Can I Get A License To Sell Copyrighted Products Online?

Copyright infringement is a hot topic, but I rarely see people ask whether they can get a license to sell copyrighted products online.

It’s complicated, because some companies grant licenses for the use of their intellectual property, and some don’t. You definitely need permission to use someone else’s intellectual property, though.

So if you sell online, how do you get a license to actually use copyrighted and trademarked merchandise legally?


Can-I-Get-A-License-To-Sell-Copyrighted-Products-Online


Some of the links in this article are affiliate links that will pay me a small commission if they’re used to purchase something. To see the entire affiliate policy click here.


Disclaimer!

Before I start, I want to make it clear that this does not constitute legal advice. I’m not an attorney, and I’m definitely not your attorney. If you want to sell anything that might be considered to be infringing, or need a license to sell, you should contact an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law to make sure that you’re in compliance with the laws that are around this issue, and there are a lot of them.

I’m putting this article together to give you an idea about my own experience and to collect a list of places where you can start looking into getting a license to sell things legally.

I’m not associated with any of the companies I’ll be listing, and you need to do your own research and contact the legal departments of each company to see how you can work with them, if at all.

If you find a link that doesn’t work or is outdated, feel free to use the website contact information to let me know and I’ll look up the updated information.

All companies that I mention are the owners of their own trademarks and copyrights, and I’m not employed by any of them, nor do I have any association with any of them!



How does licensing work?

Basically, if you license someone else’s intellectual property (IP), you’re buying the right to produce merchandise that you can sell with their copyrighted or trademarked designs on them. However, each license is going to have restrictions that limit what you can sell, and how the registered marks can be used.

When I did wedding cakes, I had licenses from several NFL teams to use their logos for groom’s cakes.

I could make a certain number of cakes each year with their team logos on them, but I couldn’t make more than that, and I couldn’t post photos of the cakes on social media or use them in any promotional way.

Most companies have limits on what you can do with their logos and designs to prevent people from messing around with them. It can reflect badly on the company if people think that they’re the ones who are selling something with their logos but the quality is bad or the designs are messed up in some way.

Most licenses cost a certain amount of money per year, and there will be limits on what and how many things you can make within that license.



What can be licensed, and how can you use it?

Anything that’s copyrighted or trademarked can be licensed if the owner wants to do that.

Most companies don’t license all the intellectual property that they own, and some don’t license anything, it’s totally up to them.

When you buy clipart to use in your own business, you need to make sure that the commercial license that you buy includes the uses that you want to use it for.

Some licenses don’t include selling things, they only let you use things for personal use.

Again, this is something that is going to be different for every company, and you’ll need to do your own research to see what’s copyrighted and trademarked before you use them.

If they’re registered, you’ll need to see if you can license them for commercial use, but you’ll also need to make sure that the commercial license lets you use the IP the way that you want to, because not all commercial licenses are created equal.

Some patterns are also limited as far as how you can use them. If you want to sell something that you make from a pattern that you purchased, you should check to see if you need a license to do that!




How does getting a license work?

To get permission to use other companies’ intellectual property, you need to contact their licensing department, fill out all of the paperwork that they ask for, and possibly send in samples of the products that you want to make.

Every company or organization will have a different process and requirements, and some of them are so expensive it might not be worth it.

I found out that military insignia in the US are copyrighted, trademarked, and owned by the Department of Defense, but they do offer some licensing.

I had customers who asked whether I made military-themed products, and I looked into the licensing for them, but I decided not to follow up on it. The cost wouldn’t have made sense for the number of things I would probably have sold per year, so it wouldn’t have been worth it to me.

If the company approves you for a license you’ll have to follow their policies as far as how many things you can sell, what you can make, etc.



What will happen if I don’t get a license?

If you just go ahead and sell things that you don’t own the copyright for, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of being sued by the owner of the copyright or trademark.

At a minimum, you might get a DMCA takedown request file against your online business, and if you’re selling on a third-party platform like Goimagine, eBay or Etsy, it can count against your shop, or get it shut down.

Platforms have to follow the laws about handling copyright infringement claims, so if you’re selling unlicensed merchandise it could potentially get your shop shut down completely.

Just recently, a company skipped the DMCA process and went directly to suing people who were selling their registered artwork.

The sellers received notices about turning over records saying how much money they had made selling the items, and a bunch of them had listings disabled. And DIsney is currently suing someone who flagrantly ignored multiple Cease and Desist letters and continued to sell products with those characters on them.

So basically, if you don’t get permission to sell someone else’s intellectual property, you’re playing with fire.



Where to apply for licenses.

If you want to look into applying for a license to use someone’s intellectual property, use this chart as a start for some contact information. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every company in the world! You’ll need to do your own research.

If the company that you want isn’t included here (I only did the most common ones that people ask about), do a search for that company’s website and use their contact form to get in touch with their legal department or their public relations department, depending on what kind of business or organization it is. They’ll be able to direct you to the right place to ask about licensing.

There’s usually a contact form link at the bottom of websites.

Some companies don’t have a published licensing policy on their websites, so you’ll have to use their general contact form to see if you can reach their legal departments. If you come across a link that’s outdated, please use the site contact information to let me know and I’ll revise it.

CompanyWhat they ownLicensing contactReport Infringement
Individual designersAnything they created themselves, including but not exclusively artwork, clipart, music, and photos.Contact the designer or artist directly to see if they let people use their artwork for merchandise sales.If someone is selling designs that you created yourself, you can file a DMCA request through the platform that’s selling the merchandise. Follow the instructions on each platform, and fill everything out correctly because this is a legal form.
DisneyLegal Notices – Disney Guest ServicesWelcome to The Walt Disney Studios Licensing Website (disneystudiolicensing.com)How can I report piracy or copyright infringement? – Disney Guest Services
Star WarsOwned by DisneyWelcome to The Walt Disney Studios Licensing Website (disneystudiolicensing.com)How can I report piracy or copyright infringement? – Disney Guest Services
Marvel comicsOwned by DisneyWelcome to The Walt Disney Studios Licensing Website (disneystudiolicensing.com)How can I report piracy or copyright infringement? – Disney Guest Services
NetflixTV shows that they create, you’ll need to check on their website.They don’t make it easy to find…You need their Global Consumer Products Department for merchandise licensing, but you’ll have to use this contact form for info: Contact Us | Netflix Help CenterContact Us | Netflix Help Center
DC comicsCopyright | DCNo published information on the website Submit a request – DC UNIVERSE INFINITE Help CenterSubmit a request – DC UNIVERSE INFINITE Help Center
Song lyrics, book titles and text, movies, and tv showsAnything that isn’t in the public domain can’t be used in merchandise without a licenseContact the publisher, or do a search for their legal department.Contact the individual publisher’s legal department, or use the contact form on their websites to get more information.
Celebrity names and imagesContact the individual celebrity’s management agency to see if they license their names and imagesCheck on IMDB Pro to find the celebrity’s management company or agent.Contact the celebrity’s agent or management team.
Professional Sports teamsEach team is handled by either the team or the league they’re in.
NFLAll NFL team names and logosLICENSING PRE-QUALIFICATION TERMS AND CONDITIONS (nfl.info)Home (capsinfo.com)

NFL Support
NBAAll NBA team names and logosNBA License Application – NBA GlobalHome (capsinfo.com)

NBA Help Center
MLBAll MLB team names and logosMLBP Licensed Production Distribution Form | MLB.comHome (capsinfo.com)

Contact Major League Baseball Customer Support | MLB.com
NHLAll NHL team names and logosLicensing – Business Affairs | NHLPA.comContact Us | NHL.com

Home (capsinfo.com)
MLSAll MLS team names and logosMajor League Soccer | Fanatics Licensing ManagementHome (capsinfo.com)
PGAPGA logos- They have very strict guidelinesThis might not be something do-able for most people, but contact them to find out what the current membership requirements are. pgashop @ pgahq.comContact PGA of America
Fanatics Management- Multiple Sports Leagues and Some CollegesProfessional | Fanatics Licensing Management
Colleges and UniversitiesSchool names and logos, sports team mascot images, team names and logosContact each individual school’s legal department or Public Relations department.Contact each individual school’s legal department or Public Relations department.
Home (capsinfo.com)
Designer goodsDesigner names and logos, signature colors (sometimes)Contact the designer’s legal department through their websites.Use the contact forms on each designer’s individual websites.
Sorority and Fraternity namesNames and logos of College Sororities and FraternitiesGreek LicensingGreek Licensing | Contact
US MilitaryAll military insignia, rank images, logos, and the names of each branch.DOD Trademark Licensing Guide (defense.gov) This page has licensing information and contacts for the US Army, Air Force/Space Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast GuardContact (defense.gov)
Planner Companies (i.e. Erin Condren)Planner companies own the rights to their own names and logos. If you use their names without permission to describe products you create, you should check to see if you need to pay for a license.Check with the legal departments of each company to see whether they offer licensing. Contact each company individually using their website contact forms.

I’ll add more companies to this list over time, but the easiest way to find out about licensing a specific copyrighted or trademarked thing is to contact the legal department of the individual company whose property that you want to use.

Kara Buntin

Kara Buntin has run a profitable home-based business since 1999, and has a background in art, theater design, and cake decorating. She's a top Etsy seller with over 51,000 sales on Etsy and her own website, and helps other home-based business owners with their business goals and SEO. She founded the Artisan Shopping Directory website to promote the artisans who are members of her EShop Success marketing program.

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