Copyright and Trademark | Apples to Applique
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not official legal advice. For specific questions, contact a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.

Welcome to TPT 101: Part 5! (Click on these links to find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4!

When I have talked to other teachers about the possibility of selling on Teachers Pay Teachers, many of them are hesitant because they are afraid of unintentionally breaking copyright law. I understand that fear; it is a legitimate concern, and something to learn about before you dive into creating resources. I am by no means an expert on all things copyright or trademark, and this is NOT legal advice, but I wanted to pass along some things that I have learned over the last 6 years of creating.

1. Many things are copyrighted or trademarked that you would not assume, and you cannot use these terms/characters/images without express permission from the owner. That means you cannot use them at all. You cannot refer to them in your title, description, or product. This includes specific curriculum!

2. Websites like Trademarkia are your friend. If you are unsure about a brand or term, type it into their search bar and see if there is a live trademark on it.

3. Don't trust what you see other TPT sellers doing. You will find thousands of copyright violations on Teachers Pay Teachers. Sadly, TPT does not vet their products and will only take products down if they receive a cease and desist letter. I believe this takes away from the legitimacy of the site as a whole, but they claim they cannot take on this responsibility. It is up to us as sellers to ensure the quality of the site by taking extra care that our resources do not violate copyright and trademark; this helps all of us by enabling buyers to trust that our resources are ethical and legitimate.

Again, just because you see something on TPT does not mean it is not a violation of copyright. Some sellers have gone through the proper channels to receive permission, others are simply innocently unaware, and, disappointingly, some have decided it is worth the risk. I am here to tell you it is not; some companies do frequently go through the site and issue cease and desist letters and TPT can offer refunds on all of those sales, which come out of your earnings. The company can also take legal and financial action against you, so just don't go there. It isn't worth it!

4. Always do your own research and do not blindly trust secondhand research from others, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid common characters and brand names. Use generic terms in place of brand names. Just avoid referring to children's characters all together; these companies simply do not grant permission for their use by entrepreneurs, so don't even waste your time trying. 

I actually have a personal anecdote on this one that also serves as a warning: when I was first starting on TPT, I purchased some clip art featuring some popular children's book characters which stated it was for commercial use. I thought I was in the clear, but I was not. The clip artist had merely saved images from an internet search, packaged them together, and resold them. Of course the seller didn't care if they were used for commercial purposes; they didn't have the rights to them in the first place! Thankfully I realized the error before that particular company did a sweep of TPT (which they do frequently) and I deleted the products. But had I done more research on copyright and trademark, I would have avoided the situation in the first place.

5. Try not to be discouraged by this post! I do not want to scare you away from creating products! Just make sure your work is your original creation and that any clip art you purchase is the original work of the seller. Most clip artists do only sell their own work, and as long as they are not a replication of a familiar character, and they state that you are allowed to use their work commercially, you should be good to go!

Stay tuned for Part 6, in which we will discuss writing your own terms of use and properly crediting artists whose work you've used in your products.

Until then, keep teaching (and creating!) with heart and passion!

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