In the digital age, fans have embraced the opportunity to put a spin on famous corporate logos. Reimagining logos may be a way for consumers to express a connection they have to the brands, teams, and franchises they love and support. However, it does not come without legal risks.

There is a fine line between drawing inspiration from existing works and intellectual property infringement. Creating fan art that inadvertently infringes on intellectual property rights is common and can be disheartening for fans and consumer centric companies. However, having a basic understanding of trademark and copyright law may foster an understanding between enthusiasts and companies with a brand to protect.

Trademark Law

Trademarks are logos, symbols, words, or designs that identify the source of a company’s goods or services and provides legal protection for its brand. To avoid causing confusion among consumers, trademark law prohibits the use and registration of marks that are confusingly similar to another trademark. When determining whether a mark is confusingly similar, courts consider the sound, appearance, and commercial impression of the mark and whether the goods or services are related.

While fan art is often viewed as a form of appreciation, incorporating trademarks can be misleading to the public. The public may believe that the art is licensed or affiliated with the company and consequently runs of the risk of undermining the brand owner’s rights. Therefore, artists should avoid using another brand’s trademark without proper permission and companies should exercise caution when publicly engaging with unlicensed fan-art to avoid misleading the public.

Copyright Law

Copyright is a form of protection for “original works of authorship” fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative without permission. Under copyright law, derivative works are works based on or inspired by pre-existing copyrighted expression and again, require permission from the original copyright owner to be published. To determine whether derivative works are in fact infringement depends on whether the work qualifies as fair use. To evaluate fair use, courts look at the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the quantity and quality of the copyrighted material used, and the effect the use has on the market for the copyright owner’s original work.

Logo designs are protected under copyright law and grants the copyright owner the exclusive right to use the logo for commercial purposes. The recreation of a famous logo is likely to be considered a derivative work. Those who recreate logos without permission from the copyright owner should understand that drawing inspiration can easily cross the line into infringement, even if the intent is to show appreciation. On the other hand, companies may consider other avenues such as fan-art contests or licensing programs that encourage its fans creative expression, but is mutually beneficial and legal.