Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On the Subject of Trademarked Logos, Images, and Other Intellectual Property

Graduation orders have trickled to a stop, but this is a relevant topic any time.  When I first started my shop, and in particular when I started making my graduation exploding box cards, I did not give a thought to using logos or graphics from the internet and whether they might be trademarked or copyrighted.  Starting out, I was just making cards with local school graphics, and it didn't occur to me that it might be a problem.  However, since joining Etsy in 2010, I have made an effort to spend time in the user forums, where I have learned a lot about many issues involved with selling on Etsy, and as it happens, trademark violation is a huge issue.  There are thousands of discussions about how some of the larger companies, such as Disney, Harley-Davidson, and Tiffany, are vigilant about violation of their trademarked materials (you can't even describe something as "Tiffany blue", come to find out.)  As it happens, many colleges and universities have similar protections on their own logos and other graphics, especially the larger, more notorious schools with big athletic programs.  Thankfully, I became aware of this early on when I began selling my graduation exploding box cards, and have made an effort not to be in violation of any school's policy on use of their logos.  Unfortunately, it's not always clear, and that's where I run into uncomfortable situations.

With school logos, my usual procedure is to first look at the school's website to see if they have a brand guideline.  Many of the larger schools have a document that describes everything from the exact fonts and colors in their official brand, to information about permitted uses.  Some have a request form that can be filled out and submitted to request authorization to use the materials, but most that I have dealt with do not.  In those cases, I have to search the website for contacts in their marketing, public relations, or branding department and send an email requesting permission to use their logo.  I would estimate that the rate of response is about 50/50: half of the time, I get an email back granting me permission, and half the time I get no response at all.  Only once have I received a message denying permission.  If I get no response, I will not use the logo- I will only use it if I can document that I have permission to use it.  It is disappointing when I can't use the logo, because most buyers do want it used on their products, but most are very understanding about this.

You might ask, what's the big deal, anyway?  Would some big university or company on the other side of the country (or world) really care that some small-time paper crafter on Etsy put their logo or image on a customized greeting card?  The answer is: I don't have enough money to find out the hard way.  In other words, if I use an image without permission, I am risking a lawsuit.  The fact is, logos and other trademarked images are protected by law as being the property of the trademark holder, and many can and will do what they have to do to protect their property rights.  There are a number of companies that are well-known for doing sweeps on Etsy for sellers using their trademarked property illegally.  They file a DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice with Etsy, and Etsy must comply by taking down the offending listings.  Etsy has a 3 strikes policy regarding violations of trademark or copyright- if a seller gets 3 strikes, their shop is shut down and they are not permitted to reopen.  Period.   Check out the Etsy user forums any day, and I guarantee you will find at least one post from someone complaining that they were shut down for trademark/copyright violation and don't know why.  Ignorance is not bliss in this case- Etsy considers it the responsibility of sellers to know and comply with the laws.

I have been asked to use materials that I do not have permission to use, and while I hate it when I can't give a customer exactly what they want, I simply cannot take the risk.  Some may view a transaction between a buyer and seller as private, so what's the harm?  Well, the thing is, once the product leaves my hands, it is no longer private- it is in the hands of the buyer, and the seller has no control over what happens with that product or who sees it.  All it takes is one social media post with a photo of the product, and the audience is suddenly much wider than just the buyer.  While it's true that you can find thousands of sellers on Etsy willing to take that chance, I simply have never been comfortable with it.  And it's not even only about the risk involved, although that is a major factor.  But also, I've seen the shops that are chock full of designs that include trademarked materials from tv shows, movies, etc.  Knowing the law, and that these shops are blatantly violating it, cheapens the value and the name of that shop, because it's basically stolen merchandise.  They are literally stealing from the trademark owner by profiting from the use of that material.  I hold myself and my business to a higher standard than that.  I have built my shop and my reputation as a seller on honesty, class, and integrity, and am not willing to cheapen it by illegal use of someone else's intellectual property under any circumstance.

I have turned down several requests to make exploding box cards with Disney and other trademarked materials.  Yes, I lost money that I could have made, but my conscience is clear and I can sleep at night.  As complicated as copyright and trademark law is, that really is what it comes down to: how I feel about the integrity of my work and my shop.  Maybe only someone's immediate family would see the product that I make for a customer, and no harm would come of using that trademarked Harvard or Disney image.  But I can't set that precedent, because that might not be the case with the next one.  Or the one after that, or the one after that.  I have a firm policy, and just can't cross that line, not even once.

As disappointing as it is when I can't use a logo or other image, it's also an opportunity to push my creativity and find something else I can do instead.  That has resulted in some things that I am truly proud of, and that is what keeps me as a crafter, and my business, moving forward and continuint to innovate.  As Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sometimes we have to make a choice "between what is right, and what is easy", and in my business, as well as in much of life as possible, I choose what is right.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Graduation Season Begins!

It's only March, but already the graduation exploding box order rush has begun!  I received two orders last week, and another one this week.  Crazy!!  Last week, I got orders for one high school and one college graduate.  I try to be really careful about using school logos and imagery...it's not really an issue for high schools, but for colleges/universities, it definitely can be.  The graduate of the college order I received goes to University of Alabama.  Being on the west coast, and not being a big sports fan, I was unaware how very notorious/important this university is, but upon researching their logo usage, was duly informed, lol!  They have an extremely strict policy about using any logos, including a licensing procedure that I did not have time to go through.  So, I had to get creative.  I have had to deal with these situations before, and managed, but this time I think I hit it out of the park!

So, breaking this down: I used the school colors of crimson and gray for the card box bases.  Since I could not use the university logos, I instead used a letterman font for the graduation year in the school color, and added some script to add "Class of".  Love. It!!  Also, since the university has trademarked the phrase "The University of Alabama", I dropped the "the" and printed University of Alabama in the school colors, in a font close to the letter font used by the university.  The rest is the usual, including general graduation graphics on the printed panels with the graduate's name.  I am really happy with how it turned out!  I sometimes struggle with what to do when I can't use a school logo, but I think this really worked out well.

In addition to working on custom orders, I am working on stuff for the SET Spring Sale at the end of April.  I recently ordered a sample pack of paper from a company that makes seeded paper- that is, paper that contains wildflower seeds, so you can actually plant the paper and grow flowers.  How FREAKING cool is that??  The sample pack I ordered came with 2 sheets of 5 colors: pink, blue, white, yellow, and green, and I also ordered one sheet that is white with red/pink flower petals embedded.  I have started making some floral gift tags, which I plan to sell at the spring sale.  Here's a sample of what I've made so far:

So, as you can see, I've made some tags that are blue with daisies, as well as white tags with pink carnations, and green tags with butterflies.  The tags are 2x3" and I have added natural twine through the top holes, for a natural look.  I am really liking how they are turning out! The seeded paper is pretty spendy- the company I ordered from is in Canada, so shipping is not cheap.  But I have wanted to try this for some time, so am excited about offering these tags at the upcoming spring sale!

That's all for now- will update again soon!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mother's Day Exploding Boxes

I know I gave a sneak peak of my new smaller Mother's Day-themed exploding box cards last time, and since then, I have actually sold the one pictured in my previous post!  My husband's cousin stopped by the day before Valentine's day and asked me what I had for Valentine's day, as he had not had time to shop for his wife.  I showed him one of the never-ending cards I made in the last year or two, and he bought it.  Then he spotted the Mother's Day box, along with a second one I'd made but had not had time to photograph, and ended up buying both of them for his mom and wife!  So that was a nice surprise!  It left me without any Mother's Day boxes for the Salem Etsy Team Spring Sale though, so since we had a long weekend this past week, I took a day and knocked out 5 of them at once!

I really like how they turned out, and I hope that having these smaller boxes at a lower price will make them more appealing to the local market.  I have listed them in my Etsy shop, as I find that having a wide variety of products brings in the browsers.  I have listed a similar box in my shop before, though it was the larger size, and it did not sell, which tells me that that might be the wrong market for them- however, as I said, it helps to have interesting things for shoppers to look at.  Besides, I really want to be able to sell them at the SET spring sale, so won't be heartbroken if they don't sell on Etsy anyway!

Next up- more bookmarks!  I recently added a few new floral bookmarks to my shop, as my supply had run low, and I plan to make some washi paper bookmarks next.  I also want to try some laminated pressed flower cards, similar to the ones I did in the fall with the leaves, but with flowers instead.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Catching Up and Getting Ready for Spring!

Well, I sure fell off the blog bandwagon for awhile there!  Life sure is busy these days, and the holiday season was INSANE!  The Salem Etsy Team had our holiday sale in December at a new, larger venue, and it was EPIC!  We had over 80 vendors, and more than 2,000 shoppers came through!  Now we are gearing up for our spring sale in April, so I am already crafting away and getting ready for that.  Being one of the organizers of such a large event takes up a lot of my time, so in order to have time to make items to sell at the sale myself, I have to get started pretty early.

I've launched some new products in the last few months, including these:

These are cute little pillow boxes that I made with my Silhouette Cameo in two sizes- the large are about 3x5, the small are about 2x3.  I'm selling gift wrap kits in my card rack at Top Drawer, which include one pillow box, a coordinating gift tag, a piece of white tissue paper, and a white ribbon.  Aren't they cute??  I made a bunch for the SET holiday sale too, using holiday-themed papers.  Can't wait to sell springy, flowery ones at our Spring sale!

I'm also experimenting with some smaller sized exploding boxes than the standard 4x4x4, since I've found that at the in-person sales, people are reluctant to pay what I charge for the larger ones.  Here's my first attempt:

These are 3x3x3 and have two layers instead of three.  I'm planning to make a few for the spring sale, and maybe even a couple for my Etsy shop as well.

I have lots of plans for other products, but of course there's the issue of time, which I am pretty short on these days!  I'll do what I can though, and will try to remember to share what I come up with here!